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In 1981, the 12-4 Bengals experienced a huge turnaround from their 6-10 record of a year prior. The team had or shared the AFC Central lead the entire season and went on to represent the AFC in Super Bowl XVI.
One of the Bengals' main strengths that year was the play of quarterback Ken Anderson who led the league with a 98.5 passer rating. Key to Anderson's success was the pass protection he received from the Bengals' offensive line anchored by Muñoz. Anderson was sacked 63 times in 1979, compared to just 37 in 1980, Muñoz's rookie year, and 35 in 1981.
Following the 1981 season, nine NFL assistant coaches combined to select the NFL Lineman of the Year Award. All of the coaches listed Muñoz on their ballots, and six of them gave their first-place vote to the second-year lineman. "I can't believe how good this kid is at this stage," one coach wrote on his ballot.
|Muñoz was enshrined in the Hall in 1998 (photo by Peter Brouillet, NFL Photos)
Anderson wasn't the only Bengals quarterback to benefit from Muñoz's superb pass blocking. Boomer Esiason, who took over as the Cincinnati signal caller in 1985 also benefited. For Esiason, a southpaw, it was a perfect fit. The Bengals were a left-handed team. Not because Boomer was left-handed, but because Muñoz was the left tackle.
"We are protecting our quarterback from the most dangerous rush in the game with one of the best players in the game," former Bengals coach Sam Wyche remarked. Wyche, who replaced Gregg following the 1983 season went further: "Anthony is the greatest offensive tackle the game has ever known."
While Muñoz excelled at pass blocking, he was also an outstanding run blocker. Bengals running backs have rushed for 1,000 yards only eight times. That milestone was reached six times during Muñoz's tenure. He was also the offensive line's anchor in 1988 and 1989 when the Bengals led the NFL in rushing.
According to former teammates, the-near-perfect Muñoz practiced and played like a man who had something to prove. "That's the way he played for 13 years, like he was trying to work his way into a starting slot," said former guard Max Montoya, himself an outstanding Bengal from 1979 through 1989.
A superb athlete, Muñoz was even utilized occasionally as a receiver. The agile lineman caught seven passes on tackle-eligible plays during his career. Four of his catches resulted in touchdowns. One writer referred to Muñoz as a "modern-day Marion Motley," referring to the former Cleveland Browns fullback who along with quarterback Otto Graham perfected the trap play.
Muñoz's consistently fine play didn't go unnoticed. During his career, he was the recipient of virtually every possible honor. He was named NFL Offensive Lineman of the Year again in 1987 and 1988, and was awarded the NFL Players Association Lineman of the Year honors in 1981, 1985, 1988, and 1989. He was a Pro Bowl selection 11 consecutive years (1982-1992) and was named All-Pro eleven straight times (1981-1991).
The NFL Alumni Association voted Muñoz the Offensive Lineman of the Year four times (1987, 1989-1991). His 1989 citation reads: "The NFL has three levels of offensive linemen. The bottom rung is for players aspiring to make the Pro Bowl. The next step is for those who have earned all-star status. Then there's Anthony Muñoz. He's alone at the top."
Muñoz's vast array of awards includes many commendations for his off-the-field charitable activities as well. A very visible part of his community, Muñoz was active in a variety of charitable causes, mostly helping children, ranging from Cystic Fibrosis to the Salvation Army.
"I think it's important to give back," he once said. "Youth is my heartbeat. Making someone smile off the field feels as good as making a perfect block on the field." Although he is still active in charitable efforts yet today, chronic shoulder problems and another torn knee ligament forced the likable lineman to retire at the end of the 1992 season.
"Anthony Muñoz is one of those rare athletes you wish could go on playing forever," wrote Ritter Collett of the Dayton Daily News. "Not just because he may be as fine a tackle as ever played in the NFL. Tackles come and go. Quality human beings who put more back into society than they take out are something else."
On December 27, 1992, Muñoz played his final NFL game. A special halftime ceremony was held to recognize his 13 years of outstanding play for the Bengals. Fans' banners that hung throughout Riverfront Stadium thanked and paid tribute to the popular lineman. One banner near the Bengals' locker room prophesied, "Muñoz: Next Stop Canton."
Anthony Muñoz was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton on August 1, 1998.
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