Tough guys tend to melt at induction

Saturday, August 1, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

CANTON -- Anthony Munoz's place in history has been determined. His niche in the Pro Football Hall of Fame will be toward the back of the gallery, between Mel Blount and George Blanda.

A portrait already hangs there, depicting the great tackle running interference on behalf of James Brooks. The inscription is complete, and the holes have been drilled to secure Munoz's bust for posterity.

All that remains is the ceremony, the formal induction of the first career Cincinnati Bengal into the pantheon of shoulder pads. Today's program is an event that has long been inevitable for pro football's prototype lineman, and yet this moment of recognition has moved some of the game's toughest guys to tears.

If Dick Butkus can cry, it can happen to anyone.

"I bet the butterflies will be coming out of their cocoons pretty soon," Michael Munoz predicted. "I bet this weekend is going to be the best."

Son rises to speak

Anthony Munoz's son turned 17 Friday, and is charged with the responsibility of introducing his dad before the crowd and the television cameras this afternoon. The contents of his speech remain secret, known only by the speaker and his mother and test audience, DeDe. Michael wants to surprise his father, and he certainly will surprise his coach.

"I've never heard him speak," Moeller High School coach Steve Klonne said. "But knowing Michael and the way he does things, he's probably been working on it. He's very methodical."

Running backs can be creative. Linebackers must be spontaneous. The best offensive linemen, however, tend to be technicians. Their job demands a certain amount of power, and a whole lot of precision. What set Anthony Munoz apart was that he was the first football behemoth to demonstrate the grace of a ballet dancer. He was a bear with the feet of a feline.

His eventual election to the Hall of Fame has been so widely assumed for so long that we sometimes forget how difficult the deed is. The Denver Broncos, who date to 1960, have yet to have a player enshrined.

Each inductee is honored with a bronze bust -- Paul Brown's could stand polishing -- and every team that has produced a Hall of Famer is allotted space in a separate room for the mementos of enshrinees. The largest display honors the Chicago Bears, who have 25 representatives in Canton. Cincinnati's section is tucked in a corner behind a glass-encased raccoon coat that once belonged to Washington Redskins' owner George Preston Marshall. The Bengals' display consists of a Munoz helmet, a Munoz jersey and two photographs of Munoz at work.

"I guess it's harder to get in the Hall of Fame than I thought," Scott Summers of Cleveland remarked while standing before the Munoz memorabilia Friday. "Cincinnati has only one. I would have thought Ken Anderson would be in. He was a great quarterback."

Sneak preview

Anthony and Michael Munoz toured the Hall last fall, the day after Moeller lost the state championship game in Massillon. They moved quietly through the exhibits, and danced delicately around the subject of Anthony's imminent induction.

"We just kind of looked at the whole thing to experience it all," Michael Munoz said. "Where the busts are, I'd ask him who a guy was and he'd tell me."

They surely must have noticed how shiny Forrest Gregg's nose has grown since he was enshrined in 1977. They might have wondered what it would be like to be included in such distinguished company. "I'm sure I mentioned it a couple of times," Michael Munoz said.

Today, the dream becomes a memory. Hundreds of wooden folding chairs were stacked in front of the museum Friday afternoon, and temporary fencing had been erected to separate the dignitaries from spectators. Inside, on the second floor, was a shelf reserved for the bronze likeness of a Bengal.

Anthony Munoz has been headed here for a long time. It's still special.

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