BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer
CANTON -- Before Anthony Munoz spoke, he listened. Like any seasoned football star, he studied the films, searching this time for rhetorical tendencies, resolved that his hour upon the stage should resonate.
Anthony Munoz gestures during his induction speech.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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He watched the tape of last year's induction ceremonies at the Pro Football Hall of Fame and winced at how wordy it was. The first Cincinnati Bengal to ghave his immortality formalized was determined that it be done right.
"What Anthony saw was the guys were all over the place," Wendel Deyo said Saturday. "They'd ramble for 20 or 30 minutes. Anthony said, "I want to say something concise. I want to have a message.' "
Mr. Deyo, president of Athletes In Action, helped Mr. Munoz draft his acceptance speech for pro football's ultimate honor, and the heartfelt homily was as reverent and sincere as the giant who delivered it. Mr. Munoz thanked his maker, and all the appropriate people, but his enduring message was conveyed most effectively by his son, Michael.
That message, essentially, is this: a man is better judged by his family and his faith than by his fame. Though Anthony Munoz has been abundantly blessed, he engenders no jealousy, for he is as good and decent as he was great and dominating. Bengal beat reporters used to joke about having to go interview "that jerk Munoz," for none of them had ever heard a harsh word about him.
Neither have I, but I've only known him for 18 years.
"Thank you for always being there, always being consistent, but most of all, thanks for always being a real person," Michael Munoz told his father, and a national television audience. "You've been my model. I have learned to say, "I'm sorry; I was wrong' from you being big enough to admit your mistakes. You have modeled humility."
Anthony Munoz is considered the definitive player at his position, perhaps the finest offensive lineman in the history of pro football. Yet to hear his son speak of his human qualities Saturday was to understand the hollow nature of glory. Ultimately, a man's real immortality should be measured not so much by career achievements as in the influence he imparts to his children.
Anthony Munoz wins on both counts. He has a bust in Canton and a teen-age son unashamed to be seen with his dad. It is about as much as any man could ask.
"You've taught me to let my actions speak louder than my words and to make people more important than things," Michael Munoz said. ". . . You've shown me how to be a man."
Hall of Fame inductions are often tedious, and sometimes solemn. Saturday's ceremonies were made memorable by the poise and passion of Michael Munoz and by the joyous presence of Tommy McDonald, who served both as enshrinee and floor show.
Munoz receives a chest bump from fellow inductee Tommy McDonald.
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The former Philadelphia pass receiver twice tossed his heavy Hall of Fame bust in the air to demonstrate that he has not lost his grip, even at 64. He produced a boom box from a briefcase, and wiggled wildly to "Stayin' Alive" by the Bee Gees. He recycled wife jokes Rodney Dangerfield recycled from Henny Youngman. He bumped chests with his fellow honorees, hugged everyone he could reach and basically behaved as if inhibitions were illegal.
"I think, as you get older, this (honor) is a lot sweeter," Mr. McDonald said.
Anthony Munoz was decidedly less demonstrative, but no less thrilled.
"Since the last part of January, I've been looking forward to Aug. 1," he said during a pre-ceremony news conference. "Thursday, on the way up I-71, I'm the one asking the kids, "Are we there yet?' And I'm driving."
About an hour out of Cincinnati, Michael Munoz realized he had left his speech at home. The script, happily, was retrieved by a neighbor, and delivered without a hitch. Michael Munoz says his dad chose a family member as his Hall of Fame "presenter" because, "he thinks we know what's at his core."
Would that we all had someone so close so convinced of our virtue. Would that we all could remain as humble as Anthony Munoz.
When his father was honored earlier this summer in his hometown of Ontario, Calif., Michael Munoz detected a pattern in the praise. "His former classmates and friends all had the same basic thing to say about him," he said. "(That) everybody knew who the big man on campus was. Except for one person. That was him."
Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your e-mail. Message him at firstname.lastname@example.org.