Chuck Muncie, who died this week at age 60, evokes vivid memories of when he wore the black and gold for the New Orleans Saints and always had coaches, teammates and we sports writers guessing at when he might show up and what amazing feat he might pull off next.
For those too young to remember the always-bespectacled Muncie, he was like a football Superman wearing Clark Kent glasses. And, to borrow from Batman, he had a lot of The Riddler in him, too. His problems with cocaine and accountability are well documented. But, heavens, what a talent! He was the lightning to go with Tony Galbreath’s thunder in the Saints’ remarkably gifted backfield that also included a quarterback from Drew named Manning.
Muncie was a huge, strapping back with sprinter’s speed and Jim Brown-like power. He could run around you, past you, or just flat over you. And he could do more.
“He was a tremendous pass catcher,” says Archie Manning. “He could have played wide receiver. He could throw the ball, too. Chuck was a world-class talent. And he was a good guy, but he had his demons.”
Manning laughs when asked if he has a favorite Muncie anecdote.
“Well, we both went to the Pro Bowl after the 1979 season,” Manning says. “The coaches had us in the game at the same time. I had a great game, completed all but one of my passes, but I wanted to feature Chuck, so I gave him the ball a lot and called one halfback pass, which, of course, he threw for a touchdown.
“It was the best Pro Bowl I ever had, but damned if they didn’t give Chuck the MVP.”
The Saints traded the unpredictable Muncie to San Diego the following year. And what might have been a Hall of Fame career fell far short of that. Still, he finished his nine-season career with 6,702 yards rushing and 74 touchdowns.
Coincidentally, Muncie finished his career in Minnesota and with Manning, which suited Archie’s young sons, Cooper and Peyton, just fine.
“Chuck loved my kids and, boy, they loved him back,” Manning says. “Chuck was great with kids. He really related to kids. I’ve been told he turned his life around in recent years and worked with kids. I’m glad about that.”
Muncie played his college football at California and the Saints drafted him as the third overall pick of the 1976 draft. He was the first running back taken, and then the Saints took Galbraith in the second round. Hank Stram, the Saints coach at the time, was giddy. He beamed like a kid on Christmas morning over his new backfield.
But Muncie quickly became what Winston Churchill might have described as a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.
Hattiesburg native Tim Floyd, the former NBA coach now at UTEP, was Stram’s right-hand man at training camp back in those days when the Saints trained at Vero Beach Fla. In 1976, Stram dispatched the 21-year-old Floyd to meet Muncie’s scheduled arrival at a Miami airport. The plane arrived, Muncie didn’t.
This went on for four days.
“They kept rescheduling flights for Chuck and Coach Stram kept sending me to pick him up,” Floyd said. “Before it was over I went to the Melbourne airport, the Miami airport again, the Orlando airport twice.”
The sixth time was a charm. Muncie finally touched down in Miami. Floyd, whom Stram nicknamed “Dipper” because of his tobacco habit, retrieved him.
“The talk around the locker room was that Chuck was on cocaine,” Floyd says. “Everybody knew it. I told Coach Stram that was the talk but he didn’t want to hear it. ‘Dipper,’ he said, ‘I just can’t believe that about Chuck.’”
It was, of course, true.
“Chuck wasn’t a bad guy, but he was addicted — trapped, really,” Floyd said. “It was amazing that he could still perform the way he did, all things considered. God, he was good.”
He really was. And although Muncie never will be enshrined in Canton, the Saints traded him to San Diego in 1980 for a second round draft pick. With that pick, the Saints took Rickey Jackson, who became the first New Orleans Saint in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Rick Cleveland is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. His blog can be read at msfame.com and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org