I was saddened to hear of the passing of former NFL running back Chuck Muncie. The onetime San Diego Charger and New Orleans Saint back, passed away from a heart attack at the age of 60. He is best remembered for being the featured back in Don Coryell’s offense that ran roughshod throughout the NFL in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
Muncie was the Saints first round pick in the 1976 NFL Draft, after a stellar college career at California. During his time at Berkeley, Muncie set school records for yards rushing and touchdowns. Muncie was named Pac-8 player of the year in 1975, where he rushed for 1,460 yards and 13 touchdowns. Muncie finished second in the Heisman trophy balloting, as Ohio State back Archie Griffin took home the honours.
When Muncie arrived in New Orleans, he was hailed as the franchise back the Saints desperately needed. However, his career got off to a slow start as Muncie had a difficult time adjusting to the NFL. It was then that cocaine started to enter his life. Muncie battled a nasty cocaine addiction throughout his career. At first the drug seemed to help Muncie. (Cocaine was known to be a performance enhancing drug in the 1970s) In 1979, his third year with the Saints, Muncie rushed for 1,198 yards and 11 touchdowns. He was selected to his first Pro Bowl.
However, the Saints couldn’t handle Muncie’s off-field issues so they traded him to the San Diego Chargers in the middle of the 1980 season. The Chargers believed that Muncie would be the final piece to their Super Bowl puzzle. The Chargers had a terrific passing game, led by quarterback Dan Fouts, speedy receiver John Jefferson and reliable tight end Kellen Winslow. Muncie did lead the Chargers to the AFC Championship game, but were upset by the Oakland Raiders.
In his first full season with the Chargers, Muncie had a terrific year rushing for 1,144 yards and a league high 19 touchdowns. He went to his second Pro Bowl as well. However, his Super Bowl dream eluded him yet again, as the Chargers were ousted by the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship Game.
Even in the strike shortened 1982 season, Muncie remained productive, rushing for 569 yards and 8 touchdowns in only 9 games. Muncie was selected for his third trip to Honolulu that season.
But by 1983, Muncie’s cocaine addiction had become too much for him to handle. His reliance on the deadly drug started to affect his play on the field and his production slipped. In 1984, Muncie only appeared in one game before being suspended by the NFL for failing a drug test. Muncie would never play in the NFL again.
After his football career was over, Muncie’s life descended into addiction and crime. In 1989 Muncie pled guilty to drug trafficking and was sentenced to 18 months in prison. It was in prison where Muncie turned his life around. He kicked his cocaine addiction and started up a program dedicated to children in need.
Muncie was a powerful runner who could bowl over would-be tacklers with his strong running style. His trademark goggles were unique in football, giving him a distinctive look. It’s a shame that drugs took away a promising career. Muncie had potential to be one of the best running backs in NFL history.
But credit must be given to Muncie for turning his life around. He didn’t let addiction beat him. While his football career was cut short, his life went on and despite a stay in prison, Muncie made the most out of it by doing something for youth who needed it the most. He should be remembered fondly for his work off the field. Rest In Peace Chuck Muncie.
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