Recently, I was lucky enough to have a phone conversation with quite possibly the greatest football player to ever wear a Bengals uniform, Anthony Munoz. Munoz, inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998, was an 11-time pro bowl selection, an NFLPA lineman of the year selection four times, he was named to the NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team and was recently ranked no. 12 on the NFL Network's The Top 100: NFL's Greatest Players.
Munoz has recently been working with Van Heusen's Pro Football Hall of Fame Fan's Choice, a website that gives NFL fans a voice when it comes to who they believe should be voted into the hall of fame in Canton, Ohio
"You can go to the website, fanschoice.com, where the selection committee will hear the voice of the fans," Munoz said of the program. "It's not an official vote but it gives them an opportunity to hear what the fans are thinking about. You can go on, you can vote. We kicked it off in September and actually to date there's about 1.3 million votes that have taken place. Also, you can go on and see reactions to fellow hall of famers in weekly videos and blogs like Bob Griese, Jim Taylor, Gary Zimmerman and Jerry Rice on what they think is going on with the next class. There's some prizes; one of them is there will be a fan that will have the opportunity to announce the fan's pick at the Super Bowl sitting right next to Steve Young in Dallas."
The conversation quickly turned to Munoz's time with the Bengals and the recent NFL Network poll that placed him in the top 15 greatest NFL players of all time and the greatest offensive lineman to play professional football. I asked Munoz how he felt about being named the greatest offensive lineman of all time in the 2010 vote.
"You know what, it's unbelievable," he said. "I saw that and I was like, wow. I mean for me, I would be thrilled just to be in the top 100. I mean there's 22 - 23,000 - well over 20,000 guys who have played in the NFL. To be included in the top 100 and to be the number 12 guy, it's so surreal. It's one of those things where I was just thankful to get an opportunity to play in the NFL after what I went through in college. It's exciting and very humbling just like being in the hall is."
Munoz said that he would have to get the press book to see all of the right defensive ends that he lined up across from but the players that stood out to him as some of the hardest to block were Lee Roy Selmon, Fred Dean and Bruce Smith.
"I was playing in the era where you went from preparing for the Bruce Smiths and those type of guys but they'd kind of move around and they would bring in a Derrick Thomas, a Clay Matthews, a Rufus Porter, a Pat Swilling to rush the passer and LT. So then you have those two guys that you have to face in pass rushing situations." Munoz said about some of the greatest defensive players he played against and that have ever played professional football.
Munoz also believes that he shouldn't be the only Bengal of his era in the hall of fame. He is a firm believer that Ken Anderson should be enshrined in the halls of Canton as well.
"I think Kenny Anderson is one guy that I don't understand why he's not in," Munoz said of one of his quarterbacks. "You look at guys like, I didn't play with him, but Lemar Parrish was a Bengal, Kenny Riley, Isaac Curtis and as far as I'm concerned, the best guard I've watched, and I hear this sentiment from a lot of the guys in the hall of fame is offensive lineman Max Montoya. Kenny Anderson is one guy that I just don't understand."
When asked if Munoz feels that there are any current Bengals that are deserving of eventually being voted into the hall of fame, he said that Terrell Owens is the only one that has the credentials to end up wearing a gold jacket.
Of the current team, Munoz believes that consistency, or lack there of, is the reason that the Bengals have found themselves sitting in last place in the AFC North division with a 2-6 record.
"I think consistency pretty much on both sides of the ball," he said. "I think the inconsistency of putting everything together. I mean, one week they'll score 32 points and they'll give up 30-40 points. In another week, they won't give up a lot of points and they can't score a lot of points. I think it's just an inconsistency where last year you knew that the defense was going to hold them pretty tight to the vest and the offense was going to score when they needed to and it's just not happening this year."
I asked the hall of fame tackle how he felt about the Bengals first-round pick from 2009, offensive tackle Andre Smith and the progress he's made so far in his short career.
"There's been a little but I haven't seen a whole lot," he said about the Bengals current right tackle. "I'm a firm believer that any player, when he's in great condition, he's going to be a much better football player. I think that progress comes first and then I'll make an evaluation on the talent. But, you can see there is some talent there or else he wouldn't be drafted in the first round. I think there's a long way to go there."
Smith may be one player that has been somewhat of a disappointment so far in his career to Munoz but the hall of famer did mention some of the young Bengal players that have impressed him. He mentioned that rookies Jermaine Gresham and Jordan Shipley have proven their worth. He also said that Andrew Whitworth, both Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph, Domata Peko and Jonathan Fanene have stood out in his mind because they consistently play well.
The interview occurred Monday morning before the loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football but Munoz said that he believed that the Bengals could and would beat their division rivals (by a score of 24-17) and had the ability to right the sinking ship.
"I really do, I think they have the ability to do that, I think it's just a matter of coming together and being consistent," he said before the Bengals lost to the Steelers and slipped to 2-6. "I think they have the ability to beat Pittsburgh tonight, go to New York and beat the Jets Thanksgiving night and beat the Saints. I think they can do it, it's just a matter of coming together as a team and showing some consistency in all areas of the game."
One of the most pressing matters in the NFL is the pending lockout due to the fact that the players and owners cannot come to a new collective bargaining agreement. Roger Goodell touched on this when he answered fan questions outside Paul Brown Stadium before the game against the Steelers. Through Munoz's career, there were two years that the NFL didn't play. There was a total stoppage for 57 days in 1982 and then replacement players were used in certain games in 1987.
"As a former player who has gone through two, we had the replacement players one year and the total stoppage one year," Munoz said. "I just hope it doesn't happen. I doesn't do anybody any good. I mean, right now, I believe the NFL is the strongest professional league and then to have that I think it just deteriorates what they've built so I would hate to see it happen again. As a former player, I've been through it and I've seen the negative results that come out of it."
One of the final questions that I asked him before our conversation ended was what he felt the biggest difference between his NFL and the NFL of today was. His answer was both surprising and not very surprising at all. I expected him to say the players are bigger and faster but that wasn't it. His answer could be summarized in just one word.
"Money," Munoz said and began to laugh. "I think as far as the overall coverage, with the social media and the publications. There's just so much out there now that exposes everything. Just the media coverage is so much bigger and all you have to do is go to a Super Bowl and see the difference. The opening week of the season, it's a big, big production and the way they market the league, they've done a remarkable job. But, I'd have to say that's the biggest difference... in addition to the money."
Anthony Munoz and I talked for just over ten minutes. In that ten minutes, we discussed everything from how he felt about being named in the top 15 of greatest players in the NFL, about how his thoughts on Andre Smith and the current Bengals, the pending lockout and how the league has changed over the years. In our conversation I learned a few things but most of all, I learned that Munoz is a once in a lifetime player. Rarely do players of his ability, durability and raw talent make their mark on the NFL field. I also learned that while Munoz may be one of the greatest of all time on the field, he is also one of the greatest off the field.
All of these factors combine to be the reason that he will go down in history as the greatest offensive lineman of all time and why the name Anthony Munoz will last longer than most.