One of the most talented, if not best, runners in New Orleans Saints history is gone.
Chuck Muncie has died of an apparent heart attack in California. Muncie was 60 years old.
A native of Uniontown, Pennsylvania, Muncie played college football at California. The dynamic running back was second in the voting behind Archie Griffin for the Heisman Trophy in 1975.
Muncie was selected with the third overall pick in the first round by the New Orleans Saints in the 1976 NFL Draft. He would team with Tony Galbreath, who was chosen later in the first round, as part of the "Thunder and Lightning" tandem, nicknamed by head coach Hank Stram.
An amazing combination of size (6'3, 230) and speed (4.48 in the 40), Muncie was unique in his skill set, Muncie was along the lines of Eric Dickerson before the eventual NFL rushing champion hit the scene in 1983. Muncie was also an enigma, a very good, sometimes great player who never fully realized his elite ability.
Muncie earned Pro Bowl honors in 1979, helping lead the Saints to an 8-8 record, their best to date in franchise history. He became the first player in the history of the Saints chosen for All-Pro honors that year. He was the Most Valuable Player in the 1979 Pro Bowl, the only Saint to ever earn that honor.
Muncie became the first Saints player ever to reach the 1,000-yard rushing plateau when he ran for 1,198 yards in 1979, when he also caught 40 passes for 308 yards. The Saints had a terrific offensive arsenal in 1979, led by Archie Manning, Muncie, Galbreath, Wes Chandler, Henry Childs and Ike Harris. Manning, Galbreath and Childs were later inducted into the Saints Hall of Fame. Muncie is recognized in the Hall of Honors at the Saints' Metairie facility though he has not been voted into the Saints Hall of Fame.
Muncie, who had problems off the field and was part of a culture that involved cocaine use by certain players on the team, was traded by the Saints to the San Diego Chargers in the middle of the disastrous 1980 season in which the Saints fell to a franchise-worst 1-15 record.
After playing part of five seasons with the Saints, Muncie went on to play part of five seasons with the Chargers from 1980 through 1984. He earned All-Pro and Pro Bowl honors in 1981 and 1982 as part of one of the great offenses in NFL history, affectionately nicknamed "Air Coryell," after innovative head coach Don Coryell. He led the NFL in touchdowns with 19 in 1981.
Muncie was suspended after Week 1 of the 1984 season after testing positive for cocaine. He was traded to the Minnesota Vikings in 1985 after being reinstated from his suspension but he would not play in another NFL game.
Muncie finished his nine-year NFL career playing in 110 games, rushing 1,561 times for 6,702 rushing yards (4.3 yard avg.) and 71 touchdowns, with 263 receptions for 2,323 yards and three touchdowns, 20 kickoff returns for 432 yards. Muncie was also 4-of-7 for 126 yards and four touchdowns on halfback passes. Muncie was chosen as one of the 50 greatest Chargers of all-time in 2009. He is second in franchise history to LaDanian Tomlinson in career rushing touchdowns with 43.
Muncie spent 18 months in federal prison in California on cocaine distribution charges, sentenced in 1989. Upon his release from prison, Muncie was a changed man and dedicated his life to helping and mentoring young people through his Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation while mentoring University of California football players. Muncie taught young peope the value of avoiding the pitfalls that plagued him.
Manning was the quarterback of the Saints during Muncie's stay in New Orleans.
"We all knew how talented Chuck was," Manning said. "He was big, unique as a back. He played at 230-240 pounds and he was tall. He was very fast. He was fast and quick. We ran him out of the I-formation and he was full speed on his second step. He was a good athlete who caught it well and threw it well. There was no one more talented."
While Muncie was blessed with awesome physical skills, he did not utilize them in complete fashion.
"We all know the story," Manning said. "He was playing one of two engines much of the time. He didn't really totally apply himself. There's no telling how good he could have been. He had his problems. I always made sure in the hotel Saturday night or in the locker room Sunday morning making sure he was ready to go. He wanted to play good on Sundays."
Former Saints safety and Saints Hall of Fame inductee Tommy Myers, a teammate of Muncie's throughout his entire stay in New Orleans, remembers Muncie vividly.
"He was just a big kid," Myers said. "He was an immature guy when he came to us but he was likeable. He was always laughing and joking around. He was fun to be around initially."
Former Saints guard and captain Emmanuel Zanders played with Muncie throughout his stay with the Saints as well.
"He was one of the greatest backs I ever blocked for, besides Walter Payton. It was really a thrill to block for those guys. As a friend, he was a gentle giant, a generous, giving guy. He had a great attitude. He was a super guy, a friend. If you asked him for anything, he would give it to you. He loved animals. He was a great guy.
Myers felt Muncie did not reach his full potential.
"The only time you would get mad at him is when you watched him play and you knew he could do more," Myers said. "He could have been the best ever. He had that instant explosion at 235 pounds. He could hurt you and then run away from you. He was a great receiver as well. The year he went to the Pro Bowl with five of us, he was terrific. When he got to San Diego, he was very good for them as well with a great offensive team. Coryell made great use of him."
Zanders recalled a particular play that epitomized Muncie's enormous talent.
"I remember that we were playing Atlanta in the Superdome," Zanders said. "We had some great games with them. My responsibility was the strong safety. I just nicked the guy. I could not get him the way I wanted to. Several of the defenders had the angle on him. They could not get him on the ground. He was big, strong, fast. He had it all. He was as big as me!"
Myers had a first-hand look into who Muncie was.
My locker was right next to Chuck," Myers said. "He didn't like losing. He was a pleasant guy and he had a great smile. It's just too bad he didn't use it too often here. He was some player. As I said, he could have been the best ever. I am sorry for his loss and will always remember him. I am happy that he turned his life around as well."
SAINTS OFFICIAL RELEASE ON MUNCIE'S PASSING
The New Orleans Saints mourn today’s passing of former running back Chuck Muncie at the age of 60 years old.
“Sadly, we have learned of the untimely passing of Chuck Muncie,” said New Orleans Saints Owner/Chairman of the Board Tom Benson. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and other loved ones at this difficult time."
The club’s first-round draft pick (third overall) in 1976 out of the University of California, Muncie was the club’s first franchise running back. By the time his nine-year NFL career with both the Saints and San Diego Chargers had concluded, the California, Pennsylvania native had accumulated career figures of 1,561 carries for 6,702 yards (4.3 avg.) with 71 touchdowns and 263 receptions for 2,323 yards (8.8 avg.) with three touchdowns. In four-and-a-half seasons in Black and Gold, Muncie finished with 788 carries for 3,393 yards with 28 touchdowns, a rushing yardage total that still ranks fifth in club records.
Upon joining the Saints in 1976, Muncie, at 6-3, 227 pounds, a rare mix of size, speed and power, shared carries with Tony Galbreath as a rookie in what would be later categorized as the “Thunder and Lightning” backfield, carrying 149 times for 659 yards with two touchdowns, while also adding 31 catches for 272 yards. In his second career contest, a 27-17 win at Kansas City, Muncie first showed his skill set by carrying 25 times for 126 yards in helping give head coach Hank Stram a win against his former team. In 1977, Muncie combined with Galbreath again, leading the club in rushing with 201 carries for 801 yards with six touchdowns and making 21 grabs for 248 yards (11.8 avg.) with one score.
Muncie increased his workload in 1979 and enjoyed his breakthrough campaign, as he became the first Saint to break the 1,000-yard barrier, carrying 238 times for 1,198 yards (5.0 avg.) with 11 touchdowns and catching 40 balls for 308 yards for 1,506 total yards from scrimmage, as the Saints finished 8-8 for the first time in franchise history, earning United Press International All-NFC second-team honors and his first Pro Bowl selection, as part of an offensive unit that finished ranked fourth in the NFL. Scoring two rushing touchdowns and passing for another, Muncie capped off his season by being voted the MVP of the league’s all-star game.
Muncie was traded by the Saints at midseason in 1980 to the San Diego Chargers, where he would appear in 51 more games and be selected to the Pro Bowl two more times. He is a member of the New Orleans Saints’ Hall of Honor inside the club’s Metairie practice facility. Following his retirement in 1984, he would establish the Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation, dedicated to assisting at-risk youth through mentorship, educational assistance and counseling on the West Coast.
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