San Diego still heaven to Chuck Muncie

Chuck Muncie returned to his hometown recently and spoke to the Uniontown Red Raiders football squad, rekindling relationships with a lot of old friends. He reflected on his addiction that ended his football career, his view on life, the importance of sharing his life lessons and the time he spent with the San Diego Chargers.

Muncie was in town as part of his job with MSL combines. The company is affiliated with the NFL Coaches Association. It stages skill drills similar to the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, but on the high school level. The combines help high school kids get into college to play football.

It has been quite a ride for Muncie from Grant Street in Uniontown to football greatness. Muncie was a Heisman trophy runner-up to Ohio State's Archie Griffin in 1975. Top draft pick of the New Orleans Saints in 1976, traded to San Diego in 1980. He fashioned a 10-year career in pro football and was a three-time Pro Bowl selection and rushed for over 6,000 yards in his pro career.

Muncie, 51, is a link to the great players in Uniontown's past but he brings a strong message to today's athletes. It wasn't anything on the field that brought Muncie to his knees - it was the demons off the field.

Muncie became addicted to cocaine after he entered the pros and the long downward spiral led to his arrest and a 21/2-year jail sentence.

"I woke up every morning in that cell for 21/2 years, looking at myself in the mirror," Muncie says. "I had seen enough."

Muncie did something about it. He sought help and beat his cocaine addiction.

"Life is good and it's nice to be clean and sober and living the life that was meant to be," Muncie stated. "It's a fulfilling thing every day for me.

"The financial part of it is one thing, but the lifestyle I think there are a lot of guys that we deem successful that still have their demons chasing them and that's one thing that I can honestly say is that I don't have any demons anymore. I've accepted my life and I've sort of overcome the financial catastrophe that took place and the family life is good. I'm with a great woman now and my daughter's grown and we're happy and life goes on. You can't sit and dwell on things in the past. All you can do is make a difference in your future."

Muncie had some thoughts on the latest sports controversy - steroids.

"That's a horrible thing because of what it's doing to people," Muncie said. "Unfortunately it's taken years and years for this information to become knowledgeable for guys that are using it. Now I hope that young kids - we're finding out that 13- and 14-year-old kids are starting to use steroids and that's horrible in itself. Hopefully they'll be able to see what has happened to a lot of these guys that were using it before and how it has effected their hearts and their health in general."

Muncie came from a sports family. One of six kids, his three older brothers all played pro football. So the seeds were planted at an early age.

"That was just something we did," Muncie explained. "That's how East End was back in Uniontown. I lived right across the street from East End playground and playing sports was a part of our everyday life and fortunately it was something that propelled me to the heights that I achieved.

"But there was a big age gap between me and my brothers. But when people ask me who were the most outstanding athletes that I look up to, I say my brothers because they were all very successful.

"It was something that was never forced on us. There was never any pressure on us to play sports. My mom and dad were into academics and believed that no matter what you did you would be able to achieve if you put your nose to the grindstone."

Muncie grew up in the golden age of Uniontown athletics.

"I look at those days and the guys who were ahead of me," Muncie said. "You talk about heroes from football and basketball - from the Parson brothers, the Yates brothers, the Stephens brothers, Gillian, Minor, Sepic - you can just name the names and what's funny I was over there last week at Uniontown High School talking to (Athletic Director and football coach) John Fortugna and there's a Mc Lee and it's funny I looked at John and I said you don't really have to change the names on the jerseys, just the numbers."

Muncie didn't play football at Uniontown after a tackle left him with a concussion. His mother forbade him from playing football and Muncie concentrated on basketball and got a scholarship to Arizona Western and then fate stepped in.

"One of the coaches, Charlie Dine, had actually played in Canada against my brother Bill," Muncie recalled. "He recognized the name Muncie although it was spelled differently. He saw on the transcript that I was from Uniontown, Pa., so he called my brother Bill and asked if he had a younger brother named Chuck. Charlie asked if I could play football and my brother said yeah, he's very good, but my mom wouldn't let him finish out his senior year because of an injury and if you can ever get him out on the field you might have yourself a pretty good ballplayer."

Muncie was persuaded to play football because of the extra stipend he would earn.

"I went out for the team," Muncie explained. "We had a scrimmage and the first time I touched the ball I went 85 yards for a touchdown and that was it. I never did see the basketball court."

Following one year at Arizona Western, Muncie was recruited heavily by Stanford, but John Ralston left Stanford for the Denver Broncos and his assistant Mike White became the head coach at the University of California and convinced Muncie to come to Berkeley.

Muncie led a resurgence at Cal and almost won the Heisman Trophy in 1975.

"That was a heartbreaker," Muncie recalled. "There were two things that broke my heart my senior year. One, we didn't go to the Rose Bowl because back then they didn't have all the bowl games and it was a coin toss and UCLA won the coin toss to go to the Rose Bowl. Then I lost the Heisman Trophy by two votes against Archie Griffin. Ricky Bell, who was a sophomore at USC, got four votes and those four votes made me lose by two."

Drafted by New Orleans in 1976 and then traded to San Diego in 1980, Muncie rushed for 6,702 yards and 71 touchdowns in his NFL career and caught 263 passes for 2,323 yards and three touchdowns.

Muncie is especially pround of his time with San Diego.

"It was a great opportunity for me," Muncie recalled. "That was the first offense to use that single back offense and I was just like another receiver and it was like what they would call an "H" position now where you don't know where the guy is going to line up. I was a very inovative move and they utilized my skills and my talent and it was a great time.

"It was a great offense. We had so many weapons and one of the things I tell people is that I was probably one of the first thousand yard backs that only averaged carrying the ball 18 times a game. That one of the things that I'm proud of that I had a great yards per carry average, but our attack was soo good that people just didn't know how to defend us and that opened up a lot of things for the running game and when we did run the ball we had a great offensive line out there with Ed White a All-Pro, Russ Washington, Doug Wilkerson and guys like that. It was just an amazing opportunity. I thought I died and went to heaven when I went to San Diego."

He has no regrets about his NFL career.

"It was a great ride," Muncie explained. "How can anybody have any regrets that gets an opportunity to play at that level? I don't care how successful you are in whatever business, there are things that you always second-guess that you wish you would have done differently. But at the end of it all at the end of the day I am very satisfied with my accomplishments in the NFL and I'm definitely recognized by my peers as being one of the top backs that ever played the game. For me when those guys acknowledge me and your record still stands - one or two of them still stand and here it is 20 years later and they are still in the books, that's not too bad."

These days Muncie concentrates on the Chuck Muncie Foundation, based in Southern California, and travels around the country with the MSL combines giving exposure to high school football players.

He derives a great deal of satisfaction from the combines.

"The fun thing about it is not only helping these kids, but also sitting there on a Saturday and watching a college game and you see some of the kids that you've helped actually playing on Saturday and contributing to these teams and then when we started this thing about 1997, now we're seeing those kids go into the NFL," said Muncie.

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