Bengals' Munoz still among best on the line

October 13, 1991|By Rick Gosselin | Rick Gosselin,Dallas Morning News

DALLAS -- Anthony Munoz had been a National Football Leaguer for only two seasons and he had already played in a Super Bowl and a Pro Bowl.

So Forrest Gregg, his coach with the Cincinnati Bengals at the time, decided to have a talk with his behemoth offensive tackle that next training camp in 1982.

Munoz in a very brief time had risen to the top of his profession. Gregg had already been there. He had played in two Super Bowls with the Green Bay Packers in the 1960s and had been a nine-time Pro Bowl pick at tackle.

Gregg had worn the target Munoz was about to wear.

"He told me that not only was everyone going to be shooting at us because we had been to the Super Bowl, but each and every individual I played against was going to want to play the game of his life against me because I had been to the Pro Bowl," Munoz recalled. "That advice has stuck with me to this day."

Munoz, 6-6, 284 pounds, responded to that challenge in his third season and went back to the Pro Bowl.

"It was nothing in particular that caused me to sit down with him," said Gregg, now the athletic director at Southern Methodist University. "But when you've gone through something like that yourself, you sort of know what's going to happen. Every week you're the top gun. I felt it was a little advice I could give him that might help him prepare for a season."

And every season since then. Munoz has been selected to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls. He was one of only three unanimous selections to the NFL's all-decade team of the 1980s and is considered a lock to one day join Gregg in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Now in his 12th season, the target on Munoz is bigger than ever -- and it will be Jim Jeffcoat's turn to take a shot at it today when the Cowboys host the Bengals.

"When you talk about left tackles, the first person you mention is Anthony Munoz," Jeffcoat said. "When you play against somebody of that caliber, you have to play your best game or he'll just dominate you. He's been dominating people for a long time.

"He's going to come after me. I know that. He's like a Randy White on offense. He's relentless. No matter who you are, he's going to play his butt off against you."

Jeffcoat has played against Munoz twice previously. He has held his own . . . but his team hasn't.

Jeffcoat made three tackles and recovered a fumble in their 1985 meeting. But the Bengals rolled up 570 yards in a 50-24 victory. Jeffcoat made five tackles and a sack in their 1988 meeting. But the Bengals piled up 410 yards in a 38-24 Cincinnati victory. The Bengals rushed for more than 200 yards in both games.

Age (33) and injuries to his shoulders and elbows have reduced Munoz's ability to punish defenders. But his experience and techniques have allowed him to continue dominating them.

"He's had tens of thousands of hits as an interior lineman," Bengals offensive line coach Jim McNally said. "He's in his 12th year. He's not going to be a better player now than he was in his fifth or sixth year.

"But I don't see any leveling off in his athletic ability. His quickness and agility still put him a step ahead of anyone else. I think he's still the best tackle in football. He's as good as it gets."

Jeffcoat also is playing well this season despite his advancing age (30). He leads all down linemen in tackles with 33 and shares the team leads in sacks with two. He had his best game of the season last week against Green Bay when he had four tackles, three quarterback pressures, a sack and a forced fumble.

But that was against the blocking of Billy Ard. This week he's going against the best.

"Anthony is one of the premier tackles in the league," Cowboys defensive line coach Butch Davis said. "If it was a rookie or an inexperienced guy [playing against Munoz], the reputation might make him feel like he's overmatched.

"But I like this matchup. Jim thrives on challenges. That's his forte -- battling people. On top of that, he's playing well. This is the best he's played in the three years we've been here. He's making plays when we need them."

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