Football 101: No. 9, Anthony Muñoz
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I love the story of why the Cincinnati Bengals decided to draft Anthony Muñoz out of USC. He was, obviously, a massive talent. He stood 6-foot-6, 285 pounds — which made him one of the biggest offensive linemen to play up to that point — and he was remarkably, impossibly light on his feet. At the combine, they didn’t have enough weight to fully measure his leg strength.
The issue was his left knee. He had come into the college season as the favorite for the Outland Trophy, and there were those calling him potentially the best offensive line prospect ever. But in USC’s opening game against Texas A&M, a defensive back fell on that left knee in a scrum. The early reports came back saying that there was no structural damage to the knee; but two days later they found some ligament damage. Two days after that, he was having knee surgery and was out for the season.
It was the third knee surgery of his college career.
“I don’t know when I’ve ever felt worse about an injury to a player,” USC coach John Robinson said then. “He’s so talented and such a good person. It’s depressing.”
Muñoz had to make a hard choice. He could redshirt and play another year in college or he could simply sit out the season, rehab the knee, work out for NFL teams and enter the draft.
Muñoz chose a third path. He decided he was going to be ready to play in USC’s Rose Bowl game against Ohio State. And that’s just what he did. Heisman Trophy winner Charles White rode his back and rushed for 247 yards. The Trojans put together a game-winning drive in the final minute with Muñoz playing every down. It was one of the most remarkable comeback performances in college football history.
Still, the Bengals were having doubts. Every team was having doubts, but Cincinnati had the third pick in the draft and their coach was a guy named Forrest Gregg, who knew a little something about offensive line play. Gregg needed convincing.
So here’s what he did: He lined up for a few plays against Muñoz. Gregg was 46 years old at the time, but still made of granite, and he tried a few pass rushes against Muñoz. Gregg couldn’t beat him.
“But what really convinced me,” Gregg would say, “is when he put one big arm out and knocked me on the ground. When he did that, I said, ‘We’ve got to have this guy.’”
At that point, all the Bengals had to do was wait and hope that Muñoz fell to the third pick. Detroit, as expected, took Oklahoma running back Billy Sims with the first pick in the draft.
The San Francisco 49ers had the second pick, but they really wanted Sims. So they were open to a deal. And it turned out that the New York Jets wanted that second pick BADLY. They traded two first-round picks to move up to that second spot so they could take …
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