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A night to remember

9-6-01, 1:30 P.M.


It turns out Condi Rice is not only an expert on Central America, but also the AFC Central.

In fact, President Bush's national security adviser is a big Bengals' follower who can talk about Mike Wilson as easily as Woodrow Wilson.

Anthony Munoz, the Bengals Hall of Fame tackle, found out all this and more Wednesday night when he and wife DeDe were guests at the first state dinner of Bush's presidency in honor of Mexican President Vicente Fox.

Munoz sat next to Rice at an intimate gathering for the White House of about 130. The protocol office turned out to be on top of its game because when Munoz mentioned one of his ex-teammates was now a farmer in Iowa, Rice said, "Oh, Bruce Reimers."

"We talked about Max (Montoya) and she mentioned (Wilson's) name," Munoz said. "She knew about the attack offense. Her father was a high school coach and she was an only child, so she says she's the football player he was supposed to have."

The big honor came in the receiving line, where

Munoz introduced himself to both presidents. Bush told him, "I know who you are," and turned to Fox and told him in Spanish, "Football Americano."

Then Munoz wasn't sure to whom Bush referred when he said, "The president's grandfather was born in Cincinnati." But it gave Munoz an opening to tell Fox his grandparents were born in Mexico.

"It was a big thrill that he put me together with Cincinnati," said Munoz, the first Hispanic-American in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. "It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime nights. DeDe and I were smiling the whole night and we woke up smiling.

"Trent Lott, Joe Biden, Darrell Green" said Munoz, ticking off some of the luminaries he met. "DeDe and I would have loved to have met Colin Powell, but there were too many people around him. Same with Clint Eastwood."

The invite came through the NFL, which staged the American Bowl last month between Dallas and Oakland in Mexico City.

Munoz had hoped to make a return trip to the White House Thursday for a tour at the invitation of Bush's personal lawyer, Alberto Gonzalez. It was on a tour of the White House a dozen years ago that Munoz met the first President Bush on some backstairs and had a photo taken.

He probably leads the Bengals with three presidents met.

"I was at a banquet with Reagan once," Munoz said. "It's something you always remember."

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