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Anthony And Koz Offer Some Super Advice For Their Bengals

Anthony Munoz (left) and Bruce Kozerski camp out.
Anthony Munoz (left) and Bruce Kozerski camp out.

No one puts on a camp like the greatest Bengal there ever was.

As he surveyed Thursday's final day of the two-day Anthony Munoz Football Academy, Papi could pick out his willowy grandsons Austin and Carson on the broiling, busy Paul Brown Stadium turf.

There were nearly 400 girls and boys ages nine to 14 running around what Munoz never had back in Ontario, Calif., in the spare '60s and '70s.

A well-stocked gathering of coaches, fundamentals, and water run in a pro stadium by a local coaching legend in Andy Olds. No camper pays. Courtesy of the omnipresent good works of the Anthony Munoz Foundation.

When the ground got hot to the touch, Munoz and Bruce Kozerski reminisced about those Bengals training camp steam baths at Wilmington College he would invariably end at the Clinton County Hospital getting an I.V. The twist is that Munoz has a towel that Kozerski used to stir the Riverfront Stadium crowd.

"You know, he doesn't drink any water, either," said Michelle Trenz, Munoz's daughter, pointing at one of her boys. "He wasn't feeling great earlier today."

Kozerski, who brought along wife Beth and his own oldest grandson, Gavin, shook his head.

"Runs in the family," said the smartest teammate Munoz says he ever had.

Since Kozerski is family and a Munoz camp is more than football, Munoz closed the academy with the Holy Cross High School calculus teacher and championship head football coach speaking to the kids about the importance of excelling in school. Just like he had another Bengals teammate, David Fulcher, speak the day before.

That ended a day that included team-building exercises, character chats and position drills with coaches and campers checking off those intangibles that come ahead of talent on Munoz' list.

When they had a chance to step under a tent, Munoz and Kozerski were asked about giving advice to that other set of grand kids that roam PBS. Those AFC champion Bengals that are going to do what Munoz and Kozerski did 33 years ago and try to get back to the Super Bowl after losing the lead in the last minute.

"I think this team is in better shape than they were last year," said Munoz, thrilled with the three starters they added on the offensive line during free agency.

"Look at the moves the team made right after the season. There was a glaring need and they went after it right away and addressed it. (C.J.) Uzomah leaves and they get (Hayden) Hurst. It looks like they're taking care of things and making sure it keeps going. It's not, they went to the Super Bowl and let this guy get away and that guy get away. That was impressive. Bang."

Those '88 Bengals followed up with one of the more curious seasons in NFL history. They won games by 41-10, 42-7, 56-23 and 61-7. They would have gone to the playoffs if they won in Minnesota on Christmas night in the season finale. But they finished 8-8 with a plus-119-point differential, the biggest in history by a team that didn't have a winning record.

"Don't let the distractions keep you from getting ready again for the next season," Munoz said. "That was the biggest thing. You get pulled from every direction. There's this drain on your time and then all of a sudden you start moving in that direction and you forget what got you in position to do the things that got you to the Super Bowl."

Munoz's resume in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, along with the 11 Pro Bowls, has the two Super Bowls seven years apart. The distractions were relatively the same.

"I took the day off after the Pro Bowl and went back to work," he said of his regimen at Bengals headquarters. "We had a good corps of guys at Spinney Field, but there were guys that didn't necessarily stay in town."

Kozerski, who centered the '88 club and worked everywhere else during a dozen seasons he played more games than any Bengals interior offensive lineman, is also pumped by the offseason.

"I've seen great front office moves. I'm really excited about that," Kozerski said. "I think right now it's just for the players. You can't settle. It's not automatic. We were in the same position. Young, talented. It's not automatic. You have to keep together. The most important thing is starting from scratch and are willing to put in the work and I think they are."

After not making the postseason, the Bengals came back in 1990 to win the AFC Central, won a playoff game and despite injuries and sickness to a host of starters, came within five minutes of going to the AFC championship game.

"We got it back in '90 after we kind of realized we laid an egg in '89," Kozerski said. "You're doing this. You're doing that. You get started on your training later. Before you know it, it's the season and you're not ready to go. If they want to go back to where they were, which everybody believes they can, stay focused. Stay focused."

The same thing that was said then is what is being said now. And it's not confined to the Bengals. The Celtics are hearing it now after losing the NBA finals.

"They're young with so much talent. They'll be back."

Munoz winces. He doesn't wish that on these guys.

"Nothing worse," Munoz said, "than knowing you have ability to do it but not getting back after a few years, that's frustrating. I thought (after the first Super Bowl), we were talented. Even more so in '88. To not get there again or get close to experience that was frustrating."

His advice to the leaders: "Keep staying vocal and keep an example on how to continue to stay focused. Accountability, man. Hold guys accountable. It looks like they have those guys."

After Kozerski speaks, the pizzas are rolled out and Austin Trenz is chewing on a slice as he rushes with his mother, brother and buddy Connor to a baseball game.

"He played offensive lineman for the Bengals," Austin said when asked what he knows about Papi's career.

"How many years?" his mother asked.

"Thirteen," he said and smiled when asked how good he was.

"Really good," Austin said.

"Did you ever hear he was the greatest who ever lived?" he was asked.

"Yeah, he's got a jersey that says that."

Munoz smiled. Boomer Esiason and his teammates gave it to him when he retired. His grandson has been taking notes. He has big hopes for his other set of grandsons, too.

"As close as they got, as talented as they are and with all the moves they made," said Munoz as he broke camp.