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Canton Countdown: On Munoz's 25th Anniversary, Sense Of History Looms For Ken Riley's Hall of Fame Induction

Ken Riley Hall Of Fame 020923

When Ken Riley II found out he would be the second person in a line of bronze to give the speech that would deliver his father into the Pro Football Hall of Fame next month, he sent a text to the first.

"You're leading off for me," Riley told Zach Thomas, the former Dolphins tackling machine gearing up the festivities.

Thomas answered Riley because that's what Hall classmates do. Even though the 49-year-old Thomas was born the year the late Ken Riley began his fifth of 15 seasons with the Bengals.

"The one neat thing about the class is you build a bond," says Riley II, who has met the other eight inductees or their families at various events since their January election.

When the Hall suggested each inductee hold their remarks to no more than ten minutes, Mindy Coryell Lewis, the daughter of the late Don Coryell, the father of the modern passing game, exchanged glances with Riley. Their dad had matched wits in Cincinnati's iconic "Freezer Bowl," when Riley's Bengals beat Coryell's Chargers for the AFC title, but they also know a hot seat.

"Some people may say, 'That's not a lot of time,'" Riley says. "But we were both looking at it and saying. 'That's a long time.' It's certainly plenty for me."

Riley, who played for his father when he was the head coach at Florida A&M, knows all about preparation. He can't find many of them now, but he saw the pile of notebooks his dad kept on NFL wide receivers during his 207 studious games on the Bengals' corner.

But there's no book to read for this. No film to watch or other brains to pick.

"There's only one Ken Riley. There's really nothing that anybody can tell me. It all has to come from me," Riley says.  "When you think of it as putting 15 years into five  minutes, it's tough, but what I'm doing is the best I can to represent who he was."

That all sounds quite familiar to Michael Munoz even though in the 25 years since his father Anthony Munoz became the first Bengal enshrined, the Hall induction has gone from a county fair to an awards show extravaganza.

In pro football's C-SPAN Era (before NFL Network), the 1998 ceremony was on the Hall of Fame steps and the individual post-induction receptions were nothing more than tailgates. But even though the ceremony now sprawls next door at Tom Benson Stadium and glittering parties abound through the Stark County night, the Munoz and Riley inductions celebrating Super Bowl XVI teammates are connected with their only sons presenting them.

Anthony Munoz remembers waiting in the Hall to take the stage and watching his son, a junior tackle at Cincinnati's Moeller High School turning 17 the next day, casually perusing the nearby memorabilia.

"I asked him a couple of times, 'Hey, are you all right?'" Anthony Munoz recalls. "And he just said, 'Yeah, yeah. Fine.' And he went out there and he just killed it. It was as if he had been doing public speaking for several years."

Michael Munoz, now almost 42 and older than his dad when he presented him to immortality, is still speaking. Like his dad, he's help-oriented and has worked with him at his foundation as well as at the Hall for several years as a kind of community developer.

Just last month Michael Munoz lifted some of his speech that day in Canton when he spoke at the Indian River Juvenile Detention Center in Massillon, Ohio. Those in the group were not yet 21, but they were fathers.

"I used the part about seeing consistency from my dad," Michael Munoz says. "He was there and he just kind of showed up. And he had humility. He admitted when he was wrong. He was just a real guy. We all have faults and it just felt really good to be able to share that with those guys and I got feedback that it resonated with those guys. And those are things Dad demonstrates off the field that are so impactful today as they were when I was 16, 17, 18."

Michael Munoz figures he looked in the mirror and rehearsed his speech about a dozen times. With his speech a little more than two weeks away, Ken Riley II has "a framework," but he's giving himself plenty of leeway to add to the foundation.

"It's like sports with muscle memory," Michael Munoz says. "The more you rehearse it, you become free to just be authentic."

Like Michael Munoz said that day, his dad is the real deal and on his 25th Hall anniversary Anthony keeps making an impact. When he finally gets a teammate in Canton next month, he'll be watching on stage as the Hall of Fame's chief football relationship officer who has only missed one induction since his own and that's because he had to get shoulder surgery before working the Bengals preseason games as a TV analyst.

"The older guys try to get the younger guys to come back for the ceremony," Anthony Munoz says. "There are guys I've never seen or have maybe seen only once or twice. I don't know why anybody wouldn't want to come back. Bobby Bell has been back 35, 36 times. He came back when they had to pay their own way.

"The older guys encourage it. There's nothing like getting to know your fellow Hall-of-Famers. It's all about being around the guys."

Munoz knows Kenny Riley would have fit right in. They weren't extremely close and he played on the other side of the ball for just four seasons before Riley retired. But he heard stories from the other cornerbacks about how Riley helped them. And he just watched him.

"One of the nicest guys you'd ever want to meet., So kind and nice and a heck of a player," Anthony Munoz says. "When I came in, there were just unbelievable professionals on and off the field. Archie Griffin. Jimmy LeClair. Kenny Riley. He's the kind of guy who didn't say a whole lot. You needed to watch him and learn from his example."

Which is funny because that's the thing that still resonates from his day 25 years ago. Yes, he had found out he had been elected months before. But it didn't sink in until he was mingling with his heroes.

"It was like yesterday. It was 25 years ago and a lot of these guys I had read about or followed were still alive," Anthony Munoz says. "Unbelievable names. Otto Graham, Deacon Jones, Gale Sayers, Bart Starr, Chuck Noll. I'm going to events with these guys. Dante Lavelli. Dick Butkus. Hugh McElhenny and Frank Gifford. They were still with us. It was a class in NFL football history."

Ken Riley II already has sensed the majesty. For the first time in history the Hall has given rings to the family of posthumous members. And just last week, he saw his dad's teammate, quarterback Ken Anderson, had made the Hall's senior semifinals again.

"It brought up all the memories of every year, and I just realized again how hard it is to get in there," Riley says. "I'm used to anxiously looking at the list and then saying, 'OK, what's the next step? What's the next day on the calendar? It still seems surreal."

Aug. 5 is the next day on the calendar.

"That's the final date," Kenny Riley II says. "The permanent team."

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