2-06-2001 BY GEOFF HOBSON
The first time Anthony Munoz tore up his rotator cuff, it was the left one and he played with it for three games before it knocked him out of the Bengals' last playoff game in January of 1991.
The second time the Bengals' Hall-of-Fame tackle hurt his rotator cuff, the injury to his right one ended his career in August of 1993.
But the third time, which was to his right one again after last month's boxing match with Dexter Manley, is an injury that simply speeded up time.
After winning his split decision over Manley to give the AFC the NFL's first annual Toughest Man title over the NFC, Munoz opted to have surgery on his right rotator cuff last week.
But just days after Bengals doctor Rob Heidt Jr., cleaned out the shoulder, Munoz was back on the exercise bike with his arm in a sling.
"I might have had to get it cleaned out 10 years from now anyway," Munoz said Tuesday. "Who knows? I might as well do it now. I'm never going to do it again, but I'm glad I did it. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I couldn't pass that up."
At age 42, Munoz still craves challenges. Which is why after he turned down the fight the first time, he had a change of heart and was named the AFC captain after going into the gym for a month with Northern Kentucky strength guru Dave Guidugli to learn at least the boxing basics.
Conditioning? No problem. Not with three one-minute rounds. Munoz runs up to five miles a day and his pulse is slower than a Florida recount.
"I was in shape, but Dave told me when I got into the ring I would probably forget what I learned and just go after it," Munoz said. "He was right. The only thing you care about is you don't want to be the guy on the canvas at the end."
Munoz, the gentle giant, hadn't been in many brawls before this one. Try one.
"Seventh grade and I don't think it lasted very long," he said.
Manley, Munoz's old foe from the '80s, proved to be as worthy of an opponent as he was as Washington's defensive end. Attacking. Aggressive. Munoz's hands, key in the football battles, proved to be just as lethal.
"The decision could have gone either way," Munoz said. "I was glad I did it, but I'm also glad it's over."
No doubt, so is that poor rotator cuff.
NO. 2 TRIES HARDER: The Bengals have gone from No. 3 to No. 2 in the NFL rushing stats, six weeks after the season ended.
Denver dropped from 2,324 rushing yards to 2,311 after an adjustment was made on a fumble recovery in the Broncos' Dec. 17 game. The Bengals, who had 2,314 yards, moved into second place after the new math.
The Raiders won the NFL title with 2,470 yards. Oddly, it was running back Corey Dillon's record-setting 278 yards against Denver Oct. 22 that revived the Bengals' running game this season.
CHMURA HEARING: The Bengals have indicated they aren't interested in pursuing former Packers tight end Mark Chmura, acquitted last week of sexual assault and child enticement. Before any team can try to sign him, Chmura must first appear before NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue. A hearing date has yet to be set.