Munoz will attend Canton's big bash
Early next month, Cincinnati-area pro football fans will be only a half-day's drive away from the greatest group of gridiron talent ever assembled. One of their own, Anthony Munoz, will be a part of it.
A record number of Pro Football Hall of Fame members are expected August 2-through-4 in Canton, Ohio, for the NFL Homecoming. The event, held in conjunction with the Hall's annual celebration for a new class, is a gala reunion for all members of the sport's ultimate shrine. It's also a part of the Hall's year-long celebration of its 40th Anniversary, and it's expected to draw as many as 120 of the 144 living Hall of Famers.
The Hall of Fame staff has already received word from 104 members confirming their attendance. That exceeds the pace set in 2000, when 106 members returned for Pro Football's Greatest Reunion.
Former Bengals OT Anthony Munoz, inducted to the Hall in 1998, his first year of eligibility, is already signed and sealed for attendance.
"I make a point of trying to go every summer (for the enshrinement ceremonies), but this is above and beyond," Munoz said. "There are some guys who realistically can't make it back every year, but almost everyone makes it a point to come back for the reunions."
If fans suspect there must be a special bond among Hall of Famers, even when they meet for the first time, Munoz says they're right.
"It's a unique association," he said. "Even though you played in different eras and on different teams, once you're together in Canton, you're instantly teammates. Around guys I didn't know before, I've felt the same kind of bond I had with guys I played with for years -- guys like Max (Montoya) and Koz (Bruce Kozerski) and Boomer (Esiason) and Jim Breech."
Bengals.com asked Munoz, "When you attended the first reunion in 2000, which former players were you most excited about meeting?"
"Well, you're always excited about being around big-name guys, the Butkuses and Namaths," Munoz responded. "But my best memory from that reunion is of Leo Nomellini, a guy I did not know a whole lot about."
Nomellini, a defensive tackle, played in every game during a 14-year career with San Francisco (1950-63) and was selected for 10 Pro Bowls. He did not, however, get a chance to play college football until after he was in the military during World War II.
"Leo has since passed away," Munoz said, "and I really value the conversation we had together. He was not doing well physically that day, and he came over to where I was sitting and said, 'May I sit here?'
"We just started talking, and he told me about his background. He said he didn't have any real prospects for college football until he was in the Army, when he made contacts with other service people who were going to be in coaching after the war. They told him, 'You've got to come play for us when we all get back to the States,' and he wound up at the University of Minnesota.
"It's just very meaningful to hear a story like that," Munoz said. "When you say the name 'Leo Nomellini,' it doesn't have the recognition of a Jim Brown or a Gale Sayers or a Deacon Jones, but it was a privilege for me to know him."
John Bankert, executive director of the Hall of Fame, said that NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue conceived the Hall of Fame reunion idea, pegging Pro Football's Greatest Reunion as the kickoff event for the 2000 season, the first of the new millennium.
"We're confident," Bankert said, "that this year's version will be even more exciting and successful."
:Tagliabue said, "Ever since that first reunion, it seems whenever I run into a Hall of Famer, he refers to that gathering and asks me 'when will we do that again?' The Hall of Fame's 40th Anniversary is the perfect occasion to again pay tribute to the game's greatest contributors."
The returning Hall of Fame members, who will welcome the most recently elected members to their elite fraternity – Marcus Allen, Elvin Bethea, Joe DeLamielleure, James Lofton, and Hank Stram – will participate in a number of public events. Thousands of fans will have the opportunity to see and cheer the pro football immortals as they walk across the Enshrinement stage on Sunday afternoon. Hundreds of thousands more will witness the historic gathering during the live (2 p.m. ET) broadcast on ESPN.