As he did during his brilliant 13-year NFL career and later in his even more accomplished life as a spiritual and community leader, Anthony Munoz reaches out to others on the day he becomes the first Bengal inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Aug. 1 is always steamy in Canton, Ohio and this one in 1998 is no different as Munoz turns up the emotion with a vintage performance of humility and grace.
He thanks everyone.
From the orange-faced fans in the back row that showed up at 7 a.m. for the ceremony. From the fellow linemen in the Super Bowl trenches he asks to stand. From older brothers Joe and Tom that negotiated him through the hardscrabble upbringing in Ontario, Calif. From the high school baseball coach who opened the shed in the park so a 6-year-old could play.
"That was an opportunity I had as a kid," Munoz tells the crowd on the steps of the Hall.
"Thank you, Jim," he says nodding to Chaffey High School coach Jim Semon.
Munoz, sounding more like a minister than the best left tackle to ever play the game, calls the rise to the pinnacle "a triangle," with the base people like "each and every of you."
If Reggie White is the "Minister of Defense," then Munoz is the "Pastor of Pass Pro."
"Well, I had those people," he says. "Lots of people. And it started when I was a kid."
But it is his own kid, 17-year-old Michael, that steals the hearts of the crowd with the presentation of his father, the first Hispanic in the Hall. He thanks his father not for being the third pick in the 1980 draft, or for 11 straight Pro Bowls, or as the protector of two different NFL MVP quarterbacks. Instead he thanks his father for being a dad that made it to every family event he could and always called from the road when he couldn't.
Michael Munoz recalls Anthony taking him and his younger sister Michelle to Sycamore High School in the Cincinnati suburbs when he did his running.
"And you would run and run and run," Michael says. "And me and Michelle would say, 'Are you done yet?' And then he would start his sprints."
Boomer Esiason, one of those MVP quarterbacks, is in Canton preparing for his first telecast as a member of the Monday Night Football announcing team. But he chooses to stay in the background and watch the ceremony on TV while studying Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh before that night's Hall of Fame Game.
"How great is that kid?" Esiason asks. "That's the dream of every father."
Later, the two reunite when Esiason interviews Munoz on the sidelines during the game and when they hug at the end, their headsets crash together.
Before Munoz is elected back in January, only 46 of the Hall's 189 members went in on the first ballot. Munoz joins them, as well as Bengals founder Paul Brown and Bengals wide receiver Charlie Joiner. But Brown was already in the Hall when he coached his first game in Cincinnati, and where Joiner played just four of his 18 seasons.
Munoz, three weeks shy of 40, played all 185 games for the Bengals before retiring at the end of the 1992 season and a camp stint with Sam Wyche's Buccaneers in 1993. It is Wyche who once summed up the greatness of Munoz's athleticism with, "If he lost 11 pounds he could have played shortstop for the Reds."
The only disappointment on that January Election Day is that the other MVP quarterback, Ken Anderson, doesn't make it in just his second appearance on the final ballot of 15 candidates.
But August in Canton is brimming with tears of joy on a day the tackle with the long arms that dominated a generation reaches back.
Jim Semon puts his arm around his wife and says, "Next to marrying this lady 35 years ago, this is the happiest day of my life."