|BY DONNIE COLLINS THE SUNDAY TIMES
||August 05, 2001
|It started on an
out-of-the-way pee-wee football field in East Scranton.
It wound up on the steps of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
On Saturday, the often painful, seldom easy journey of Mike Munchak reached its high
point, when he was inducted into pro football's shrine along with six other legends.
|Here's a look back at the
life of a local hero.
THE EARLY YEARS
March 5, 1960 -- Michael Anthony Munchak Jr. is born in Scranton.
-- A promising career is born on a midget football field, as a 9-year-old Munchak dons the
pads and helmet for the East Scranton Apollos of the Athracite Junior Football League.
-- As a junior at Scranton Central High School, he is the fullback in front of RB Joe
McCarthy, one of the Big 11's best backs, and gains notice for his brutal blocking and
tenacious play as a defender.
Sept. 19, 1976 -- Munchak is named The Scranton Times Athlete of the Week for his play on
defense during Central's hard-hitting 14-14 tie with Valley View.
July 26, 1977 -- Sports Illustrated magazine nominates Munchak for its 1977 All-American
High School Football team.
Oct. 16, 1977 -- For the second time, Munchak is named The Times' Player of the Week after
he harrasses Mid Valley with three interceptions -- one of which he returned 45 yards for
a touchdown -- and another two-yard run for a score.
Later this season, he will be voted first-team All State as a defensive end and Player of
the Year in the Big 11 conference.
Offensively, during his senior season, the 6-foot-4, 230-pounder led the Golden Eagles
with 792 yards rushing.
Feb. 15, 1978 --With family members at his side at their Harrison Avenue home, Munchak
signs a letter of intent to continue his football career at Penn State University.
PHI KAPPA FOOTBALL
Sept. 1978 -- The Nittany Lions begin a drive that will end up just one touchdown shy of
their first-ever national championship.
Penn State crusies to an 11-0 record and No. 1 ranking, but falls to No.2 Alabama, 14-7,
in the Sugar Bowl on Jan. 1, 1979.
As most freshmen on Joe Paterno-led teams did in those days, Munchak spent most of his
freshman campaign playing on special teams, still looking for a full-time position.
May 2, 1979 -- Just days before his team's annual Blue-White spring scrimmage, Paterno
announces that Munchak, who expressed an interest in playing on the defensive line, will
start at offensive guard.
"We moved him to offensive guard in order to look at some other people," Paterno
Sept. 15, 1979 -- For the first time in his college career, Munchak is a starter. Bulked
up to 6-foot-4, 255 pounds, he will be at right guard for the first snap of the Nittany
Lions' 45-10 win in their home opener against Rutgers.
Dec. 22, 1979 -- Penn State ammases 242 rushing yards behind Munchak and his offensive
line mates in a 9-6 win over Tulane in the Liberty Bowl.
The East Scranton native, however, twists his right knee during the game.
He will never feel the same again.
"I FELT IT TEAR..." June 5, 1980 -- Penn State officials send their star guard
to Portland, Ore., to correct a cartilage problem in his left knee.
"I felt it tear when I pulled to block on a play in scrimmage," he said.
The procedure is considered minor.
Aug. 18, 1980 -- Munchak returns to the practice field for the first time after surgery,
but is running gingerly and being held out of contact drills.
Penn State is planning to start senior John Wojtowicz in the opener against Colgate.
Oct. 1, 1980 -- Just three games in, his season is finished. Munchak undergoes more
surgery to remove damaged cartilage not removed during the June surgery. Penn State
GOOD AGAIN July 1, 1981 -- Like he has done for much of the summer, Munchak is spending
his day in a Scranton health club, trying to lift weights and exercise his way back from
the not-so-minor surgery that has left him sidelined.
"It is 100 percent, and it's just a matter of getting the endurance back," he
Sept. 12, 1981 -- The endurance is back -- and so is Munchak.
Now entrenched at guard along with friend and All American Sean Farrell, Munchak returns
to Beaver Stadium to play his first game in 20 months -- a 52-0 thrashing of Cincinnati.
Nov. 28, 1981 -- Now ranked No. 13 and coming off two tough losses in four games, the
Lions rout No. 1 Pittsburgh 48-14 at Pitt Staduim.
Munchak plays every game during the regular season.
Jan. 1, 1982 -- Utilizing the punishing offensive line in front of him, running back Curt
Warner rushes for 145 of Penn State's 218 yards on the ground during its 26-10 Fiesta Bowl
win over Southern California.
Penn State finishes No. 3 in the nation.
It will be Munchak's final game in Penn State blue and white.
Jan. 8, 1982 -- Despite having one year of college eligibility to spend, Munchak decides
to enter the National Football League Draft after a talk with Paterno.
"It was a tough decision for me to make, because I love it here," he said.
"Coach Paterno told me I was to make a decision I would be happy with."
April 27, 1982 -- In what some scouts call a "one-man draft," the New England
Patriots select "the one man" -- Texas defensive tackle Ken Sims.
Munchak is the first offensive lineman selected, at No. 8, by the lowly Houston Oilers.
"I was shocked to see my name up on the screen," the newest Oiler told his
May 1982 -- Munchak celebrates his graduation from Penn State University, holding a degree
June 30, 1982 -- Scrantonians celebrate "Mike Munchak Day." Former NFL referee
Lou Palazzi and Penn State offensive coordinator Dick Anderson are the principal speakers
at a dinner to honor him.
July 15, 1982 -- Munchak signs his first professional contract, a four-year pact worth
slightly more than $1 million per season. Within weeks, he will report to training camp.
TWELVE TO GO...
Aug. 12, 1982 -- The first game jitters are there, but few can tell. Munchak makes his NFL
debut in Houston's 22-20 preseason win over New Orleans at the Astrodome.
"You could see that he's an unusual rookie out there tonight," Oilers coach Ed
Biles said. "On a couple of plays, he just knocked his man on his butt."
Sept. 11, 1982 -- Veteran John Schumacher is no longer Houston's left guard.
Biles moves Schumacher from guard to left tackle to make room for Munchak, who makes his
first start in the Oilers' 27-6 loss to Cincinnati.
"The coaches moved me before I could ask (to be moved to tackle)," Schumacher
said. "I don't think anybody else is going to get a lot of playing time at left guard
for the next few years."
Sept. 25, 1982 -- No games are played. Munchak's rookie season is interrupted by a
player's strike. All scheduled games from Week 3 to Week 9 are cancelled.
Nov. 22, 1982 -- In his first game back from the strike, Munchak is felled by a hairline
fracture of the left ankle.
He will play in just one more game.
"I feel like this year's been a total waste for me," he said.
May 14 -- Munchak is married to Marci Ellen Heicklen, of Wescosville, at a ceremony in
Nov. 13 -- Houston loses, 55-14, to Cincinnati, bringing the team's losing streak to an
eye-popping 10 games.
"Losing like we've been losing is awful tough to handle," Munchak said.
Dec. 25 -- The horrific 1983 season ends with a 20-10 loss to the Baltimore Colts. The
team finishes 2-14.
Jan. 3 -- Despite the team's dismal record, The Newspaper Enterprise Association names
Munchak a second-team All Pro guard.
Aug. 7 -- Munchak undergoes arthroscopic surgery on his left knee. He began complaining of
soreness in the knee when training camp opened two weeks earlier. He hasn't practiced in
Nov. 4 -- The Steelers jolt the Oilers, 35-7. Houston falls to 0-10.
Dec. 12 -- Another milestone: Munchak is elected to his first Pro Bowl.
"When the coaches made the announcement," Munchak said, "everyone
Dec. 16 -- "I know we have the talent here to be a lot better than we were in the
last couple of years," Munchak says after a 27-20 loss to Cleveland that ends an
arduous 3-13 campaign for the Oilers.
Jan. 27 -- Munchak's Pro Bowl debut is a successful one, as the AFC defeats the NFC,
Dec. 18 -- With another disappointing, but healthy, season winding down (the Oilers
finished 5-11), Munchak is named a starter on the AFC Pro Bowl squad. It is his second
Feb. 2 -- The 6-foot-3, 285-pound Munchak limps off the turf during the second quarter of
his second Pro Bowl with a knee injury. It is not considered serious.
Sept. 7 -- Despite an ankle sprain, Munchak starts for the Oilers during a season-opening
31-3 destruction of Green Bay. The Oilers rush for 157 yards and two touchdowns behind
Munchak and the offensive line.
Sept. 14 -- For the first time since his days at Central, Mike visits the end zone. Oilers
running back Larry Moriarty fumbles near the goal line, and Munchak recovers in the end
zone to score his first, and last, NFL touchdown. Houston falls to Cleveland, 23-20.
"Unfortunately, we lost," he said later. "So my touchdown is not such a big
Oct. 12 -- For Munchak, the season is over. A tear of the medial collateral ligament in
his right knee suffered late in the first quarter of a 20-7 loss to Chicago puts him on
the injured reserve.
He'll miss 10 games.
Sept. 13 -- Munchak returns healthy after an 11-month layoff. Houston beats the Lost
Angeles Rams, 20-16, to open the season.
Sept. 22 -- For the second time in his career, a strike puts a halt to part of the season.
All Week 3 games are cancelled, and replacement players will suit up for the following
Dec. 27 -- The Oilers finish the regular season 9-6 and make the playoffs for the first
time since Munchak was drafted.
Dec. 28 -- Munchak is rewarded for the team's fine season with a trip to his third Pro
Jan. 3 -- In an AFC Wild Card Playoff classic, the Oilers defeat the Seattle Seahawks in
overtime, 23-20, on a field goal by kicker Tony Zendejas. Munchak says this win is one of
the greatest moments of his professional career.
Jan. 10 -- Denver defeats the Oilers, 34-10, at Mile High Stadium, ending Munchak's
Dec. 14 -- Anchoring the line for a team that finishes the season 10-6 and in the
playoffs, Munchak is named to his fourth Pro Bowl, and second in a row, as a backup guard.
Dec. 24 -- Behind two TDs from running back Allen Pinkett, the Oilers beat Cleveland,
24-23, in a Wild Card Playoff game.
Jan. 1 -- The Oilers are eliminated in the divisional playoffs, 17-10, by the Bills.
Dec. 3 -- In frigid, blizzard-like conditions, the Oilers beat Pittsburgh at Three Rivers
Stadium, 23-16. Munchak and his teammates claim sole possession of first place after the
season's 13th game -- the latest the team has been in first since 1967.
They will finish third.
Dec. 20 -- Another year, another Pro Bowl nomination. It is Munchak's fifth in his
Dec. 31 -- A once-promising season ends early, as the Oilers are upended by the Steelers,
23-20, at the Astrodome in the first round of the playoffs.
Sept. 23 -- After dropping their first two games on the road, the Oilers win their home
opener 24-10 over the Indianapolis Colts.
Dec. 9 -- The Oilers, struggling at 6-6, have an offensive day to remember, breaking many
cords in a 58-14 win over Cleveland. Munchak and the offense set team highs for most
points in a game, in a quarter (31) and in a half (45).
The win kicks off a 3-1 finish, and the team grabs a Wild Card berth. The Oilers lead the
league in total offense.
Dec. 19 -- Munchak is going to Honolulu for yet another Pro Bowl. It's his sixth.
Sept. 15 -- Another injury to his left knee forces Munchak to remove himself from
Houston's 17-7 win over Kansas City at the Astrodome.
Munchak will have arthroscopic surgery later in the week and miss the next four weeks.
Dec. 19 -- Despite the missed time, Munchak earns a trip to his seventh Pro Bowl.
Nov. 22 -- A sore back keeps Munchak out of the Oilers' 19-16 loss to Miami. He will play
just one half of his team's 24-21 win against Detroit four days later on Thanksgiving.
Dec. 20 -- The Oilers beat Cleveland, clinching a playoff spot for the sixth straight
Dec. 23 -- Munchak admits that, after the back injury and constant knee pain slowed his
season, he is considering retirement.
Jan. 3 -- The Oilers are out of the playoffs after a stunning 41-38 OT loss at Buffalo in
the first round. Houston blew a 35-3 lead -- the biggest collapse in NFL history.
Sept. 4 -- Munchak plays in the season-opening 33-21 loss to New Orleans. While he will
suit up for 13 games this season, chronic knee problems will prevent him from practicing
during the week.
Dec. 19 -- The Oilers clinch their second AFC Central Division championship with a 26-17
win over the hated Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium.
Dec. 28 -- Munchak sets an Oilers record by being named to the Pro Bowl for the ninth
Jan. 16 -- Kansas City defeats Houston, 28-20, in the divisional playoffs. Munchak takes
himself out late in the game with excrutiating pain in his knee.
It's the last football game he'll ever play.
July 21 -- Munchak, 34, announces that chronic knee problems have forced him to retire. He
will remain with the Oilers as an assistant to football operaions, working with the
offensive line on a day-to-day basis.
"What I'll miss most is the camaraderie of the offensive line," Munchak said.
"I'll remember those times when we weren't winning, but we were still busting our
butts trying to win."
Nov. 6 -- In front of 47,822 fans at the Astrodome, Munchak's No. 63 is retired by the
Oilers at a ceremony during halftime of Houston's game against Pittsburgh.
The fourth-largest city in the nation declared Nov. 6, 1994 "Mike Munchak Day."
Jan. 27 -- In his third year as a nominee, Munchak finally is voted into the Pro Football
Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio.
"I'm in shock. I wasn't counting on having my name called," he said.
July 1 -- Sixty people attend a ceremony to name a road leading to the newly constructed
Scranton High School after Munchak.
"Mike Munchak Way" will run near Scranton Memorial Stadium, where Munchak played
during his high school career.
"Maybe they'll see that I'm just a hometown kid," Munchak said of the students
who will travel the road daily.
Aug. 4 -- Inducted into Pro Football Hall of Fame.