Updated: May 14, 2013 1:56PM
Chuck Muncie, a three-time Pro Bowl running back and a first-round pick of the New Orleans Saints whose career was shortened by drug abuse, died Tuesday of a heart attack at the age of 60, the Saints announced.
Muncie, who played for the Saints from 1976-80 and for the San Diego Chargers from 1980-84, rushed for 6,702 yards and 71 touchdowns, but his career ended in 1984, when Commissioner Pete Rozelle suspended Muncie for the remainder of the season when he tested positive for cocaine after the first regular-season game.
Muncie tried a comeback with the Minnesota Vikings in 1985, but eventually walked away from the game, saying he had personal issues he needed to address.
In 1989, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for selling cocaine, but he turned his life around after his release, working with children and adult addicts, while also counseling gang members to get out of the life.
The Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation, a nonprofit established in 1997, counseled youngsters and offered alternatives to gangs. It also paid for a tattoo-removal program for gang members. Muncie also mentored athletes at the University of California, his alma mater.
“Whenever we call, he makes himself available,” Dr. Bill Coysh, director of sports medicine for the Cal athletic department, told the Los Angeles Times in 2002. “That’s what’s incredible about him. This is not a paid position. He does it because that’s how he is.”
After a stellar career at Cal, Muncie began his NFL career in New Orleans, but spent most of the four years trying to get traded. When he was dealt to the Chargers, he provided a powerful running attack to an already potent passing offense. In 1981, he led the NFL with 19 touchdowns.
Muncie rushed for 120 yards and a touchdown in one of the most memorable games in NFL history — the Chargers’ 31-28 postseason victory over the Miami Dolphins in 1981.
Little-known stats: Muncie completed four passes in his career — all for touchdowns, and he finished with a 141.4 passer rating. Three of the scoring passes went to receiver Wes Chandler.
Muncie told this story to Football Digest in 2002, when describing the intense rivalry between the Chargers and Raiders:
“The Raiders got a report that I had an injured ankle. It was the left one, but they got their report mixed up and thought it was my right one. So I got tackled, and on the bottom of the pile, Lyle Alzado had my right ankle and was grinding it and everything. I got up and pretended to limp. I looked back at him and said, ‘Hey, wrong ankle, (bleep)hole!’ “
In the 2008 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Muncie looked back on his checkered past, admitting his drug use began in college.
“Back in the ‘70s,” he said, “everything was about experimentation, and Berkeley was a different place than it is now. It was a different time, and we didn’t have the education we have now on drug abuse, so it’s kind of hard to compare. It’s apples and oranges.”
But he added: “Everything I did and everything I went through in my life has allowed me to do the things I’m doing now. I’ve been able to tell these guys, ‘Been there, done that, and if you keep doing these things, this is what’s going to happen.’ “