Position: Offensive Guard
Team: Houston Oilers
Career: During his 12 year career, Mike Munchak had surgery on his knees eleven times; eight on the left, three on the right. He had so much cartilage removed, his bones would literally scrape against one another; and at night, the pain was so severe, he had trouble sleeping. By 1993, he was physically unable to practice during the week; he’d play on Sunday and spend the rest of his time in the trainer’s room.
But Munchak never let the pain stand in the way of becoming one of the NFL’s best ever offensive linemen.
In 1982, the Oilers’ used their first round pick on Munchak, the first step of a rebuilding effort that would ultimately lead a dead franchise back to respectability.
He, along with linemate, and friend, Bruce Matthews, anchored an offensive line that helped lead the way to seven consecutive playoff appearances. During that span, Munchak made nine Pro Bowls (including seven in a row between 1988 and 1994) and four All-Pro teams. And in 2001, he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, one of only 27 offensive linemen to receive such an honor.
Hard to believe, Munchak didn’t find his niche at guard until his sophomore year in college. And even then, it was by accident. The Scranton, Pennsylvania native wasn’t cutting it as a fullback, the position he had played in high school, so Penn State head coach Joe Paterno moved him to tight end; then defensive tackle; then offensive tackle; then center… "We moved him to offensive guard in order to look at some other people," Paterno said.
Munchak never looked back.
As an Oiler, he was, for many years, the lone bright spot on a dismal team. During Mike’s first three seasons, Houston won 5 games. Total.
At long last, things turned around in 1987. The Oilers finished 9-6 and beat Seattle in the Wildcard Game. Munchak called the win one of his proudest moments as a professional. In 1991, he helped Houston celebrate it’s first-ever, outright AFC Central division title. But Munchak and the Oilers could never get over the hump during the postseason, winning just 3 of 10 playoff games.
During the Oilers’ 1994 Divisional Playoff match-up with Kansas City, the man who set in motion Houston’s football renaissance, could no longer stand the pain. He quietly took himself out of the game, an eventual loss that many felt sealed the Oilers’ fate in Houston. How fitting that Munchak and the Oilers’ success both ended simultaneously.
It’s cliché to say an athlete gave all he had, left it all on the field; unless the athlete in question is Mike Munchak. No one gave more, and few were better.
Houston Highlight: On September 14, 1986, Munchak, the former high school fullback, revisited what used to be familiar territory: the end zone.
Trying to punch the ball in from the goal line, Oilers running back Larry Moriarty fumbled. Ever alert, Munchak pounced on the loose football to score his first, and last, NFL touchdown. Houston would eventually fall to Cleveland, 23-20.
"Unfortunately, we lost," Munchak would said later. "So my touchdown is not such a big deal."