Chuck Muncie, a running back whose NFL career was cut short by drug use, has died at the age of 60.
The New Orleans Saints confirmed his death, which ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported was caused by a heart attack.
Muncie, who played at Cal, finished second in Heisman Trophy voting in 1975 and was the Saints’ third overall pick in the ’76 NFL draft. Although he rushed for 1,198 yards on 238 carries and scored 11 touchdowns in 1979, he was unhappy in New Orleans and was traded to San Diego in 1980. There, he helped power the Chargers’ Air Coryell attack and led the league with 19 touchdowns in 1981.
Three years later, he was finished in pro football, suspended for the season after a positive test for cocaine. He attempted a brief comeback in 1985, but continued to struggle with drugs. In 1989, he was sentenced to 18 months in prison for selling cocaine.
When he got out, he turned his life around, counseling drug users and gang members. “I’m a very selfish person,” Muncie told the Los Angeles Times in 2008, “and I like to feel good. One way I could make myself feel good was by helping other people. I learned, over a period of time, that was something that worked for me.”
Here’s an excerpt from the Times story in 2008:
His Chuck Muncie Youth Foundation, a nonprofit established in 1997 and based in Oxnard, has helped countless youngsters avoid the bad decisions that nearly destroyed its namesake, providing Southern California youth with alternatives to the street and offering a highly regarded tattoo-removal program.
Muncie, who spends much of his time at his Bay Area home in Emeryville, also spearheads a mentoring program for athletes at his alma mater.
“Whenever we call, he makes himself available,” says Dr. Bill Coysh, director of sports medicine for the Cal athletic department. “That’s what’s incredible about him. This is not a paid position. He does it because that’s how he is.”
If a similar program had been in place when Muncie played at Cal, the former running back says, “it would have made all the difference in the world.”
Or maybe not.
“Back in the ’70s,” says Muncie, noting that he started using cocaine in college, “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.”
His past may be less than noble, but Muncie, 55, embraces its lessons.
“Everything I did and everything I went through in my life has allowed me to do the things I’m doing now,” says Muncie, who spent about 1 1/2 years behind bars. “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.’ “