In his second year with the Bengals, Anthony Munoz and his teammates reached the Super Bowl after going 6-10 the previous season. Similar to the current Bengals team, Munoz's 1981 team underwent a jersey change just before its historic championship run.
New uniforms are nice, but Munoz -- a Pro Football Hall of Famer and quite possibly the greatest left tackle in NFL history -- credits the Bengals' quick turnaround to the work the team has done on the field and in the front office during coach Zac Taylor's three years with the organization. After owning the NFL's worst record two years ago, the Bengals are back in the Super Bowl for the first time since January 1989.
"It's just been a whole culture change," said Munoz, who will lead a workout on the eve of the big game in Los Angeles as part of his partnership with Hydroxycut. "Not to mention that Joe Burrow got healthy, [which was] phenomenal after having that injury."
Speaking of Burrow, Munoz agrees with recent comparisons between the Bengals' second-year quarterback and 49ers legend Joe Montana, who defeated Munoz and the Bengals in Super Bowls XVI and XXIII. The 49ers held off a furious Bengals rally to win Super Bowl XVI 26-21. Montana then led a 92-yard, game-winning drive to defeat the Bengals in Super Bowl XXIII 20-16.
"Nightmares. Thanks for bringing that up," Munoz said with a laugh when those games against Montana were referenced. "I know somebody compared him to [Tom] Brady, and I said not only Brady, I brought Montana up right away. I played with two [quarterbacks] that were amazingly smart, too. It's almost like nothing gets by them when they're out on the football field. If their first or second choices [are covered], they can turn and know exactly where the other guys are. And as they turn and throw, they hit them. That's what Montana was able to do.
"Montana didn't have an Elway or a Marino arm, but he had the anticipation. He had the smarts to know where everybody was at all times. I see Joe being able to do that. How many times can blitzes get through and disrupt what he's doing, because he knows how to get rid of it quickly? He only played maybe half of last year going into his second year. He's rarely affected by blitzing. To me, that's where the comparison comes into Montana, because Montana could do the same thing.
"You keep Joe healthy, he's got a lot of years ahead of him. He'll continue to just slice and dice and take defenses apart."
Munoz lauded the Bengals' improved offensive line play during this past Sunday's win over the Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game. Specifically, Munoz thought the unit did a better job countering the Chiefs' defensive stunts while also playing better in their one-on-one matchups. He also noticed how the unit responded when CBS Sports' TV cameras caught offensive line coach Frank Pollack cajoling the group several yards from the sideline during Sunday's overtime win.
"I know if my line coach is almost in the huddle screaming and yelling at me, I was going to elevate my play, too," Munoz said. "I love that he got on the field and was screaming and yelling at the guys because he knows how important it is to protect Joe Burrow. They heard him, and they continued to elevate their protection."
"I don't know if you can put two or three guys against Aaron Donald to slow him down, let alone one or two," Munoz said. "Then you've got Von Miller, it looks like he's been rejuvenated. … From what they did against the Chiefs, they are going to have to play even better against the Rams. I think with Frank Pollack and the guys they have, I think not only to a man, but I think strategically with the way they set protections, that helps too. I see them playing much better."
Munoz knows what advice he would give the Bengals heading into Super Bowl LVI. Munoz said that his perspective changed from his first Super Bowl as a young player to his second trip to the big game as a nine-year veteran. He feels that the current Bengals will be ready to play and will avoid a letdown after winning the AFC.
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"What I tell guys is to enjoy the whole experience," he said. "Be focused, play your best game, but you have to take it all in. After that first Super Bowl, I really believed we had the talent to go multiple years. Tom Brady could go year after year. I tell them just to enjoy it."
A recent member of the Bengals' inaugural Ring of Honor class, Munoz explained what a Bengals Super Bowl win would mean for him and other Bengals alumni.
"I would hope that the day of the parade that I'm in town and be able to go down to Fountain Square and celebrate with those guys," Munoz said. "Even though it's been a long time I've played, but I'm a big, big fan. I tell the team when I get a chance to talk to the guys, especially at the beginning of the season, that we have probably 40 to 50 guys that live in town cheering for the Bengals, and you have 40 to 50 of the biggest fans, and we want to see you successful.
"It would mean so much. I love Zac Taylor. I've gotten to know him, he's an amazing guy, an amazing coach. I would be thrilled for the organization. It would be so much fun to be downtown and to see these guys hoist the Lombardi Trophy."
Munoz will kick off Super Bowl weekend by leading a workout in Los Angeles' Grand Park. Along with a free workout with Munoz and three-time Super Bowl champion offensive lineman Mark Schlereth, the Hydroxycut Big Game Sweepstakes includes a $100,000 prize if an offensive or defensive lineman scores a Super Bowl touchdown. Other prizes include one year of groceries (valued at $10,000) or a one-year gym membership.
"It's a free workout to get people excited about working out, especially after this crazy pandemic, getting back into healthy living," Munoz said. "I'll be there, working out, doing what I can and mingling with the people, having fun. Hopefully, now that the Bengals are in it, we'll get a lot of orange and black to the workout."