Monday, May 20, 2013

"Chuck Muncie, Game Day and Me!"

Opening Day New Orleans Saints Game Day cover... 1980!
Just this week, Saints running back Chuck Muncie passed away apparently from a heart attack, at the age of sixty. He was an incredible, but mercurial athlete. His on the field performances and his thick rimmed Clark Kent glasses, made Muncie visually something special to watch. As Archie Manning put it in article by Rick Cleveland...

“Well, we both went to the Pro Bowl after the 1979 season,” Manning says. “The coaches had us in the game at the same time. I had a great game, completed all but one of my passes, but I wanted to feature Chuck, so I gave him the ball a lot and called one halfback pass, which, of course, he threw for a touchdown. It was the best Pro Bowl I ever had, but damned if they didn’t give Chuck the MVP.”

*Rick Cleveland's sports blog is at: and can be reached at: .

That was in 1979. A few months later, into 1980, the NFL contacted me about doing a cover illustration for the league's "Gameday" program magazine that would be available at all Saint's games in the dome for the coming football season. I was elated to be asked by then, creative director, Dave Boss. My lucky connection was a teacher at Art Center who remembered me as being from New Orleans and, naturally, a Saints fan. Coincidentally, he was employed at the Century City office of the National Football League.

Over the period of a few weeks, Dave Boss, approved my sketches for the cover design which would include six players that were voted to the Pro Bowl. Portraits of Tommy Myers, Tony Galbriath, Archie Manning, Wes Chandler, Henry Childs and Chuck Muncie, were to be included with Mr. Muncie featured prominently. Because I was, at the time, employed at an aerospace company, my week nights after work and weekends were spent rendering the spirit of the New Orleans and it's pride having, I believe for the first time, six Pro Bowl players.

The painting was completed in time for opening day by about a month or so. Visions of me sitting in the stands watching fans talk about my cover and using it to get autographs of the players ( and even of the illustrator! ) danced in my head. My wife and I made plans to fly home to purchase tickets for their first season game when the magazine would be available to season ticket holders, or purchased.

About two or three weeks before the painting was to go to press, Dave Boss called me and asked me if I could make changes to the central character, Chuck Muncie. I told him sure, whatever you needed me to do, I am available.

"Ben, everybody, here at the office and with the Saints, loves what you did for the cover, but we have to take out Chuck Muncie and put another player in his place," he said.

When I asked him which player should I change it to, he told me that it would be best to make it "a non-discriped white running back."

"And, cover his number with the football so there won't be an confusion,"he said.

Later in our conversation he told me that the running back was arrested on cocaine charges and for assault of his girlfriend, allegedly. He said that the then owner, John Mecom, couldn't have that kind of publicity and that to save the cover, which he liked, we'd have to go to this extreme.

Although the NFL paid me for the painting, it was never used for the opening day ceremonies. Apparently, the powers that were, changed it to a generic "jazz" cover complete with confetti, a trumpet, a clarinet and the fleur-di-lis.

Those changes were completed over that weekend though I was never happy with my last minute additions. To this day, whenever I look at that painting, which is quite prominent on my living room wall, I cringed. The arm holding the football and especially the running back's hand isn't up to my standards.

I also cringed every time I think how drugs have destroyed or altered so many talented people's lives.

And, in a very small way, mine included.

Copyright 2013/Ben Bensen III

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