The memory of that moment can still bring tears of joy. On the first day of August 1998, Anthony Mu�oz was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, validating his 13-year career with the Cincinnati Bengals as one of the best ever by an offensive lineman. He was introduced that afternoon by his son, Michael, who had turned 17 the day before. With the poise of a grown man, Michael stood before the ESPN cameras and the vast crowd, which included his mother, DeDe, and 15-year-old sister, Michelle, and praised his father not for what he had done in the NFL but for what he had done at home.
Dad, thank you for coming home when you could have gone out with the guys. For not taking jobs, so you could watch me and Michelle play basketball and football.... Thank you for being consistent in your work ethic.... Thank you for being consistent in your walk with the Lord.... Thank you for always being there.
"Funny thing is," says Anthony, "I asked Michael before we went onstage if he was all right, because I figured he would be pretty nervous. Then he blew me away, at least with the parts I could hear when I wasn't crying."
Being inducted into the Hall of Fame was a sweet moment, but Michael's speech touched Anthony more deeply because his paramount goal for the past 20 years was to be a good father. His own father had abandoned his family when Anthony was a toddler. He and his four siblings were raised by their mother, Esther, in Ontario, Calif., and each afternoon some combination of the kids would run to meet her alongside the railroad tracks behind their small house as she walked home from her job crating eggs. Anthony didn't fully feel his father's absence until he was married, a pro football star with little children of his own, sitting in a Father's Day service at his church. "I always figured it didn't matter that I never had a father," says Anthony. "But there I was, sitting in church, and all these men were standing up and sharing the experiences they'd had with their fathers. I thought, Man, I don't have any memories like that. I can have those experiences with my own children."
Could he have imagined that there would be so much to experience, to celebrate? Anthony and DeDe have raised two children who could become one of the most potent brother-sister athletic pairs in history. Michael, 18, who last fall finished a three-year varsity football career at Cincinnati's Moeller High, was regarded by many recruiting experts and college coaches as the best high school offensive tackle in the country, a 6'7" 296-pounder with water-bug feet and snapdragon hands. He was named all-state three times—All-America as a senior—and didn't yield a sack in his career, despite a succession of Division I-bound opponents. "Even when he was a sophomore, you could have put him in an Ohio State uniform, stuck him in one of their games, and nobody could have picked out the high school kid," says former Warren G. Harding High coach Gary Barber, whose team faced Moeller the last two seasons. "He does things a person that tall and that big shouldn't be able to do."
Little sister Michelle, 17, a 6-foot junior center at Mason (Ohio) High, led her basketball team to a 27-0 record and the Division I state championship. She was only the third junior to be voted Ohio's Ms. Basketball, and twice in four years she led her AAU team to the national final four. "She's an incredibly complete player," says Mike Hughes, her AAU coach. "You can't guard her with somebody her size because she'll go into the post and destroy them, but you can't guard her with somebody 6'3" or 6'4", because she'll take them out on the perimeter and do the same thing."
Last summer Michelle attended Tennessee's elite women's basketball camp. Given that her bedroom has been an orange-and-white shrine to the Lady Vols since Michelle was in fifth grade, it was no surprise that she told her mother before leaving for Knoxville, "If Pat [Summitt, the Tennessee coach] says anything that even sounds like a scholarship offer, I'm saying yes." Sure enough, Michelle, who had yet to enter her junior year of high school, was so impressive that Summitt, without actually offering a scholarship, made it clear that she'd make a fine Lady Vol. Exercising great restraint, Michelle waited 12 hours before orally committing to Tennessee. "A lot of little girls dream of going to Tennessee to play for Pat," says Michelle. "That dream is going to come true for me."
Michael, though older, waited longer to commit. He visited Florida State and Michigan before orally committing to Tennessee in December and signing with the Vols on Feb. 2. "Gonna be weird having us both down there," he says, making it clear that he takes great pride in Michelle's success. He never lets her forget that his girth and elbows often ended their pickup games and sent Michelle sulking into the house. "I'm the one who made her tough," he says.
Brother and sister look forward to being together in Knoxville in the fall of 2001. Anthony and DeDe will not be far behind. On April 3 they closed on a three-bedroom condo on the banks of the Tennessee River in Knoxville, headquarters for Team Mu�oz from August to April for the next five years.
This spring as Anthony looked forward to an orange-hued future, he filled a corner of an oversized couch (really oversized—it leaves visitors with their feet dangling inches above the carpet) in the family room of the Mu�ozes' sprawling home in the Cincinnati suburb of Mason. DeDe sat on a facing sofa, while Michelle sprawled over the rest of it, her stocking feet in DeDe's lap. Michael was rummaging through the kitchen, seeking an after-school snack. "It's been an incredible time for us," says DeDe. "We're not just proud of them; we're honored to be their parents."