Learning from brothers’ mistakes helped get Vikings' Munnerlyn to the NFL
By Chris Tomasson St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS -- Thursday was a big day for inmate No. 193857 at J.O. Davis Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala. It always is when he gets to see his brother, Captain Munnerlyn, play on television.
By Chris Tomasson St. Paul Pioneer Press MINNEAPOLIS - Thursday was a big day for inmate No. 193857 at J.O. Davis Correctional Facility in Atmore, Ala. It always is when he gets to see his brother, Captain Munnerlyn, play on television.
Timothy Moore has been in prison for 18 years on a life sentence for murder. There is no NFL Sunday Ticket at J.O. Davis, so he will end up being able to see the Vikings cornerback play just a few times this season on local stations.
Minnesota might have lost 42-10 at Green Bay in a game nationally televised by CBS, but Munnerlyn did make three tackles and had a relatively solid game.
“It’s one of my dreams to one day see him play in person,’’ Moore said. “I left for prison when he was 7 years old, so I’ve never gotten a chance to see him play.’’
Moore is hopeful of being paroled next year, so there remains a chance of seeing Munnerlyn, 26, with the Vikings. He signed a three-year, $14.25 million contract last spring as a free agent and moved immediately into the starting lineup.
For now, Munnerlyn will continue with an NFL career he said might not have happened had Moore not been convicted in a shooting incident that also involved another brother, Gregory Moore, who was acquitted of murder.
“I know a tragic situation had to happen with my family and with my brother going through a murder trial,’’ Munnerlyn said. “But as I look back on it, it was truly a blessing. It really helped me out, and I talk to my brother Timothy about it all the time. I’m like, ‘It took you to go through that to change my life.’ If not, I would have gone through the same ropes that all of you guys went through.’’
Munnerlyn was born in Mobile, Ala., and grew up in Happy Hill, a drug-ravaged section of the city. He was named after Captain Moore, his great grandfather.
Munnerlyn was nicknamed “Miracle Baby’’ because he survived after having been born more than three months premature and weighing just 3 pounds. He spent the first three months of his life in an incubator with all sorts of tubes sticking out of him.
“You could hold him in the palm of your hands,’’ said his mother, Evelyn Munnerlyn, who at one point turned a shoe box into his crib.
When Munnerlyn was 4, his nickname became even more apt when his aunt, Rosie Jane Moore, shielded him from a drive-by shooting. She took a bullet but was not seriously hurt, while Munnerlyn was unharmed.
When Munnerlyn was 6, his father, Larry Crear, was murdered in a bar by a cousin in a dispute over a woman. Crear had never married Munnerlyn’s mother and had left the family a few years earlier.
When Captain was a boy, Munnerlyn’s mother said she did a lot of things she was “not proud of.’’
“I sold my body to men to get what I needed to do for my kids,’’ she said.
In 1995, the family had a wake-up call. Timothy, then 17, had some items stolen. When he and Gregory, then 15, were driving in a car and saw the guy who allegedly took them, Timothy opened fire.
Instead of hitting the intended target, the bullet hit a 15-year-old boy in the back and killed him. Timothy was convicted of murder.
“I am very remorseful,’’ he said. “There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the life that was lost. … I wish I could change the outcome of what happened, which has led me to where I am today, but I can’t.’’
Although Gregory was acquitted in that case, he did soon serve a year in prison on a robbery conviction. Gregory said he and Timothy both sold drugs, with Gregory having learned the ropes from his older brother.
“You got to know the history,’’ Gregory said. “My brother was a drug dealer all his life. He just grew into it. That wasn’t the first time. He was in another murder case when he was younger. He beat that one. That was the path that he was taking.’’
Gregory said Captain could have followed the path of “running the streets and picking up our bad habits.’’ But then Munnerlyn’s mother said she gave her life to Christ.
“The turnaround for our life came when Captain’s two oldest brothers were in a murder trial, and God changed my life in the midst of that,’’ she said. “Captain wouldn’t have had a good life if I wouldn’t have changed my life.’’
Evelyn Munneryln, now 55, had worked in food preparation at a local hospital. When her two other sons, who did not have the same father as Captain, were going through their legal situations, she dedicated her life to Christ. She now works for a pastor at a Mobile church.
“She changed her life drastically,’’ Munnerlyn said. “She stayed after me. She made me go to Sunday Bible school. She made sure I went to church, and that helped us. I had a curfew for the first time in my life. Even when I was a senior in high school, I had to be home before 10:30 and stuff like that. My mom was very strict on me, and as I look back on that it was the best thing for me and helped make me the person I am now.’’
Gregory also talks about having turned his life around when he got out of prison. He now lives in Birmingham, Ala., where he is married to a doctor and does prison ministry work at a different facility from his brother’s.
Timothy is said to have become a model prisoner at J.O. Davis, which is 200 miles south of Birmingham and 50 miles north of Mobile. He talks to Captain whenever prison rules allow, usually a few times a week.
“I do tell him about not making the same mistakes I did,’’ Timothy said. “I also tell him not to keep or stay around negative company. Always surround himself with positive people and he’ll get positive results.’’
Munnerlyn has sought to do that. He saw some of the pitfalls his brothers went through when he was growing up and all the violence in the neighborhood and it scared him straight.
“In Happy Hill, you had people out there robbing and stealing and you had drugs all around,’’ Munnerlyn said. “When I was 4, I was sitting on my porch with my Auntie and there was a drive-by shooting, and she just laid on top of me and she actually took a bullet for me. She got hit by a bullet, and nothing happened to me.’’
Three years later, Munnerlyn got the news about the killing of the 15-year-old boy.
“I’ll never forget that night,’’ Munnerlyn said. “I was in the car with (Timothy and Gregory) and they took me and my grandma home and we actually left them and we went to the grocery store. Then Timothy was driving and he saw a guy who had robbed him before like a couple of weeks ago.
“He was with this other guy and they shot at the guy, and when they shot at the guy, they ended up shooting the other guy. It was a bad decision. I was talking to Timothy (recently) and he was like, ‘You make one mistake and it can ruin your whole life.’ And he’s been missing almost 20 years of his life because of one mistake.’’
Timothy, though, agrees with his brother that his one mistake played a role in Munnerlyn escaping Happy Hill and ending up where he is today.
“I agree with that 100 percent,’’ Timothy said. “The reason I say that is because Captain is experiencing firsthand how my situation has caused so much hurt and pain to our family and to others as well. It has made him realize no one deserves to be put through that again. That’s what motivates him. … He’s seen the end results of living the so-called street life, which always ends up in jail, prison or death. He knows that’s not the way to go.’’
Little big man
As Munnerlyn was growing up, he realized he was one of the fastest kids in Happy Hill, and he was able to channel that into sports. He played for a youth team called the Vikings, excelling at quarterback.
Munnerlyn, listed in the NFL at 5 feet 9, never was very tall. But he had a feisty attitude that has helped his game.
At times, some might call it cocky. Munnerlyn’s coach at Murphy High School, Ronn Lee, never will forget one encounter he had with him.
Lee had just arrived at the school. Munnerlyn was playing wide receiver when he went to Lee’s office during spring drills before his junior season.
“We were getting accustomed to a new offense, and he came in and he said, ‘Look, I didn’t touch the ball enough (in practice) today. If we’re going to win, I’ve got to touch the ball,’ ’’ Lee said. “I said, ‘Sit down, Captain. I agree with you. You do need to touch the ball as often as you can, if that’s how you feel.’ ’’
Munnerlyn’s face lit up. He figured he had gotten his point across to the new coach.
“I said, ‘I’m going to give you an opportunity to touch the ball on every play,’ ’’ Lee said. “Then I told him, ‘Tomorrow, Captain, you are to report to the defensive backs.’ ’’
Just like that, Munnerlyn had become a cornerback. But it turned out to be a blessing in disguise as he eventually earned a scholarship to South Carolina.
With the Gamecocks, Munnerlyn’s confident attitude never wavered. Not long after he showed up, he found himself going toe to toe in practice with 6-4 Gamecocks star wide receiver Sidney Rice, who later made a Pro Bowl with the Vikings.
“He had that little-man syndrome,’’ said Vikings linebacker Jasper Brinkley, Munnerlyn’s teammate and roommate at South Carolina. “He felt that he always had something to prove. The first day I saw him, he lined right up with Sidney Rice. They had some battles. And I would say, out of 10 of them, Captain would win seven.’’
Munnerlyn left South Carolina for the NFL after his junior year, but, perhaps due to his short stature, was just a seventh-round pick by Carolina. Yet Munnerlyn was able to prove himself with the Panthers, becoming a starter and returning five interceptions for touchdowns in five seasons.
‘Anything is possible’
When Munnerlyn became a free agent in March, his old roommate got on the phone. Brinkley had played for the Vikings from 2009-12 and re-signed with them after a year with Arizona. The linebacker played a role in getting Munnerlyn to sign.
Munnerlyn has started all five games for Minnesota and has had his ups and downs. But every game is an up when Timothy gets to watch his brother play on television.
“They know me, so (other inmates are) pulling for Captain now,’’ said Timothy, who doesn’t have Internet access and gets much of his Vikings news by reading USA Today. “So we’ve switched over from the Carolina Panthers to the Minnesota Vikings. I got clothes made with the Minnesota Vikings logos and stuff, so everybody is pulling for Captain.’’
Munnerlyn visits his brother in prison when he can during the offseason. Each summer in Mobile, Munnerlyn holds a football camp, which benefits youth groups and his former high school.
“He has done so much for the community,’’ Lee said. “We love Captain here.’’
Munnerlyn always makes it a point to talk to kids, many from the area where he grew up, about how to avoid pitfalls in life. Last year, he was the keynote speaker for a Boys and Girls Clubs of South Alabama event.
“I try to let them know that they can make it, that anything is possible,’’ Munnerlyn said. “Being from Mobile, Ala., who thought I’d be in the situation I’m in now? Just look at me. I’m a miracle baby.’’
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