On this weekend in August 2008, former Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk finally made it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame after an eight-year wait, when he was enshrined alongside former teammate Darrell Green.
Monk’s prolific career was worthy of him making the Hall the first year he was eligible, but for Redskins fans, his induction was better late than never.
At one time, Monk held the NFL record for most catches in a career, most consecutive games with a catch and most receptions in a season. Monk was an integral part of four Redskins Super Bowl teams, three of which won—after the 1982, 1987 and 1991 seasons.
Monk’s numbers stack up favorably against all the wide receivers in the Hall of Fame except for Jerry Rice. Monk was nicknamed “Big Money” for his ability to make the critical catches in huge games.
The 2008 induction ceremony in Canton, Ohio, was a long-awaited celebration for Redskins fans. Monk and Green became the first players of the 1991 Washington Redskins Super Bowl-winning team to make it to the Hall of Fame. Guard Russ Grimm was also inducted into the Hall in 2010.
One of the greatest teams of all time, the 1991 Redskins went 17-2 and won the Super Bowl, 37-24, over the Buffalo Bills. That Redskins team outscored opponents by a greater margin than any teams except the 1985 Chicago Bears and the 2007 New England Patriots.
Green, who was inducted in his first year of eligibility, was an outstanding cornerback for 20 years—a shutdown corner who was one of the fastest players in NFL history, famous for running down players such as Tony Dorsett and Eric Dickerson from behind.
In a playoff win against the Chicago Bears after the 1986 season, Green returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown, hurdling a player while clutching his chest to protect a broken rib.
The next season, Green saved the day in the NFC Championship Game against the Minnesota Vikings when he broke up a fourth-down pass in the end zone at the end of the game intended for Darrin Nelson. The Redskins would go on to win Super Bowl XXII against the Denver Broncos, 42-10.
Green played 20 years for the Redskins and could have played even longer had he wanted. Green was equally as great as Monk, and some would say even better, but this article is about Monk, partly because Monk took so long to make it to the Hall of Fame and his induction was so highly anticipated.
Monk’s long wait made it even more special when he got in. The good side of waiting was, if he didn't already know, Monk learned how much the Redskins fans really loved him. In fact, the support Monk garnered was unprecedented as far as athletes getting into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Fans wrote articles, sent letters and emails and even produced a highlight film in a grassroots effort on behalf of Monk. All along, the vast majority of voters were for Monk—it was just a couple of influential voters who held him back, and they finally admitted they were wrong.
Monk was the ultimate team player. He had a legendary work ethic, and he was so humble that, sometimes, it gets lost that he was simply one of the greatest wide receivers to ever play the game.
At 6’3” and 210 pounds, Monk was fast for a big receiver, ran precise routes, and caught just about anything thrown in his direction.
Monk scored seven playoff touchdowns for an amazing average of 25.5 yards per catch, and the Skins were 4-1 in playoff games in which he scored a touchdown.
Monk had a game-changing 40-yard catch vs. the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII. With Washington trailing 10-0, Monk caught a Doug Williams pass near the left sideline that helped change the course of the game, resulting in a Washington rout, even though he was coming off an injury. Monk earned the ultimate respect of his teammates and the players he played against.
The induction ceremony was a historic moment for Redskins fans. The previous 15 years, the Redskins had been largely forgettable, and fans were starved for memories to remind them of the glory years of the 1980s and early 1990s.
Throngs of Redskins fans were eagerly anticipating the speeches of Monk and Green. There was an unbelievable amount of electricity in the air when it came time for Monk’s speech. The moment had finally arrived.
Monk was presented by his son, James. Monk’s standing ovation lasted more than five minutes and surely would have lasted longer had he allowed it to continue. Redskins fans were euphoric. It was likely the greatest standing ovation in the history of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
As always, Monk was humble during his speech:
“Being included into this fraternity is a pretty humbling experience for me,” said Monk. “I always grew up seeing these guys as giants and legends who make significant contributions to the game of football. And it's pretty hard for me to believe that I've now been included as part of them.”
Monk never campaigned for himself to get into the Hall. But once in, he appreciated the experience, and, most of all, the support of Redskins fans. “To see the magnitude of all of this, and all of you, it’s been something amazing,” said Monk.
Former Skins receivers Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders, who along with Monk made up the “Posse,” stood up and proudly cheered on Monk.
By the way, Clark was also a superb receiver, and his numbers stack up well against other Hall of Fame receivers such as Michael Irvin of the Dallas Cowboys.
In 11 seasons, Clark averaged 64 catches and 962 yards per year and scored 65 touchdowns. Meanwhile, in 12 seasons, Irvin averaged 63 catches and 992 yards per year, and also had 65 touchdowns.
Clark's fiery demeanor often was in contrast to his more subdued teammates, and he played an important role in firing up the team and fans. But mostly, he was an excellent receiver, a deep threat who was one of the best in the NFL from the mid-1980s to the early 1990s.
A large group of former Redskins players and coaches made it to Canton to cheer on Monk and Green. Here’s an unofficial list of just some of those former Redskins who watched the ceremony in Canton, Ohio:
- Gary Clark, Wide Receiver
- Joe Gibbs, Coach
- Tim Johnson, Defensive Tackle
- Jim Lachey, Offensive Tackle
- Charles Mann, Defensive End
- Mark Moseley, Kicker
- Mike Nelms, Kick Returner
- Ricky Sanders, Wide Receiver
- Joe Theismann, Quarterback
- Rick “Doc” Walker, Tight End
- Don Warren, Tight End
The other inductees were somewhat overshadowed because most of the fans there were Redskins fans cheering for Monk and Green.
Other 2008 enshrinees included Gary Zimmerman, offensive lineman for the Broncos and Minnesota Vikings; Fred Dean, defensive end for the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers; Andre Tippett, linebacker for the New England Patriots; and Emmitt Thomas, cornerback for the Kansas City Chiefs (and former Redskins assistant coach).
After the ceremony, Skins fans gathered behind the NFL Network set to support Monk and Green, as they were interviewed along with Gibbs live on TV. Former NFL coach Steve Mariucci was there, along with Irvin for the NFL Network. Mariucci seemed to marvel at so many Redskins fans singing “Hail to the Redskins.” Redskins fans ribbed Irvin who was also on the set, but he took it in stride.
In a world of often-brash NFL receivers, Monk did not speak much to the media and was about as modest as any player could be. But looking back at his career, he meant as much as anyone on those Super Bowl-winning Redskins teams, including Joe Theismann, John Riggins, "The Hogs" (nickname for the Washington Redskins offensive line), Clark and Green.
One of Monk’s statistics that is relatively unknown is his seven playoff touchdowns for a 25.5-yard average. The longest of his playoff touchdowns was 40 yards; the shortest was 16.
The long distance from the goal line on those receptions shows, without those touchdowns, the Redskins might have had to settle for field goals or possibly even come away empty on some of those drives. The Redskins were 4-1 in playoff games in which Monk scored a touchdown.
Two of Monk's playoff touchdowns came against Chicago during the 1986-87 playoffs, a year after the Bears had arguably the greatest defense ever. The second of those touchdowns gave Washington a 14-13 lead it never relinquished en route to a 27-13 victory. Another of Monk’s playoff touchdowns came against Buddy Ryan’s Philadelphia Eagles, which featured one of the best defenses of the ‘90s.
Other highlights from Monk’s stellar career include:
- Monk held three NFL records at one time—first to catch 900 passes, most receptions a season (104 in 1984) and most consecutive games with a catch (183). He ended his career with 940 receptions. He also scored 68 touchdowns and had 12,781 yards.
- Monk averaged 15.4 yards a catch in the playoffs.
- In 1990, with the Skins at 6-5, the normally reserved Monk called a legendary team meeting, asking the Skins to rededicate themselves. Washington finished 10-6 and made the playoffs, and in 1991, the Redskins won 17 of 19 games in winning the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills.
- Monk had seven catches for 113 yards, as the Redskins beat Buffalo, 37-24, in Super Bowl XXVI.
- Monk was the first player to have consecutive seasons of 90 catches and 1,200 yards (1984-85).
- Monk got the tough yards over the middle; he dished out numerous hits too as his blocks sprang some big runs. Monk’s 13.8 yards-per-catch average was, at times, criticized by so-called experts, but he was often called upon to make critical catches on 3rd-and-short. He also had at least 38 catches of 40 yards or more in his career. Monk still averaged more yards per catch than Marvin Harrison or Cris Carter. This was true, despite the fact that receiving stats increased significantly after the prime of Monk’s career in the 1980s.
- If the 1980 draft were conducted over again—knowing what is known now—Monk would probably be selected first overall.
- Monk did it all without a Hall of Fame quarterback, with Joe Theismann, Jay Schroeder, Doug Williams and Mark Rypien throwing to him. Imagine what Monk’s numbers would have been if he’d caught passes from a Hall of Fame quarterback like most Hall of Fame receivers had for during their careers. (In fairness, Theismann was the NFL MVP in 1983 and an excellent quarterback in his time).
- Monk had an illustrious career playing on a team that ran the ball a lot with an often-conservative coach. At the end of games the Skins would kill the clock rather than pad passing stats. Monk played during an era in which receiving stats were much less prolific than they are today (although stats were much greater than they were in the 1970s). There were 3 individual 100-reception seasons in the NFL during Monk’s Redskins career from 1980-1993; there were 52 from 1999-2012.
- In 1985, of Monk’s 91 catches, 32 occurred on third down—31 of those 32 went for first downs.
- From the Redskins 1987 Press Guide: “Art exploded in Week 3 (of the 1986 season) in San Diego for catches of 58, 41, and 38 yards. All three plays set up a score.” So for those who say Monk should have had more touchdowns, keep in mind, he also set up a lot of scores.
- In 1984, with the Redskins down, 27-26, to the St. Louis Cardinals late in the final regular-season game, Monk converted a reception on a 3rd-and-19 play, setting up a game-winning field goal that put the Redskins into the playoffs. Monk had 11 catches, 136 yards and two touchdowns in the game.
- In 1985, first-year starter Jay Schroeder completed six passes for more than 40 yards, all to Monk.
- Monk was once voted by Washington fans as the greatest player in the franchise's history.
- Monk had more catches, yards and touchdowns than Michael Irvin, who made the Hall of Fame a year before Monk, despite retiring four years after Monk.
All the grassroots support for Monk by fans to make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame was a true phenomenon, the likes of which may never be seen again. But it was also Monk’s peers around the league who overwhelmingly agreed that he was worthy of the Hall of Fame.
Monk said he was embarrassed by all the attention and didn’t approve of any negativity by the fans toward the voters. The fact is, Monk should have been in on the first ballot, and none of the extra stuff should have been necessary. But the outpouring of support said a lot for him.
The enshrinement of Monk and Green into the Pro Football Hall of Fame five years ago was an incredible memory for Redskins fans—and well-deserved for both players.
It was the greatest moment for the Redskins franchise in the two decades following the Redskins’ third Super Bowl win in 1991, and it reminded Redskins fans just how great Monk, Green and the Redskins were when they won three Super Bowls from 1982 to 1991.
Article also posted at Examiner.com.