- The Washington Times - Friday, August 1, 2008

Run far enough for the first down, juke the defender, cut to the sideline, grab the pass beyond the marker.

Simple, but effective enough to make Monk the leading wide receiver in NFL history by the time he retired and now - at last - a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Monk’s route to stardom, however, wasn’t as easy as he made the game seem on the field with the Washington Redskins.

He wasn’t obviously destined for the NFL.

He wasn’t even plainly meant to play the position at which he now takes his place among the game’s immortals in Canton.

Growing up in Westchester County, N.Y., Monk always had good hands, but he was pudgy and slow - he always ended up on the line.

Monk played both receiver and running back at White Plains High School and then again at Syracuse University - he didn’t blossom as a wideout until his senior season.

With the Redskins, bad luck held Monk back.

He missed the 1982 run to the Super Bowl title because of a broken foot suffered in the regular-season finale. He missed four games the next year because of a sprained knee. And he missed most of the late-season run to the Redskins’ second title in 1987 because of a torn knee ligament, appearing in the Super Bowl only as a backup. It wasn’t until 1991, his 12th season, that Monk started in a Super Bowl success.

Given all that, it perhaps is fitting that Monk wasn’t elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Monk, in fact, was a finalist eight times before finally getting the call from the Hall. He’ll be inducted on Aug. 2 along with five others, including longtime teammate and friend Darrell Green and Emmitt Thomas, who coached both players as a Redskins assistant.

“I never thought my gifts in sports would ever take me further than high school,” said Monk, 50. “I never had dreams about the NFL. I’m in the same position I was in when I came into the league. It just doesn’t seem real. I was just hoping to last a year and then for my entire first contract. Whoever would’ve thought I would be a part of the kind of team I was on and have some of the records that I had?”

Those who saw Monk play as a senior at Syracuse, perhaps.

“Art was so graceful, and he had great speed - deceiving speed - and great body control,” said then-Redskins general manager Bobby Beathard, who chose Monk 18th overall in the 1980 draft.

Fortunately for Monk, he and Terry Metcalf shared the same agent, the late Richard Bennett. So when the veteran running back signed with the Redskins in 1981, he and Monk moved into the same development.

“I would be inside watching TV, and Terry would pull me out of the house even when I didn’t feel like it,” Monk said. “That was the best thing he ever could have done for me. We trained constantly. We played a lot of racquetball. We rode our bikes all the time.”

Metcalf played just that one season in Washington, but his lessons stayed with Monk the rest of his career. Monk worked the next 14 years as if Metcalf was in his ear every day.

“I’ve never been with anybody who worked as hard as Art other than Jerry Rice,” said Charles Mann, Monk’s teammate on the Redskins and now his partner in a credit card company and a foundation that helps disadvantaged District teenagers. “Art would train every single day during the offseason at George Mason. He’d be there whether you ran with him - and started throwing up because the workout was so hard - or whether you decided to stay home and sleep in. Art started on the track. He ran with parachutes, with weights on his back or just plain running. Then he would run the hills 100 times. I know what I felt like after 30, which was the most I ever ran, and he did 70 more. That’s crazy. But Art just wanted to be the best.”

He was, at least for a time.

Monk set an NFL record - since broken several times - with 106 catches in the 1984 season, gaining 1,372 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. Opposing defenses knew they could concentrate on the 6-foot-3, 210-pound Monk - the Redskins’ No. 2 receiver, Calvin Muhammad, caught only 42 passes - but they still couldn’t stop him.

“Everybody knew on third down where the ball was going, but Art was just so unstoppable,” said Thomas, then a Cardinals assistant. “Art could get in and out of breaks like a little guy. He had a great hands and he was tough. He had the craft of a small guy and the strength of a big guy.”

Monk passed Charley Hennigan’s 20-year-old record for catches in a season with a monster performance in the season finale against the Cardinals at St. Louis, a game the Redskins had to win to clinch a third straight NFC East title.

Monk caught 11 passes, the last at the marker on third-and-19 with just 1:42 left. That reception put Mark Moseley in position to kick a field goal and give the Redskins a 29-27 victory.

“Everybody knew Art’s favorite patterns, but he could make first downs every time,” said Bubba Tyer, the Redskins’ trainer throughout Monk’s career. “When you needed something, you just looked to Art and he would produce time and time again.”

Or as Joe Theismann, the quarterback during Monk’s first five-plus seasons, put it, “Art had a flair for consistency.”

Monk followed his record-breaking 1984 season by producing at least 68 catches and 846 yards and in each of the next seven seasons (the lone exception was 1987, when he missed seven games because of the players’ strike and a torn knee ligament).

The Redskins remained a run-first team, and the addition of Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders gave coach Joe Gibbs three superb receivers. Still, Monk was the wideout the Redskins knew they could count on when they needed a play.

“Art was the go-to guy,” said Mark Rypien, the No. 1 quarterback from 1989 to 1992.

Monk was even more consistent off the field. He wasn’t one to talk, either as a rookie or as a wise old head. On a team with such outsized personalities as Theismann, running back John Riggins and defensive end Dexter Manley, Monk was happy to stay in the background.

“Art was quiet as all get-out,” Mann said. “It took a long time for us to get close. I used to think he didn’t like me, but it was just Art’s personality. The few times we drove together to [training camp in Carlisle, Pa.] were some of the worst times for me. It would drive me nuts trying to think of all the things we could talk about so it wouldn’t be quiet in the car the whole time. Art would have been perfectly fine with that.”

In the world of his late second cousin, jazz great Thelonious Monk, the man who left the Redskins as the leading receiver of all-time preferred to be part of the rhythm section instead of a featured soloist. Not exactly the style of such big-time wideouts as Terrell Owens, Michael Irvin and Chad Johnson, but that was Art Monk.

“I’ve seen how success has gone to people’s heads,” Monk said. “I’m proud that I didn’t let football change who I am. I was raised to never brag on myself. I never tried to promote myself. I always wanted to be a part of a team and contribute to a team. You look at our core group, and they were the kind of people who reflected the kind of player that Coach Gibbs wanted: very hard-working, committed to the game, committed to each other, unselfish, played hard, played well under pressure.”

Monk didn’t score as many touchdowns or average as many yards a catch as other elite receivers, but it wasn’t because he couldn’t have done those things. Rice, Irvin and Steve Largent, who Monk passed in 1992 to become No. 1 all-time in catches and again in 1994 to break the mark for consecutive games with a catch, all said Monk should have been enshrined earlier.

“I don’t think being a Hall of Famer should all be about stats,” Monk said. “Obviously, statistics are an important part of an individual’s success and what he’s contributed to the game. But if your team never won, then it becomes all about you and not about the team. Character should play a part. It’s the whole person, who he is to his teammates, who he is to his community. Was he a leader on the team? Was he a team player?”

Gibbs said that Monk was the consummate team player.

“We asked Art to block and run inside routes that took away some of his average per catch,” said Gibbs, Monk’s coach from 1981 to 1992. “Art was always unselfish, whatever it took to be a great teammate.”

Nearly 15 years after he last wore a Redskins uniform, Monk remains a Washington icon. It’s a close call among Monk, Green and former quarterback Sonny Jurgensen for most popular Redskin.

And like Green, Monk has used his fame to help his community. The Good Samaritan Foundation, started in 1992 by Monk, Mann and then-Redskins Earnest Byner and Tim Johnson, has given hundreds of inner-city teenagers academic and life support and prepared them for college and careers.

Monk and Green, friends since they became teammates in 1983, decided this spring to form Route 281 (combining Green’s No. 28 and Monk’s No. 81), a fundraising effort to benefit the Good Samaritan Foundation and Green’s Youth Life Foundation.

“When the dust settled [after the Feb. 2 election], we started to think this is the perfect time to benefit our organizations. Why not do it together?” Monk said.

So even though he had to endure those seven straight years of making the finals and not being elected, Monk is thrilled to be enshrined with Thomas and Green. Monk will be presented by his oldest child, James. His mother, Lela; his sister, Barbara; his wife, Desiree; and their daughters, Danielle and Monica, also will be on hand.

“Going in with Darrell makes it that much better,” Monk said. “He’s family.”

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