- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 3, 2008

CANTON, Ohio

Think back, if you will - this being a nostalgic weekend - to the dawn of the First Joe Gibbs Era, to the 1982-83 Redskins teams that went to the Super Bowl. Were you really convinced in those days (be honest now) that Darrell Green and Art Monk were headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame - and would get there before, say, Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby?

Monk, remember, was the No. 2 receiving option after Downtown Charlie Brown. As for Green, he was just a pup, a rookie in the bombed-out ‘83 secondary that dubbed itself the Pearl Harbor Crew. He had supersonic speed, sure, but he was so small (5-8, 176) he didn’t seem built for the long haul.

But there they were Saturday night, delivering their induction speeches - in a stadium stuffed with burgundy-clad worshippers. Why Green and Monk and not some of the other Pro Bowlers they shared a huddle with? The answer is simple, really: Because they survived. Because Darrell lasted 20 years and Art 16 in a game that, perhaps more than any other, values longevity.

Football, after all, conspires against long careers, populated as it is by mean-spirited linebackers, chop-blocking offensive linemen and assorted other nasties. As often as not, you don’t walk away from game, you limp away - that is, if you’re fortunate enough not to need a gurney or an ambulance.

The first question Hall of Famers ask each other whenever they get together, I’m told, is: “How long did you play?” Not “How many yards did you rush for?” or “How many concussions did you dispense?” but “How long did your body hold up? How tough were you?”

It’s hard to make the Hall of Fame without displaying a certain staying power, an ability to just … take it. Talent? The NFL is teeming with talented players. But how many of them can keep, over time, from breaking down physically? How many, for that matter, can avoid becoming self-satisfied? Heck, how many even have the attention span to play 20 or 16 years?

That, as much as anything, is what separated Green and Monk from their teammates. Take Grimm, for instance. At one point, he was probably the best offensive guard in the game. This was in 1983 and ‘84, when John Hannah was starting to wind down. Was Darrell ever considered the best cornerback in the league? Was Art ever considered the best receiver?

Not to my memory. Darrell always had Ronnie Lott (and later Deion Sanders and Rod Woodson) to contend with. In Art’s greatest season, his record-breaking 106-catch year in ‘84, the Dolphins’ Mark Clayton set a mark with 18 touchdown grabs (to Art’s seven) and the Cardinals’ Roy Green had 1,555 yards receiving (to Art’s 1,372). And by ‘86, of course, Jerry Rice was the ultimate wideout.

Unfortunately for Grimm, he was his Randy White-whupping self for only about six seasons. Then his knees began to give out, which is why he remains a long shot to make the Hall. Jacoby, the premier offensive tackle when Russ was the premier guard, also battled injuries the second half of his career. And let’s not forget Jim Lachey. In the early ‘90s, he was unquestionably the top OT in the NFL. But his prime, too, was cut short by various hurts.

Thus, the Redskins teams that made four Super Bowl appearances in the ‘80s and ‘90s and won three rings have produced a modest three Hall of Fame players: John Riggins in ‘92, and now Green and Monk. Who knows? Maybe Gibbs’ sledgehammer offensive style and intense practices contributed to the situation, were more conducive to winning championships than getting players into Canton. Or maybe luck - the “ability” to skirt physical disaster - plays into these Hall of Fame selections more than we care to admit.

Anyway, you couldn’t listen to Darrell’s and Art’s enshrinement speeches without wondering: When will Redskins Nation have a day like this again? When will another Redskin be voted into the Hall, especially given the franchise’s recent ups and downs? (And no, Champ Bailey, doesn’t count, even though he gave Washington five fabulous seasons.)

But enough of such musings, because this is a happy occasion, this ushering of Darrell Green and Art Monk into the Hall of Fame. Darrell certainly has had fun with it, going into his cornerback’s backpedal during Friday night’s dinner here and rhyming like Jesse Jackson on Saturday.

“Everybody said, ‘You too little. You can’t do it,’” he said.

“[But my father] said, ‘Boy, you can run that ball.’

“They said, ‘No.’

“He said, ‘Go.’”

And how little is “little”? Well, when he went out for his high school JV team in Houston, he was “five-foot nothing, a hundred and nothing pounds.”

Somehow, though, the high schooler with the Pop Warner body endured two decades in the NFL. That’s as miraculous as anything he ever did on the field. Is he pro football’s Last Great Little Man? We’ll have to see, but … could be.

Then it was Monk’s turn. Hearing the Quiet Man talk, after so many years of silence, is as startling as hearing Marcel Marceau, the famous mime, utter a line in Mel Brooks’ “Silent Movie.”

His fellow inductees smiled as he stood at the microphone, acknowledging the cheers, because they know Monk is a man who, as his son James said in presenting him, preferred “actions” to “words.”

But Art rose to the occasion, as he often did in big games. Most notably, he thanked the Hall of Famers who came before him - those who “played for the love of the game” rather than the big paychecks of today, those who helped re-integrate the league after World War II, those he played against, and loved to play against, “because they were the best and they brought the best out of me.” Made you wish he had opened his mouth a little more often back in the day.

But then, you figured he could survive a mere Hall of Fame speech - just like he and Darrell survived all those years on the hazardous highways of the NFL.

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