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PHOENIX.

Somebody had to get in. The ‘80s Redskins were simply too fantabulous to be ignored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame much longer. Had folks forgotten that during one stretch — December ‘81 to January ‘83, to be exact — Joe Gibbs’ greatest team went 31-3 with two one-point losses?

Contemplate that for moment. Thirty-one victories in 34 games, and two of the defeats were by scores of 31-30 and 48-47.

A club of such accomplishment, one that would play in four Super Bowls and win three in the space of a decade, deserves better representation in the Hall than just Joe Gibbs and John Riggins. And so yesterday the selection committee began to balance the scales, electing Darrell Green in his first year of eligibility and long-suffering Art Monk in his eighth.

Even Emmitt Thomas, who coached Green for nine seasons, will be inducted next summer — for his exploits as a cornerback for the Chiefs in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Imagine, three enshrinees with Washington connections in the same year. Redskins fans, who haven’t had a player get in since Riggo in ‘92, must feel like they’ve trudged across the Mojave Desert and been handed a Super Big Gulp at the end.

Green, the supersonic cornerback, was a cinch Hall of Famer. It was just a question of when the gates would open. Anybody who can cover Randy Moss (rookie version) at the age of 38 — as Darrell did — should probably be granted early admission to Canton.

“How crazy was [Bobby Beathard] to draft a guy who was almost not as tall as this podium … out of [an obscure program like] Texas A&I;?” a gushing Green asked rhetorically during yesterday’s press conference.

Crazy like a fox, as it turned out. With the last pick in the first round in ‘83, Beathard secured the services of a player who would survive an unthinkable 20 years at what, for my money, is the game’s most demanding position. A quarterback, after all, can lose a little arm strength — and a lot of mobility — and still get by. A running back who gets some mileage on him can evolve into a situation player, as Jerome Bettis and others have done. But once a corner begins showing signs of wear, it’s usually curtains (unless he has the bulk to move over to safety). There’s just nowhere to hide. They don’t call it “playing on an island” for nothing.

But Green’s speed was so extraordinary, he just kept going and going. As he once put it (and this might be my favorite quote of his): “Sure, I’ve lost a step. But I had a step to lose.”

Just to show you how good a cornerback you have to be to make the Hall of Fame, Darrell is only the third corner of his generation to be admitted. The others: Mike Haynes (in his third year of eligibility) and Ronnie Lott (in his first) — and Lott spent his later years at safety. Haynes, Lott and now Green. Wow, that’s setting the bar awfully high.

Monk’s worthiness for the Hall was less clear-cut, which is why he was stuck in the waiting room for so long. Because of his steadfast refusal to promote himself — to the extent of boycotting the media at times — he might have had the quietest 940 catches in NFL history.

But the notion, quite popular in Redskinsland, that he was being “punished” by the selection committee for his uncooperativeness is utter hogwash. The vast majority of the members, representatives of each of the league’s cities, never had to deal with Monk on a day-to-day basis. And those who did — the Washington contingent — strongly endorsed him.

Monk, in other words, was hardly treated “unfairly.” In fact, this is the fairest, most open-minded committee the Hall has ever had — the group that three years ago elected not only black pioneer Fritz Pollard but also the scandalously overlooked Benny Friedman (to name just two of the “make-up calls” it has made). No, what went on in the meeting room was a serious and honest discussion of Art’s merits.

Were three Pro Bowls in 16 seasons enough?

Was he really any better — or even as good — as Gary Clark (who has yet to be a finalist)?

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