Art Monk has been away from football just long enough that, well, you wonder how much his name resonates with the younger generation. In particular, you wonder whether Devin Thomas and Malcolm Kelly, the Redskins’ two rookie receivers, saw any of his 940 catches, have even the faintest memory of the illustrious No. 81, who goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame this weekend.
Thomas (6-2, 218) and Kelly (6-4, 219) both fit the Monk (6-3, 210) mold. They’re big, physical wideouts who can pose matchup problems for cornerbacks. And the Redskins have been looking for the Next Monk since Art, after 14 seasons, jumped in free agency to the Jets in 1994. Michael Westbrook and Rod Gardner, a couple of first-round picks, were little more than cheap imitations; maybe one of these new kids will work out.
Anyway, how about it, Devin and Malcolm? Does Art Monk - the man, the legend - mean anything to you?
“Never saw him play,” Thomas says. “I know he was a great receiver, but I’ve only seen him on the NFL Network, making catches and stuff.”
The loquacious Kelly gave a lengthier version of the same answer. “No memory at all of him,” he says. “I was so young when he was finishing up” - 8 years old, to be exact, when Monk closed out his career with the Eagles in ‘95.
The wideout Kelly worshipped back then, growing up in Longview, Texas, was the Cowboys’ Michael Irvin. But “now that I’m a Redskin,” he says, “I’m learning about the history of the team, about Art and the Posse. … That’s what they called it, isn’t it? The Posse?”
Yup, that’s what they called the receiving trio of Monk, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. Keep at it, son, and maybe one day you can challenge the Schwab.
This is what happens when a player gets stuck in the Hall’s waiting room for eight years, as Monk did. When you’re finally inducted, it’s almost like you’re a Veterans Committee selection. There are so many young fans who haven’t seen you in action - or have only the vaguest awareness of your accomplishments.
But no mistake: The Monk of the ‘80s would do just fine in today’s NFL. There’s always a place in the game for an extra-large receiver with soft hands and quick feet. It’s just that, 13 years later, he wouldn’t be quite as sizeable in relation to his peers - not when you consider that several current wideouts could have passed for tight ends in Art’s era.
I’m talking about behemoths like the Broncos’ Brandon Marshall (6-4, 229) and the Saints’ Marques Colston (6-4, 225), who measure up pretty well against ‘80s/‘90s TEs Brent Jones (6-4, 230) and Jay Novacek (6-4, 234). Then there’s Terrell Owens (6-3, 226), just an inch taller and only two pounds lighter than Shannon Sharpe (6-2, 228). It’s scary how big receivers have gotten.
And while we’re on the subject … how is any cornerback - not on stilts, that is - supposed to cover the Giants’ Plaxico Burress (6-5, 226), scorer of the Super Bowl-winning touchdown? I mean, you might be able to cover some of him, say from the knee pads up, but not all of him.
“Bigger, faster stronger - that’s what this league is,” Jim Zorn says. “There were always offensive linemen and tight ends who were huge, but now it’s the quarterbacks and receivers. It really is a phenomenon. On our own team, Anthony Mix is 240 pounds, but he can run very fast, which can be intimidating to a defensive back.”
To which Kelly adds, “Being big gives you a lot of advantages. You can shield defenders away from the ball, you can muscle ‘em, you can go up and get it.”
Monk, of course, used to do all those things, make all the tough grabs. Sandwiched between a cornerback and a dropping linebacker, he always seemed to come down with the ball. As Joe Gibbs liked to tell him, “You might as well catch it because you’re going to get killed anyway.”
Lined up alongside 5-9 Clark and 5-11 Sanders - and before that, 5-7 Alvin Garrett and 5-8 Virgil Seay - Monk always looked like everybody’s Big Brother, and in many ways he was. He was the first of the group to join the Redskins, and now he’s the first (and likely the last) to enter the Hall.
“I have capabilities,” Kelly says, “but I can’t say I’m an Art Monk type of receiver - just from a respect standpoint. But as long as I stay healthy, the sky’s the limit.”
Only 940 catches to go.