Burgundy and gold day in Canton

Wide receiver Art Monk and cornerback Darrell Green lined up against each other at Washington Redskins practices for eleven years. During this period, the Redskins played in three Superbowls, winning two of them (Monk also played on the team that won the Superbowl the year before Green arrived). And Monk and Green became close friends.

Today, to the delight of Redskins fans, Monk and Green will enter the pro football hall of fame together. Monk is perhaps the most respected Redskin ever; Green perhaps the most beloved.

In many ways, the two are a study in contrast. Monk, a big, quiet man, parlayed above average talent into a hall of fame career through precision route-running and a legendary work-out regimen. As I discussed at some length here, Monk was the most productive, most dependable offensive player on a team that achieved near-dynasty status primarily through its offense. However, his play was rarely spectacular and lacked “signature moments” (the years and years of clutch receptions on third and intermediate or long that caused his teammates to dub him “Big Money” apparently don’t qualify). It was for this reason, presumably, that Monk had to wait eight years for his hall of fame induction.

Green, a small, bubbly man, became one of the great “cover” cornerbacks of all time by virtue of his world class sprinters’ speed and burning desire. The speed was so abundant and the passion so intense that Green played cornerback in the NFL for 20 years. Yet those who claim to know about these things say that he never mastered proper cover techniques.

Green, elected in his first year of eligibility, was not lacking in signature moments. The first came in his very first NFL game (a Monday nighter against the Dallas Cowboys), when he came from nowhere to run down Dallas’ Tony Dorsett and prevent what looked like a certain touchdown. You can see the play here.

Green always downplayed this feat. All it proved, he said, was that he could run, and he already knew that. Indeed, Green had the best football speed I’ve ever seen. Bob Hayes, I assume, would have bested Green in the 100 yard dash when both were in their primes. But for the first 30 yards or so, my money would be on Green.

Green’s signature moments as a football player, as opposed to just an athlete on the football field, came in the run-up to the Redskins 1988 championship. In the first play-off game, in Chicago against the favored Bears, Joe Gibbs sent Green in to return a punt. Gibbs considered Green the best return man in football, but used him only in vital situations for fear of seeing his vital “lock-down” cornerback injured. With the score tied at 14, this was a vital situation.

Green fielded the punt, hit first gear immediately, hurdled a Bear defender, and dodged two more. However, the hurdle caused Green to loosen the cartilege that holds his ribs together. Clutching his side, Green still outran the rest of the Bear’s defense to score the 52-yeard touchdown that turned the game around.

The next week, the Skins faced the Minnesota Vikings with a trip to the Superbowl on the line. Green lined up mostly against Vikings great Anthony Carter, holding him largely in check. And late in the fourth quarter, Green, a good tackler but not a big hitter, jarred the ball loose from Darin Nelson on the goal line to preserve s 17-10 victory.

Monk and Green ended their Redskins careers on opposite notes, as Thomas Boswell shows in this appreciation. The Redskins dumped Monk, and he had to break the NFL record for consecutive games with a reception during a productive season for the New York Jets (fortunately, Monk had already set the record for most NFL career receptions while still a Redskin). Green was treated to a lengthy love fest immediately following the Redskins final game of the 2002 season.

For Redskins fans, however, the similarities between the two are more important than the differences. First, Monk and Green were Mr. Offense and Mr. Defense during the Skins’ greatest era. Second, neither (to our knowledge) ever put a foot wrong during this time. Third, both were and are great in the community. Early on, Green established the Darrell Green foundation, and hasn’t stopped finding ways to serve the community since. Monk, in his characteristically understated way, frequently devotes his time to the community.

Boswell captures what today means for Redskins fans:

Formations and fashions change, but football never does. Teams must have leaders, on and off the field. In Washington in the last half-century, none has been better than Green and Monk. If there were also a Hall of Fame for social good works, for unselfish play, for setting a community example and for decades of responsible adult behavior, they’d be in that, too.

UPDATE: Monk and Green were inducted this evening before a sea of fans in burgundy and gold. Monk received an ovation that lasted for almost five minutes. The television commentators thought it was the longest in hall of fame history.

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