The pro football hall of fame has just announced its latest admittees, and once again the list does not include former Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk. This is an injustice. Monk set the NFL record for most catches in history, which the immortal Jerry Rice broke just as Monk was retiring from football. And in 1984, he set the NFL record for receptions in a season with 106. He is one of three wide-receivers (along with Rice and hall of famer Steve Largent) on the NFL’s all 1980s decade team.
These numbers somewhat overstate Monk’s stature because he was not the deep threat that some great receivers were. However, having witnessed the vast majority of Monks’ 940 career catches (he caught 50 for other clubs) I can say that nearly all of them materially advanced the interests of the Redskins. And so did his fabulous blocking.
Indeed, Monk was a major contributor to the Redskins near-dynasty that produced three super bowl champs between 1982 and 1992 (ironically the hall of fame website is currently touting the relationship between the super bowl and hall of fame induction). Joe Gibbs won the three championships with three different quarterbacks and three different lead running backs, but Monk, along with several offensive linemen, was a constant (though he missed the big game itself in 1982 due to injury).
So what’s the case against Monk? According to reports in last week’s Washington Post, one concern is his lack of a “signature moment.” I know that, in our highlight reel, “story line” driven sports culture (why can’t sports commentators ever just say “story”) these moments matter. But sustained excellence should matter more. They certainly do at baseball’s more mature hall of fame. What is Eddie Murray’s “signature moment”?
We also hear that Monk played with Gary Clark, who was more valuable to the team. Clark was a terrific receiver who, if he had sustained his excellence longer, would also deserve to be in the hall of fame. Arguably, he was better than Monk for a few years. But I haven’t heard anyone dispute Bobby Mitchell’s status as a hall of famer. Yet as a running back Mitchell played second fiddle in the Browns backfield to Jim Brown, and as a wide receiver he was surpassed at times by his fellow Redskin Charlie Taylor. Nor can anyone claim that Clark “made” Monk a top receiver. Clark wasn’t even on the Redskins when Monk set the record for receptions in a single season.
The real reason for Monk’s exclusion I think, is that he was very quiet. On a team with Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Dexter Manley, and later Gary Clark, Monk just got lost in shuffle as far as outsiders were concerned. Yet, perhaps in part for this reason, it is said that no Redskin commanded more respect in the locker room.
It’s unfortunate that Monk so far has been unable to command the respect of those who vote on behalf of the hall of fame. Michael Irvin, the flamboyant Dallas wide-out whose career stats fall short of Monk’s, was more their cup of tea.
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