Leonard Shapiro of the Washington Post
Vote: Fighting for Art Monk (10/10)
The Washington Post
August 31, 1980
Third Annual Redskins Poll
Art Monk, the Redskins’ No. 1 draft choice, picks the NFL’s top rockies in 1980.
1. Billy Simms, Detroit running back
2. Lam Jones, N.Y. Jets receiver
3. Mike Haynes, N.Y. Giants cornerback
4. Anthony Munoz, Cincinnati tackle
Art Monk signed a million-dollar contract. How did he spend some of the cash?
1. a new house in Arlington
2. a new Mercedes
4. (future) a house for mom Brad Dusek’s day-after-game routine
1. hot bath, whirlpool, ultra-sound treatment
2. morning nap
3. luncheon engagement
4. afternoon nap
5. rest, rest, rest
The Washington Post
September 2, 1986
Redskins: 50 Down and Future to Go
In 1985, the Redskins went 10-6 but did not qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 1981. Theismann broke his leg and never returned, leaving the team to Jay Schroeder, a second-year quarterback who had never started an NFL game. Wide receiver Art Monk continued to be the offensive star, catching 91 passes after an NFL record 106 in 1984.
The Washington Post
October 18, 1991
Around the Dial
ARTFUL DODGER: Art Monk’s disappearing act from the locker room following the Redskins’ 42-17 victory over the Browns last week left reporters reaching for air on a day when Monk moved into second place on the NFL’s all-time receiving list and had two spectacular touchdown catches. One of the media types looking for Monk was WMAL’s intrepid Sonny Jurgensen, who pulled a few disappearing acts himself in his day.
Monk, a shy fellow who prefers to shun the spotlight, reportedly has been far more available to the media this season. But his no-show Sunday left a sour taste in some mouths. Said one local sportscaster: “It’s just frustrating, that’s all. I think people at home want to see what he has to say.”
The Washington Post
December 25, 1991
Redskins Look to Shift Gears for Super Bowl Drive;
History Says Players Rise to the Occasion
“There’s a noticeable difference in every aspect of the game in the playoffs,” said former San Francisco offensive lineman Randy Cross, now a CBS-TV analyst. “The special teams guys care less about their bodies because they know they’ve got six months to heal. The hitting is harder, the holding is tighter and the good players become great.
“You put a guy like Art Monk on Monday night, and he’ll be special. You put him in the playoffs, and he’ll be even better than that. You know a guy like Ronnie Lott will try and take someone’s head off coming over the middle. And a guy like Joe Montana moves into another category where no one’s ever been before.”
The Washington Post
December 4, 1994
Washington Is Past, Another Record’s In View, And Art Monk Keeps Playing Football Like … A Pure Professional
For Art Monk, the bitterness is mostly gone now. He doesn’t have much time to dwell on his fall from grace with the Washington Redskins, the ugliness of his final separation last June from the team he had served so well for so many years through so many big games and even bigger catches.
He is too busy now to brood over what might have been, too occupied with plying his trade as a highly valued wide receiver with the New York Jets, still very much alive in their quest for a playoff berth. Many of his new teammates will also say that Monk, with 37 catches for 474 yards and two touchdowns, has been one reason this 6-6 team still has a chance to go places, even as the 2-10 Redskins go nowhere except home for the holidays.
Monk also hasn’t had much time to think about the National Football League record that is now well within his still-dependable grasp. On the road today against the New England Patriots, the league’s all-time leading receiver can tie the mark of 177 consecutive games with at least one catch, held by former Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Steve Largent, the new Republican congressman from Tulsa.
The next day, Monk will celebrate his 37th birthday. The following Saturday, in a nationally televised game against Detroit that would be far more appropriate at RFK Stadium instead of Giants Stadium, he almost certainly will have the record to himself.
“He should do it in Washington, yeah, no question,” said Joe Gibbs, his coach for 13 seasons. “You know, I see him, and he just doesn’t look right in green. It’s a sad testament on free agency. I think he’d still be there if not for that and all the money issues. Art in green? No way.”
But over the course of a 45-minute interview at the Jets’ training center on Long Island last week, Monk insisted the record is not much on his mind, let alone the venue. The Redskins would have been on the road the next two weeks anyway at Tampa Bay and Arizona, though he admitted “doing it there [at RFK] would have been nice, but what can you do?
“I really don’t think much about it. I don’t want it to be a distraction for me. I know it’s going to come. I’d rather just focus my energies on the game and do my best to help the team win. I don’t want to just sit around thinking about it because I won’t play well if I do.”
Playing well has never been a problem for Monk, not from the first day he arrived in Washington in 1980 as a No. 1 draft choice from Syracuse to his most recent game, a tough loss to the Miami Dolphins last Sunday. He had five catches for 105 yards in that game, setting up one touchdown with a vital third-and-long gem to keep one drive alive and another by going 69 yards to the Miami 4-yard line.
Ask the Jets about all the nonsense whispered about Monk at Redskin Park over the past two years — lost a step, can’t separate from defensive backs, too old to play full time — and they laugh.
“I knew the first time I saw him here that he would make a huge contribution to this football team,” Jets quarterback Boomer Esiason said. “Here’s what happens when a new regime comes in. They try to disassociate themselves from the past. Hey, the same thing happened to me in Cincinnati. It’s part of the business.”
Monk said he still held out hope he could remain with the Redskins as late as only a few days before he signed with the Jets on June 3. He’d already met several times with new head coach Norv Turner and General Manager Charley Casserly, who offered him a $ 600,000 contract, about half of what he’d earned the previous year as a part-time receiver.
The Jets will pay him about the same, though fulfilling several incentive clauses could push him higher.
“I finally went and spoke to John Cooke [the Redskins’ executive vice president and son of owner Jack Kent Cooke],” Monk said. “I expressed my desire that I wanted to finish my career there. But the answer I got was they didn’t have any money left to sign me.
“I didn’t want to sign anywhere else until I knew they didn’t want me. They’ll say I had every opportunity to sign, but there were a lot of reasons that kept me from doing it,” though Monk did not elaborate. “After I met with Cooke, that was the last straw. I knew that was it.”
Said John Cooke: “He did ask if there was any opportunity to come back. I said no because it was too late. Dad and I would never interfere with the decisions of our coach and general manager. At that point we had already signed [receiver] Henry Ellard. We had given Art the opportunity to come back. When he came to see me, I told him we didn’t interfere. And it was too damned late.”
Monk still believes the beginning of his end as a Redskin had its roots in 1992, Joe Gibbs’s final season as head coach and a year in which he caught 46 passes, down from 71 receptions in ’91.
“That’s when it started,” he said, “and me leaving was a combination of a lot of things that just made it real frustrating and agonizing. … At the end I just felt like I wasn’t wanted or needed there any more. I just had to go.”
Before the start of the ’93 season, Monk was told by former coach Richie Petitbon he would serve as a backup.
But Monk said he does not blame Petitbon for his demotion, and still has only the highest praise for Gibbs.
Asked if he thought he’d still be playing in Washington if Gibbs were the head coach, he said, “My tendency would be to say yes. I don’t know how much control he would have had in keeping me there, but the answer is yes.”
Said Gibbs: “I look at character, and from the first time I started working with him, I knew he was morally sound. He cared about his family, his community and about himself. You never had to worry about him. He took a lot of pride in what he was doing.
“I also think he had a commitment to be great. Lots of times, late in games, some guys don’t want the ball, they don’t want the pressure. I always felt Art wanted the ball. He’d come over to me and say ‘I can get it done.’ ”
In the beginning, Monk said, all he wanted to do was make the football team.
“I didn’t expect to play pro football,” he said. “I loved the game, but never did I dream I’d get to this level. When I got drafted, it really was a big surprise to me. If you told me I’d be around this long, let alone a year or two, I’d never have believed it.”
At first, he said, assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell, the man who initially convinced the Redskins to draft him No. 1, and Charley Taylor, for many years his position coach, convinced him he could play.
“Charley helped me on the field, Bobby off the field,” Monk said. “When I first came here, Charley was a scout. I knew who they were, what they’d done as players. They’d pull me aside, told me what they thought I could do better, how to make a move, how to react. Bobby was more off the field. He talked about how I should handle myself. He really helped mold my character.”
Ask Monk to single out one of a dozen quarterbacks who helped him to the brink of this latest record and his answer comes quickly.
“Joe Theismann, no question about that. We just seemed to hit it off. There was just something about him where we developed a real good relationship with each other. I knew Joe’s every in and out on the field, how he would react to certain situations, and he knew me exactly the same way.”
Said Theismann: “He exemplifies what a great player is. I don’t think he ever missed a practice. He’s the greatest football player I’ve ever known and I consider myself lucky to know him as a man and to play with him as an athlete.
“What the Redskins did to Art Monk two years ago was an insult. They benched him without giving him a chance to win the job. That hurt Art badly. He should have finished his career as a Redskin.”
Instead, he will finish as a New York Jet, working not far from his home town in White Plains, a few miles to the north. Perhaps he will stop after this year. More likely, he said, he’ll retire after the 1995 season. He said he still loves playing the game and like most athletes his age, will reassess after the season when he returns to the Great Falls, Va., home he shares with his college sweetheart wife, Desiree, and their three children, James (11), Danielle (10) and Monica (7).
They are all with him now, living in a rented house in Garden City, not far from the team’s practice facility, not far from Desiree’s native Queens. But Washington remains in their hearts and in their minds. Desiree said she was watching a recent game at home on TV when “Hail to the Redskins” was audible in the background. She said she started to cry.
Monk came back the week before Thanksgiving on an off day to distribute turkeys and all the trimmings to the needy in Washington and Northern Virginia. He is a tireless fund-raiser, a man who sponsors an “I Have A Dream” program with several former teammates, offering college scholarships to inner-city children if they’ll stay in school.
“I miss Washington,” he said this week. “I miss the people. My home will still be there, I’ll still be there, I’ll still be active there. I can’t say enough about the fans. They’ve been there with me from the start. I don’t just see them as fans, I see them as friends. They’re very special to me.”
As Art Monk is to them. Once in burgundy and gold. And now, even in green.
The Washington Post
December 11, 1994
For the Record, Monk Makes It 178 in a Row ; Ex-Redskin Gets Receptions Mark In Jets’ Loss
It was difficult for Art Monk to smile much late this afternoon despite his momentous achievement four hours earlier. Yes, he caught a pass — three, in fact — for the 178th straight game of his illustrious career, breaking a National Football League record on what he described as “a very special day.”
And yet, he also admitted following the New York Jets’ dismal 18-7 loss to the Detroit Lions: “It’s bittersweet. I’m excited about the record, but I’m disappointed about losing. I feel badly for my teammates; it was something we wanted real bad. It just kind of hurts.”
For Monk, it was not that way early in the game. On the Jets’ first play, he lined up split to the left and ran a simple pattern called “shallow cross” in the Jets’ playbook, a short crossing route designed to give quarterback Boomer Esiason several options.
During the week, the Jets’ coaching staff had discussed throwing the ball to Monk quickly, just to get the record out of the way, and that’s precisely how it happened. He was open, Esiason buzzed the ball into his waiting hands and Lions linebacker Chris Spielman tackled him immediately after a modest gain of five yards 20 seconds into the game.
Then Spielman, one of the game’s most ferocious players, helped Monk get to his feet, patted him on the helmet and joined players on both sides of the line of scrimmage in congratulating Monk on a streak that began in the fifth game of the Washington Redskins’ 1983 season, with three catches against the Los Angeles Raiders on Oct. 2.
At that point, the game was stopped as Steve Largent, the former Seattle receiver whose record Monk had just broken, came out on the field. Largent, a newly elected congressman from Oklahoma, shook his hand, offered a few words of respect as the crowd of 56,080 provided a standing ovation and took the ball with him for safe-keeping, not to mention posterity.
Monk will keep the football for his trophy case back home in Great Falls, Va., and send the No. 81 Jets jersey he wore today to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. When he’s eligible five years after he stops playing, enshrinement almost certainly will follow for a man who had 164 straight weeks with a catch as a Redskin before leaving Washington in a bitter parting as a free agent last June.
Today, Monk was asked how he felt about a ceremonial signing and retirement as a Redskin once he decides to stop playing, a possibility mentioned this past week by Washington owner Jack Kent Cooke.
“It depends on the circumstances,” Monk said. “I’d rather not make any comment on that. I’m still playing. Right now I’m loyal to the Jets. But my door is open to any possibility. … I’m still excited about my job. As long as I’m healthy and able to contribute to the team’s success, I’ll keep playing.”
The Jets have said publicly they’d like Monk to play another year, and he’s leaning that way. He’s had a productive season, with 44 catches for 556 yards and three touchdowns, averaging about 13 yards per catch. Monk said he’ll make his final decision in the offseason, when he’ll also have time to ponder his latest achievement.
Monk, who turned 37 last Monday, is also the NFL’s all-time leading receiver, now with 932 receptions. He also admitted the day he caught his 820th pass, also surpassing Largent for the total receptions record, was far more exciting. It happened in the fifth game of the 1992 season against the Denver Broncos at RFK Stadium. And the Redskins won.
“It’s a little disappointing in not being able to do it in front of the fans of RFK,” Monk said today. “Those people have been great to me my whole career. It’s home to me.”
The Washington Post
December 6, 1995
Panthers Starting Something
Former Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk might play for the Philadelphia Eagles this Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, and Philadelphia sources say the Eagles are very much interested in having Monk around for 1996. They’d like him to be a mentor to promising rookie Chris T. Jones, their third-round draft choice from Miami.
Monk’s consecutive game streak of 180 with at least one catch is intact because he did not play last week in the Eagles’ loss to Seattle. Coach Ray Rhodes said he wanted to have Monk more familiar with the offense. If he plays this week, he’ll be the Eagles’ fourth or fifth wide receiver.
Monk wowed the Eagles in a tryout last month when he ran a 4.45 time in the 40-yard dash, followed by a 4.5. In his prime, Monk ran 4.4. His agent, former Redskin Brig Owens, said the Eagles were “amazed by how well he’d taken care of himself. I think what they saw is a man who still can run, has great hands and runs excellent patterns.”
The Washington Post
December 11, 1995
Cowboys Don’t Answer Switzer’s Call vs. Eagles
Almost lost in the euphoria were two catches for 23 yards by Eagles wide receiver Art Monk, the former Washington Redskin who signed two weeks ago as a free agent. The catches extended Monk’s NFL-record streak of games with at least one to 181. “Doing it against the Cowboys makes it nice, too,” he said.
The Washington Post
October 27, 1997
Burn of Defeat Sets Mitchell Afire; After Tough Loss, Veteran Tries to Spark Fighting Spirit
As usual, veteran running back Brian Mitchell played with a fiery fury and passion yesterday against the Baltimore Ravens. And when the Washington Redskins walked off the field after losing to what he believes was an inferior opponent, he went to the locker room and had himself a good cry. He also had a message for his struggling teammates.
But Mitchell had plenty to say afterward, mostly that it was time for his teammates to replace words with positive deeds and action on the field.
“I’m tired of telling people they should do this thing or that thing,” he said. “If you need someone to lead, watch me. . . . Motivating is on you. If you need a coach to motivate you, you shouldn’t be on the field. Norv Turner does everything Joe Gibbs did. I don’t feel like cutting somebody is [the solution], threatening someone’s job.
“You don’t see or hear [Turner] in our meetings. He hasn’t thrown a chair yet, but he can rant and rave. I fear for my job. That’s the way I play. . . . My words won’t do anything. I’ll be like Art Monk. I’ll play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. I’ll lead by example. Everyone should be embarrassed.”
The Washington Post
September 19, 2000
A Night for Redskins to Be Upset
The Washington Redskins paid tribute to three cornerstones of their glorious past last night at FedEx Field, but they also offered fans a painful glimpse of what could be an ugly future.
This was a night when Hall of Fame Coach Joe Gibbs, wide receiver Art Monk and defensive end Dexter Manley were added to the team’s Ring of Fame in a special halftime ceremony.
The Washington Post
January 20, 2001
In Detroit, Millen Motoring to Rev Up the Lions
There are other intriguing decisions to be made. Former Redskins wide receiver Art Monk is also a finalist, and there’s no question he is a legitimate candidate. When he retired four years ago, no receiver had caught more passes. He also played on three Super Bowl championship teams under Joe Gibbs, and has had an exemplary record of good deeds and community service off the field, as well.
But also on the ballot are Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, teammates from the great Steelers teams of the 1970s who keep splitting selector votes and haven’t been able to make it to Canton, Ohio. Swann has come very close, making it onto the final ballot several times, and has a good chance of getting in this year. There’s no question Monk is a Hall of Fame player. But it may not happen in his first year of eligibility.
The Washington Post
November 7, 2001
At Halftime, Parity Holds the Lead With Help From the Unpredictable
The list of 71 nominees for enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in July includes seven former Redskins and several others with strong ties to the Washington area.
The most likely to move on to the final 15-man ballot that will be voted on in New Orleans on Feb. 2 would be wide receiver Art Monk and two of the original Hogs offensive linemen — tackle Joe Jacoby and guard Russ Grimm. The others are tackle Jim Lachey, linebackers Wilber Marshall and Matt Millen and defensive tackle Dave Butz.
Only two Redskins from the Joe Gibbs era are in the Hall — Gibbs and fullback John Riggins. That’s a small number considering the Redskins appeared in four Super Bowls in a 10-year span, winning three. Monk appears to have the best shot at becoming the third.
Westchester Journal News
February 2, 2002
Hall of Fame has to find room for Monk
Last year, in his first year of eligibility, Monk did not make the cut from 15 to 10, the first round of eliminations.
“People don’t think of him as a great receiver,” said Leonard Shapiro of The Washington Post, who will present Monk’s case to the committee this morning. “He didn’t have a lot of memorable catches, big catches.
“He only had 65 touchdowns in 224 games. And that’s because the Redskins threw the ball in those situations to Gary Clark. So some people don’t see Art as the “go-to” guy. They think of him as a guy who ran a lot of 10-yard outs.”
Shapiro is pessimistic about Monk’s chances today.
“I think he’ll get in,” he said. “Just not now.”
That is just part of the Hall of Fame’s game. Lynn Swann, who made big catches for the Pittsburgh Steelers in four Super Bowls, had to wait 14 years before the committee finally elected him last year.
Sooner or later, Monk deserves his place.
“If he doesn’t get in,” Lott said, “it doesn’t make sense.”
If he doesn’t get in, they might as well close the Hall.
Colorado Springs Gazette
January 31, 2004
Elway, Sanders a sure thing for Hall of Fame
Milo F. Bryant
Others players, such as former Washington Redskins receiver Art Monk, may sweat a while.
Monk is in his fifth year of eligibility, and it’s the fifth year he’s been a finalist. Presenter Shapiro, who said Monk should’ve been in the Hall two years ago, has the duty of presenting Monk again.
Monk (1980-95) was a big receiver, physical, too. He was the prototype for many of the gifted possession receivers of the mid- to late-1990s.
Critics say he was steady, but never great, that Monk was interchangeable with many other receivers.
“People say he didn’t score a lot of touchdowns (68),” Shapiro said. “I say ‘Look, he played with John Riggins.'”
Monk’s supporters go, suggest that Riggins’ rushing TDs lessened Monk’s opportunities.
Monk has been argued over for five years. Voters argued over Bob Brown and Harry Carson for five years, too. Nobody on the list, however, has been a finalist more than former Minnesota Vikings defensive lineman Carl Eller.
December 14, 2004
Before Moving Ahead, One Final Look Back
Bauble: To Gregg Williams, the Redskins defensive coordinator whose unit has kept the team close in so many losses. Joe Gibbs and the offense owe this guy big-time.
Bupkus: To any of my fellow Hall of Fame selectors who fail to vote for retired Redskins receiver Art Monk to make the Hall’s Class of 2005.
February 9, 2005
Before Moving Ahead, One Final Look Back
Hall of Fame Part II: Once again Art Monk is denied for reasons truly beyond my comprehension. The only so-called knock on him is that he didn’t make the spectacular catch in the big game. I have always countered that Monk was never the Redskins deep threat, but the guy who always kept the chains moving, the go-to receiver when a vital third down had to be converted. He sacrificed for his team, was a wicked blocker down field and in Joe Gibbs protection schemes and has more catches than any receiver now in the Hall of Fame. I still believe he?s going to get in; it took Lynn Swann 14 years.
Dallas Morning News
January 29, 2006
32 Playoff victories + 8 Super Bowl appearances + 5 Super Bowl victories = 5 Players in the Hall of Fame? Is there a conspiracy to keep Cowboys greats out of the Pro Football Hall of Fame?
Selectors say the secrecy fuels mistrust, leading to vague but persistent charges of bias.
“The only thing that has always bothered me about the process – and this goes way back – is there are always what you call ‘silent assassins’ in the room,” says Washington Post columnist Leonard Shapiro, a board member since the early 1980s.
“The silent assassins are the guys who sit there and don’t say a word. When it comes time to vote, they vote against them and you never know why. It’s virtually true for every player who comes up. It’s very disturbing.”
Tuesday, February 7, 2006
Before Moving Ahead, One Final Look Back
By Leonard Shapiro
Hall of Fame Shame: That’s right, another year, another snub of Art Monk.
Some people take it personally. Dan Snyder, the man who almost always declines interview requests, instead issued a statement decrying Monk’s exclusion, and of course, that’s really going to turn the tide next February when the selection committee meets again.
Yes, I’m on the committee and it remains somewhat of a mystery to me how a guy who caught more than 1,000 passes in his career — regular and postseason — couldn’t even make it from the cut from 15 down to 10, where he was eliminated along with the best of the Hogs, Russ Grimm.
I say “somewhat” of a mystery because, during the selection meeting the Saturday morning before the Super Bowl, some selectors opposed to Monk’s induction at least had the courage of their misguided convictions and did speak up.
The main knock on Monk is that opposing defenses feared Gary Clark and the Riggo running game more than they did Monk. It’s an argument that’s been made very publicly by my friend Peter King of Sports Illustrated, who was the beat guy covering the N.Y. Giants for Newsday on Long Island when Monk was in his prime in the 1980s. The Giants back then had a defensive coordinator named Bill Belichick — remember him — who devised various schemes that often effectively shut Monk down in an era when the Giants also dominated the Redskins.
I’m not telling tales out of school here; Peter has made his views very well known in his writings and broadcast appearances. He doesn’t think Monk is a Hall of Famer because he didn’t play like a Hall of Famer against the Giants, when King was watching. That’s his opinion, and I respect the man and the opinion. I don’t agree, but he’s certainly entitled to it.
I just wish he and other selectors not in Monk’s camp would look at the total body of work. And by the way, opposing defenses were likely more concerned with the Raiders Cliff Branch, but selectors still put his teammate, possession receiver Fred Biletnikoff, in the Hall. Opposing defenses were far more concerned with Kellen Winslow on the old Chargers, but selectors still voted Charlie Joiner a place in Canton.
Bottom line on Monk: when he retired, no receiver in league history had more catches. Second number: no receiver now in the Hall of Fame had more career catches than Monk. I still believe Monk is going to get in, as will Grimm and maybe even fellow Hog, Joe Jacoby. In a few years, Darrell Green should be a first ballot pick when he becomes eligible. Right now, the only Redskin player from that era in the hall is John Riggins, but that’s going to change.
March 23, 2006
Tagliabue Deserves a Quick Trip to Canton
Memo to my fellow members on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee:
If we fail to vote NFL Commissioner Paul Tagliabue into the Hall next February, we should be even more embarrassed than ever before, including the incomprehensible failure once again to get former Washington Redskins receiver Art Monk in the front door in Canton and the mean-spirited snub also accorded to Art Modell, one of the great behind-the-scenes league architects in the Pete Rozelle-era and beyond.
Thursday, February 15, 2007
To Deny Monk, Tagliabue Is a Travesty
Art Monk deserved better.
And so did Paul Tagliabue.
It’s been almost two weeks since the all-time leading receiver in Washington Redskins history and arguably the greatest sports commissioner of his generation were not voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame at the annual selection meeting in Miami Beach the day before Super Bowl XLI.
And I still don’t get it. After 24 years on the selection committee, I honestly believed 2007 was going to be Monk’s year, if only because he had waited so long and the number of can’t-miss first time eligible players seemed rather thin.
In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve been responsible for presenting Monk to the board of selectors until this year, when my status — after retiring from The Post in October after 37 years — was changed on the board to an at-large representative. David Elfin of The Washington Times was added to the board as the Washington representative and he made an excellent case on Monk’s behalf. And of course I followed up with more supporting evidence to advance his candidacy.
Monk had been among the final 15 every year since he became eligible seven years ago, and at least this year he made it through the first cut from 17 (counting two senior candidates) to the final ten (actually 11, because there was a tie).
Then, one more time, the unthinkable occurred. Monk couldn’t make it to the last six on a day when Dallas Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, in only his third year of eligibility, was among the exalted half-dozen. At that point in the process, the 40 selectors are asked to vote yes or no, and any candidate with 81 per cent of the yes votes gets his ticket punched to Canton.
I’ve always voted yes for any man who gets to the final six, unless I happen to know for a fact that he was an ax-murderer, or worse. And yes, once Irvin got that far, he did get my yes vote, even if I also believe it was a travesty of the highest order that he now will go into the Hall ahead of Monk, for a wide variety of reasons.
I’ve seen too many worthy players make it to the last six, and then get blackballed by what we like to call “silent assassins” in the final yes-no tally. It happened a few years back to Miami offensive lineman Bob Kuechenberg, and the poor guy has never gotten that far again, and may not considering the number of offensive lineman–five finalists this year, and more coming–who likely will shove him to the back of the line, including Russ Grimm.
It happened twice to Giants linebacker Harry Carson, who was so frustrated by the seemingly cruel and unusual process that he took the very unusual step of asking not to be considered for induction by the selectors.
Fortunately, we ignored him and eventually voted a very worthy Carson in to the Class of 2006.
But back to Irvin over Monk. Yes, the Dallas “Playmaker” had more touchdown catches than Monk and some very big postseason games, including three Super Bowl victories. Good for him. He’s a Hall of Fame player, but I honestly thought my fellow selectors would take a “wait-your-turn” approach, and put Monk in this year and Irvin next.
Monk’s numbers across the board were more than comparable, including a stunning statistic that two-thirds of Monk’s 888 catches in Washington went for first downs, an incredibly high rate of success for a classic possession receiver. Oh, and by the way, when he retired, wasn’t he also the all-time leading receiver in NFL history?
But far more important in my mind was the character issue. Unlike baseball, that’s not supposed to be part of the equation in the pro football by-laws. But perhaps it should be. Irvin was a loud-mouth, look-at-me, point-that-camera-in-my-direction precursor to many of the preening prima donna wide receivers now prancing across our screens every Sunday.
More significantly, he also was guilty of some despicable behavior off the field, as well, getting involved in a series of highly publicized incidents involving cocaine, hookers, marital infidelity and general flaunting of the law.
Of course, none of those transgressions prevented him from landing a plum job as an analyst on ESPN, where he’s also said some pretty dumb things. And in the weeks before the Hall of Fame meeting, both he and several of his colleagues unabashedly lobbied for his selection. Shame on him, and them, but that’s show biz.
Monk was the anti-Irvin, on and off the field. He went about his business as a true professional, a player who never once went to Joe Gibbs and asked his coach to get him the ball more often. He was a consummate athlete who took great pride in his downfield blocking, a quiet, soft-spoken presence in the locker room who preferred not to speak much to the media if only because he felt uncomfortable in the spotlight. No arrests, no perp walks, no drug busts, not even a whiff of scandal or wrong-doing at any time during or after his brilliant career.
His only semi-flaw? Perhaps some writers on the 40-man committee may still remember Monk’s reluctance to wave his own flag back when he was playing, more than occasionally rejecting interview requests from his own local beat writers as well as out-of-towners when he was very much in his prime and a key part of the Redskins story. You’d like to think that wouldn’t matter much in the selection process, but quite frankly, human nature occasionally takes over, and perhaps that’s cost him a few votes.
The good news is that at least he’s getting closer. The glut of receivers who have been in Monk’s path in recent years — Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, James Lofton and now Irvin — have all been elected to the Hall. Next year, first-time eligible Chris Carter of the Vikings will be the main competition, but it would be another travesty if Carter made it on the first ballot, or any ballot before Monk finally gets his due.
You’d like to think that Monk’s three Super Bowl rings, compared to none for Carter, who never played in that game, will be a telling factor in finally getting Monk to Canton. I’m still convinced that it’s going to happen for Monk, and sooner rather than later.
Sadly, Tagliabue may have to wait a while longer. This year, he didn’t even advance from the final 17 to the last 10 in his first year on the final ballot, eliminated in the first round of voting.
As selectors, we often ask the question, “can you write the history of the National Football League without him?” Of course you can’t write any history of the NFL without having Tagliabue in the first paragraph. Over his 18-year tenure since taking over from Pete Rozelle, an already prosperous league moved into another galaxy in terms of its growth and worldwide popularity.
At the moment, television contracts Tagliabue negotiated are estimated to be worth $25.2 billion. League attendance is nearly at 100 percent. Super Bowl XLI attracted the second largest audience in history, with ads selling for a record $2.6 million for a 30-second spot. And the vast majority of games remain televised, free of charge to the public.
The league never had a work stoppage on Tagliabue’s watch. The NFL has the toughest drug testing program in all of sports, and continues to fund and monitor research to keep up with the latest science of cheating.
Tagliabue presided over the wildly successful expansion to 32 teams, oversaw the building or total renovation of more than 20 league stadiums and played a huge role in increasing the value of each franchise in the league, some now reportedly worth over $1 billion each.
With the exception of Los Angeles, every city that saw its NFL franchise leave town for a more lucrative market — St. Louis, Baltimore, Cleveland, Oakland, Houston — eventually got another team back, and four of them are now playing in magnificent new stadiums. To his everlasting credit, Tagliabue also strong-armed the impetuously irresponsible owner of the New Orleans franchise, Tom Benson, from moving the franchise after Hurricane Katrina.
And by the way, did you notice there were seven African American head coaches on the sidelines this season, two of them taking their teams to the Super Bowl two weeks ago? When Tagliabue took over, there were none, and his prodding of the owners to adapt the so-called Rooney Rule four years ago to make certain at least one minority candidate be interviewed for every head coaching vacancy has obviously paid huge dividends, on the field and in front offices around the league.
So how could my fellow selectors not vote him in on his first appearance on the final ballot?
Without specifically revealing who said what, let’s just say I didn’t hear a single reason that made any sense at all. There was some talk that he wasn’t pro-active enough in getting new stadiums built for San Francisco, San Diego or Oakland, that he didn’t push hard enough to make a deal to bring pro football back to Los Angeles. Some said the extension in the collective bargaining agreement Tagliabue brokered before he left office has a chance of blowing up in two years because too many owners are unhappy with the agreement.
Mostly though, there was an ugly whiff of vindictiveness in the room.
Unlike Rozelle, a gregarious PR man with a perpetual tan, Tagliabue was a buttoned-down by-the-book lawyer with a backroom pallor. He was stiff standing on a podium, occasionally condescending and evasive in news conference settings.
Over his reign, media access to players and coaches on many teams — including closed practices, no interviews allowed with assistant coaches, not enough time in locker rooms after practice — also was reduced considerably. Tagliabue, some have said, could have stopped it, but never really tried very hard to intervene.
Still, if that’s the reason any selector — 40 media men and women from around the country — voted no, shame on them. This was not about us, and never should be. It was about the big picture and outside-the-box thinking from a visionary CEO who took his league to unparalleled heights, and kept it there year after year as by far the most popular team sport in the country.
Art Monk and Paul Tagliabue both deserved far better, and in 2008, the misguided naysayers in the room need to look in the mirror, come to their senses and do the right thing. They didn’t embarrass Monk and Tagliabue on Feb. 3; they embarrassed themselves.
Sun Mar 25, 2007
Len Shapiro Interview
Hogs Haven: Len, thanks again for agreeing to join us. Let’s jump right into questions: First and foremost, how long have you been with the Washington Post and on the Hall of Fame Committee?
Len Shapiro: I’ve been with the Post since 1969, covering the George Allen Redskins from 73 to 79, then again for a few years in each of the next three decades. I’ll be heading to my 25th Hall of Fame meeting next February and have been on the senior committee for about six years.
Hogs Haven: How does one become a Hall of Fame Voter?
Len Shapiro: When the Washington Star folded in 1982, I was asked by the Hall to replace long-time Star football writer Steve Guback as a selector. They ask people who have covered the sport extensively, so I guess I qualified.
HH: Per other voters, Paul Tagliabue demanded nearly an hour of debate and was clearly this year’s most contested potential Inductee (and I am sympathetic towards your arguments in his favor). Can you comment on how long the debate over Monk lasted?
LS: My recollection is about 15 to 20 minutes, which allowed plenty of discussion. Remember, this was the first time Tagliabue was in the final 17, and Monk has been there before.
HH: What was the prevalent argument against Art Monk this year, in your opinion?
LS: There are a few people in the room who believe he did not have signature catches in big games, that he was not the Redskins big-play go-to guy. I obviously disagree, and I can tell you I believe we’re making progress in getting him elected.
HH: In your recent article at the Post you suggest a concern many Art Monk fans have; namely that Monk’s snubbing was partially the result of his quiet off the field shyness towards the press. If that is the case, should NFL fans be concerned about the integrity of the process?
LS: No, I think that’s just human nature at work. There should be no concerns about the integrity of the process in that regard. I don’t think anyone on the committee would withhold a vote because Monk declined him/her an interview.
HH: An additional concern: Perhaps voters may be forgiven for holding Monk’s shyness against him; it might mean they simply didn’t have the exposure to him to keep his accolades and accomplishments fresh in their minds. However, for some Redskins fans — myself included — it often times seems as though Paul Zimmerman (among others) takes pleasure in antagonizing Redskins fans who are known to send hostile emails. I understand the motivation, and I condemn any fan, Redskin or otherwise, who personally attacks voters. But could Zimmerman or others be holding Art Monk’s inurbane fans against him during the voting process? John McClane recently made that fear explicit: “Has it occurred to you that all those nasty e-mails insulting the intelligence of the committee just might make some of the pro-Monk crowd switch their votes? I’m not saying it will, but have you thought that you might actually be doing Monk damage?” Do you get a sense that this is influencing votes?
LS: Again, any voter who allows himself to be influenced by fan insults ought to get off the committee. I can tell you I get bombarded all the time by supporters of players not in the Hall, including vicious letters–you ignorant slut, that sort of thing–as well as well orchestrated mail and e-mail campaigns. They’re a pain in the neck to deal with, but it It goes with the territory and has no influence whatsoever on how I vote.
HH: Chris Carter comes up for induction next year, and then he is followed by a series of receivers who, in a different era, accumulated better stats than Art Monk. Peter King made this point and it concerns me: Will 2006 be recognized at Art Monk’s last, best chance at induction? Can you comfort Redskins fans like myself who are worried that it won’t ever happen?
LS: It will not be Monk’s last best chance. I will argue next year that Chris Carter absolutely has to wait his turn. Next year is Monk’s turn. By the way, how many super bowl teams did Carter play on, another reason I believe he is not a slam dunk next season.
HH: You recently called for character in your Post piece, a sentiment repeated by Jerry Magee and perhaps others. As Art Monk had an outstanding character as well as an outstanding career, I view a change towards considering character as a move in the right direction towards inducting Monk. With voters beginning to acknowledge that importance of off field conduct, is it a matter of if-or-when such considerations are taken into account?
LS: That’s a matter the Hall of Fame Board of Directors must decide. At the moment, we are not suppoosed to consider off-field transgressions, or good deeds, for that matter. I believe character should be an issue and some of us have let the board know that. It’s their decision and at the moment, I don’t think they’re inclined to change.
HH: With Art Monk not in, and enough questions reasonably raised about the integrity of the process, many Redskins fans have reached the conclusion that the Hall of Fame Voting process is broken. Many solutions have been suggested, the most intriguing to me that of inviting a few current Inductees to participate in the voting process. Is this something you or (to the extend you’d know) other voters would be open to? Would it even help anything, in your opinion?
LS: It would not help the process. On the senior committee, we have two old-timers in the room as consultants and quite frankly, they’re only of modest help. Many times they didn’t play in the same era, many times they show bias toward old teammates or coaches. I think our process is a good one, and I think it’s going to get better with the addition in the next few years of more voters and perhaps separating contributors from players, so more players and contributors can get in.
HH: Do you think the Hall of Fame voting will ever be transparent? Should it be?
LS: Transparent in the sense that tv cameras will be allowed in the room? No. I believe the best part of the process is a selection meeting when everyone in the room can voice their strong opinion, pro or con on a player, and not have to worry that his views will later be held against him. For example, if the Green Bay selector admitted–and I repeat, this is just an example–that he didn’t think Jerry Kramer was the best guard on his team and probably didn’t deserve to get inducted, he’d be tarred and feathered when he got home and subject to intense criticism from fans, players and coaches past and present and the entire organization. I am in favor of an open ballot when we get down to the final six. That is, if you vote against Art Monk in the final analysis, man up and go public with it.
HH: Finally Len, I understand that you cannot name names as that would violate the privacy of other voters. But my question is: Can you name names?
LS: I understand there is great frustration among Redskins fans that Monk and players like Russ Grimm and Joe Jacoby, also worthy candidates, are not yet in. I would say this. Many players have taken many years to finally get in. Sam Huff, Lynn Swann, Harry Carson, Roger Wehrli. I believe those three and Darrell Green (next year he’s eligible for the first time) will eventually be in the Hall of Fame. I’m hoping for a Green/Monk twin double next year, and rest assured, both men have plenty of support in the room and it’s just a matter of time.
HH: Len, thank you so much for stopping by Hogs Haven as you are always welcome back. I truly appreciate you taking the time to answer our questions and I wish you the best in the future — especially in endeavoring to get a great man inducted to the Hall of Fame. HTTR.