The Art Monk Hall of Fame Campaign

The Case for Art Monk

Furman Bisher retired from the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee last year, but after casting his last vote, he wrote this:

Strange that a receiver with Art Monk’s numbers can’t crash this hard-line body. He caught more passes than any player before him in the history of the league, … but there just didn’t seem to be room for him. Search me.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 2/5/06).

Like many fans, I have been searching for an answer to that question: Why isn’t Art in the Hall of Fame? This has led me to examine the words of voters like Mr. Bisher who have decided Monk’s fate, and the best place to start is one of the reporters who watched Monk as closely as anyone. Mike Wilbon also retired from the committee last year, but he probably described the Art Monk question better than anyone in 1989, when he asked:

Is Art Monk a game-breaking receiver? Probably not. He has been perhaps the league’s best and most consistent receiver this decade, running the tough routes and making the plays that open the field for others. It’s not that Monk couldn’t be a game-breaker; it’s simply the way the Redskins choose to use him. His 72 receptions and 13.1 yard average per reception say Monk … is the heart of the offense, but doesn’t get the glory.” (Washington Post, 9/1/89).

This was meant as praise for Monk, but it would haunt him later in the Hall of Fame voting. In fact, during his career, almost all the press about Monk was positive. Peter King said much the same thing as Wilbon a year later, when he wrote that “Art Monk eschews interviews, so NFL fans know little about him — except his numbers, which certainly speak well of his 11-year career as a Redskins wide receiver.” In a short piece titled “The Art of Receiving,” King wrote that “Monk had the most productive first 10 years of any receiver in NFL history.” (Sports Illustrated, 12/3/90).

The praise grew loudest when the Redskins went to the Super Bowl in 1991. Monk shared that stage with another receiver who had to wait too long for his Hall of Fame induction, and Don Pierson wrote a tribute to the two men:

Art Monk and James Lofton have caught everything except Steve Largent and the spotlight on football’s biggest stage. Now, on their way to the Hall of Fame, their careers intersect for a moment in Minneapolis in a Super Bowl that could be dedicated to the two old receivers … Art Monk. The name describes his profession and his personality. Because he prefers example to exhibition, others must speak about him.” (Chicago Tribune, 1/17/92).

The next year, as Monk neared Steve Largent’s record, Rick Gosselin wrote an article entitled, “Monk Taylor-Made for Hall of Fame.” In it, he recounted Monk’s relationship with Charley Taylor, and he summed up Monk’s career:

It took Monk five years before he slapped his name at the top of his profession with a 106-catch, 1,372-yard season in 1984. It gave him his only NFL receiving crown and first Pro Bowl berth. He has had four 1,000-yard seasons and two Pro Bowl berths since.

Monk has delivered for the Redskins in a variety of capacities. Early in his career, he was the club’s deep threat. But when Washington signed speedy Smurfs Clark and Sanders out of the USFL in the mid-1980s, Monk became the possession receiver. So he has been as flexible in the scheme as he has been productive in it.” (Dallas Morning News, 9/5/92).

Bob Oates listed Monk’s credentials:

– Although he isn’t the best receiver in the country today, among those who play his position, he is by far the best football player.
– He is the NFL’s most complete receiving package. Others have specialized as short-pass possession receivers, or third-down experts, or deep threats. Monk has the speed to do it all.
– He is willing to go anywhere to catch the ball. Many of the so-called “pure receivers” drop the ball when running over the middle or fail to run the pattern out, or, as the defensive backs say, short-arm the ball. Not Monk.“It takes a tough guy to go in there,” Gibbs said. “Some of them will go in, but they won’t really look for the ball. (Monk) does.”
– Monk also has the work habits to maintain his physical condition into his late 30s and 40s.
– As a Redskin receiver, playing alongside such good fellow receivers as Clark and Ricky Sanders, Monk is rarely double-covered.
– He is a pro’s pro on a pro’s pro kind of team. Everyone respects the Redskins.”

(Los Angeles Times, 10/6/92).

As Art neared retirement in 1995, his induction into the Hall of Fame seemed assured. David Elfin reported on Monk’s induction into the Syracuse D.C. Sports Hall of Fame:

“NFL senior vice president Val Pinchbeck read a letter from Paul Tagliabue in which the commissioner wrote that he looked forward to being with Monk at his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Redskins assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell, a Hall of Fame receiver himself, jokingly warned Monk not to bump into his bust as he strolled the hallways of the shrine in Canton, Ohio.” (Washington Times, 10/27/95).

Despite all these accolades, Art Monk has not been inducted into the Hall of Fame despite being a finalist every year he has been eligible (and the only person to be a finalist every year since 2001). This has led many of his fans to suspect that there is some kind of conspiracy against Monk, and there are indeed some reasons to believe that something funny is going on inside the voters’ meetings.

In 1996, prior to joining the committee, Len Pasquarelli wrote that Art Monk “certainly will be in the Hall of Fame.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 10/30/96). In 2003, now as a voter on the committee, Pasquarelli turned against Monk, emphasizing that “Art Monk averaged only 13.5 yards per catch in his career and, in 16 seasons with the Redskins, led his team in receptions just six times.” (ESPN.com, 01/25/03).

In 2002, prior to joining the committee, Ron Borges wrote that “Parcells, Ray Guy, and Art Monk are unassailable … Monk’s numbers speak for themselves.” (Boston Globe, 1/20/02). After a few years on the committee though, Borges also changed his stance:

Monk is an interesting case, because when he retired, he was the all-time leading receiver with 940 catches. His 12,721 receiving yards are third all-time. He would seem to be a sure thing, but upon further examination, questions arise. Monk played 16 years in the NFL yet led his team in receiving only six times and was named to the Pro Bowl only three times. He was one of the premier possession receivers of his day, but how dangerous was he considered by opponents? According to some coaches who faced him, not very.” (Boston Globe, 1/15/06).

These are arguments put forth by Cliff Christl, who has set a very high bar for receivers, writing that “Joiner, Swann and Largent were all voted in before I got on the committee and I doubt if I would have voted for any of them.” (Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel online, 2/8/05), and Paul Zimmerman, who has doubted Monk since 1984, when he wrote that “his single-season reception record (106) was built on a lot of eight-yard hitches.” (Sports Illustrated, 12/24/84). But those two voters probably couldn’t have kept Art out without the backing of Peter King, who in 1999 decided that Monk had not made enough Pro Bowls or gained enough yards:

I do have major reservations on Monk’s credentials for the Hall of Fame. I believe I’m right on the statistical data that I’m about to quote. A few years ago, when Monk was in his last season, I started doing a little bit of research on him and I was shocked to see that, despite his high number of catches, Monk had led his own team in receiving in just six of 16 years as an NFL player, and that he was voted All-Pro in only two of 16 years.” (Sports Illustrated, 10/14/99).

This set off a less-than-private debate between Monk’s supporters and detractors. John Clayton said in 2004, “I’m surprised he didn’t make it to the top 10 – I mean 941 catches? Just because (the Redskins) didn’t throw to him in the red zone, he still got them to the 10, to the 20. I thought he should have made it … That’s one that kind of puzzled me.” (The Colorado Springs Gazette, 02/01/04). Ira Miller wrote in 2005, “Art Monk: Considered by some a numbers guy, but he piled up those numbers on three teams that won the Super Bowl with three different quarterbacks. His time is overdue.” (San Francisco Chronicle, 12/18/05).

Few were more upset than Bernie Miklasz, who wrote in his blog:

The dude (Monk) was the constant on a team that won three Super Bowls. He had four QBs during that time. The were three different 1,000 yard backs during that time. Charlie Brown started two Super Bowls opposite Monk, and Gary Clark started two Super Bowls opposite Monk. He was the one constant among skill position players. Yes, Joe Gibbs was the HC and offensive wizard. But Monk actually preceded Gibbs into Washington and was a productive WR before Gibbs’ arrival.

I don’t know….you star for three Super Bowl champions, and you retired with 121 more catches than any receiver who ever played in the NFL? Sounds like a Hall of Famer to me.Moreover, Monk was a big WR and a great downfield blocker — Gibbs has told me many times that Monk was a key to their running game, because he could take on linebackers and create some room for Riggins, Rogers, Riggs, etc.

Monk was a very underrated postseason performer. Monk hurt in a couple of Super Bowls, but what about getting to the Super Bowls?In his career, Monk played in 15 postseason games and had 69 catches for 1,062 yards and 7 TDs.Compared to other Hall of Fame WRs, of the era that’s more postseason catches AND yards than Biletnikoff, Lofton, Swann, Warfield, Stallworth. And all of them played roughly the same amount of postseason games except for Lofton, who played in 12.

People diss Monk because he didn’t have a high TD total. This is true. Well, wonder why? In the red zone Gibbs pounded the ball. And Monk was routinely double covered. That’s why. Some complain that he averaged 13.5 yards per catch….well, yes. he was a possession receiver. He moved the chains. He caught everything in traffic and pushed the Redskins up the field with his receptions good for first downs.

Until Monk, every WR who had retired as the all-time leading receiver was voted into Canton. I’m not sure why my fellow voters are drawing the line on Monk. He played for a ground-based team, and he played before the real explosion of WR totals, and he still had 940 catches for a team that won three SB rings.

Keeping him out of the Hall because he was a possession receiver is like keeping Tony Gwynn out of the baseball Hall because he hit too many singles.”(Bernie’s Pressbox, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 02/04/06).

But Monk’s rejections were probably most personal to Leonard Shapiro, who has presented Monk’s case in recent years, and who used his own blog to criticize King directly:

“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.” (washingtonpost.com, 2/7/06).

This year though, Shapiro’s arguments have finally convinced King. He wrote in August:

“The Washington Post’s Len Shapiro, who I respect a lot, made a great point to me after last year’s vote. I was strongly pro-Harry Carson because I thought one of the five best run-stoppers in history should have his place in Canton. And obviously there are no stats for run-stoppers. Shapiro said to me that Monk did for the Redskins what Carson did for the Giants — as a leader, a player and a totally unselfish piece to Washington’s championship puzzle. So as I go through this season, I’m asking questions of people I respect who either played against or coached against Monk. If I’m wrong in my stance against him, I’ll admit it.” (Sports Illustrated SI.com, 08/03/06).

In November, he stayed true to his word:

As I made my rounds of training camps this year, I asked veteran coaches about Monk and the one word that kept coming up was “unselfish.” His downfield blocking prowess kept coming up. His long-term numbers were almost Yastrzemski-like (one or two great years, lots of productive ones, very reliable). But when I talked to Joe Gibbs on Friday, the one thing that stood out was the body of work we don’t see — the downfield blocking, the quiet leadership, and this: Unlike his louder receiving mates Clark and Ricky Sanders, Monk, according to Gibbs, never once said he wanted the ball more. “We used him almost as a tight end a lot,” said Gibbs, “and not only did he do it willingly, he was a great blocker for us. If he’d been a squeaky wheel, who knows how many catches Art would have had. But he cared about one thing — the team.”

So many of the things Carson did can’t be quantified. Similarly with Monk. Not only did he lead the NFL in all-time receptions when he retired, but he blocked superbly and was the most important locker-room influence on a three-time Super Bowl champion. I’m voting for him.” (Sports Illustrated SI.com, 11/27/06).

As the voters meet to decide Art’s fate again, I hope that like Peter King, the few remaining doubters will see the light. 2007 really should be the year.

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5 Comments »

  1. One other piece of evidence to consider in favor of Monk:

    Of the 17 current recievers in the HOF, only 3 (Alworth, Largent and Pete Pihos) didn’t have a HOF Quarterback throwing to them for a significant portion of their career. In fact, three of the 6 HOF ends of the PRE-MODERN ERA had Hall of Famers throwing them the ball.

    This is an obvious indication that a great reciever is still dependent on the person getting him the ball in oder to get to the HOF. It also speaks well of how great the 3 WRs mentined above were, to produce HOF numbers with the likes of Jim Zorn/Dave Kreig, John Hadl/Tobin Rote, and Larry/Moe/Curly throwing them the ball.

    Theismann, while productive, wasn’t a HOFer and only played with Monk 4 years. It should speak well of his worthiness of the Hall that he was so productive in the latter stages of his career (with a career YPC greater than many, incl. Marvin Harrison–so much for the “8 yd. hook” myth, Z-boy), and accumulated so many catches with good, avg. and pedestrian QBs throwing him the ball.

    Comment by Jim Phillips — June 29, 2006 @ 10:55 am

  2. In considering Monk vs. Cris Carter, Tim Brown and Andre Reed, it should be noted that Monk’s personal playoff stats are the best of the bunch. His yards per game, catches per game, and yards per catch numbers beat out those of Carter, Brown, and Reed. Carter and Reed have Very Small advantages in TDs per game, while Monk beats out Brown even in this category. Playoff TD numbers are close, even though all of these other guys played in passing-first offenses, while Monk’s Redskins teams were power running teams at heart. If you compare each of these guys’ numbers in NFC/AFC Championship games, Monk sweeps ALL categories, outgaining the next best candidate by nearly 40 YARDS a game!
    Not only this, but Monk and the Redskins faced Much better competition in their playoff games. If you compare these candidates based on the number of Super Bowl winners and losers they played during their post season exploits, you’ll find that Monk and the ‘Skins come out WAY on top.
    Consider these purely anectdotal facts: Carter and the Vikings lost their two NFC Championship game appearances to the Chris Chandler-led Atlanta Falcons and the Kerry Collins-led NY Giants. Monk and the ‘Skins NEVER lost a playoff game to a team that was more than 2 years removed from a Super Bowl championship. I’ve created a statistic to compare the greatness of playoff opponents called the POGQ (playoff opponent greatness quotient) which I will not trouble you with here. Suffice to say, Monk and the ‘Skins win out in that comparison. Not only that, the teams who Monk and the ‘Skins faced in the playoffs actually had a higher regular season winning percentage than those faced by Carter, Brown or Reed.

    So Monk put up better personal playoff numbers, while his team was winning a higher percentage of their playoff games, against stronger playoff competition, and bringing home Super Bowl rings.
    All those pro bowls these other guys went to must look pretty insignificant.

    I have prepared a powerpoint presentation on this subject. If the person running this site would like a copy, please e-mail me and let me know where I can send it as an attachment.

    Comment by remember the redskins — September 28, 2007 @ 10:32 am

  3. Okay, here’s another list I’ve compiled. I don’t have perfect data, so if anyone has more complete information or remembers a catch that I’m not listing here, please post here and let us all know.
    So here we go…

    THE 81 GREATEST/LONGEST PLAYS OF ART MONK’S CAREER:

    -1980-
    1) wk 10 v. Chicago Bears
    40 yard catch
    2) wk 13 v. Atlanta Falcons
    41 yard catch
    3) wk 16 v. St. Louis Cardinals
    54 yard TD
    -1981-
    4) wk 3 v. St. Louis Cardinals
    79 yard TD
    5) wk 9 v. St. Louis Cardinals
    38 yard TD
    6) wk 13 v. Buffalo Bills
    25 yard TD
    7) wk 16 v. Los Angeles Rams
    64 yard catch
    8) 34 yard catch
    -1982-
    9) wk 1 v. Philadelphia Eagles
    43 yard catch
    10) 28 yard catch
    11) 27 yard catch (vs. Herman Edwards to set up game-winning FG in OT)
    -1983-
    12)wk 9 v. San Diego Chargers
    25 yard catch (acrobatic twisting catch of ball thrown well behind him followed by being hit by defender)
    13)wk 12 v. Los Angeles Rams
    46 yard pass completion (one of only two passes thrown in career)
    14)wk 15 v. Dallas Cowboys
    43 yard TD (division and top seed-deciding showdown, this TD followed by ruckus in end zone as Cowboys attempted to stop “Fun Bunch” celebration)
    15) Divisional round of Playoffs v. Los Angeles Rams
    40 yard TD
    16) 21 yard TD
    -1984-
    17)wk 5 v. Philadelphia Eagles
    51 yard TD
    18)wk 6 v. Indianapolis Colts
    48 yard TD
    19)wk 15 v. Dallas Cowboys
    18 yard rush (on reverse on scoring drive)
    20)wk 16 v. St. Louis Cardinals
    23 yard TD
    21) 36 yard catch (breaks single-season catches record with this catch)
    22) 20 yard catch (on 3rd and 19, sets up game-winning FG in showdown for division title)
    -1985-
    23)wk 9 v. Atlanta Falcons
    34 yard TD
    24)wk 11 v. NY Giants
    44 yard catch (on 1st play from scrimmage after Theismann’s broken leg on Monday Night Football)
    25) 50 yard catch
    26)wk 15 v. Cincinnati Bengals
    4 yard TD (part of 17-point comeback and 230-yard day for Monk)
    -1986-
    27)wk 3 v. San Diego Chargers
    38 yard catch (deep tipped ball)
    28) 40 yard catch
    29) 58 yard catch (part of 11-point comeback and 195 total yards day for Monk)
    30)wk 4 v. Seattle Seahawks
    69 yard catch
    31)wk 9 v. Minnesota Vikings
    35 yard catch
    32) 34 yard TD (part of OT thriller)
    33)wk 12 v. Dallas Cowboys
    35 yard catch
    34)wk 15 v. Denver Broncos
    55 yard TD
    35) Divisional round of Playoffs v. Chicago Bears
    28 yard TD (victimized “46″ blitz)
    36) 23 yard TD (eventual game-winning score against CB who had only given up one TD all year)
    37) NFC Championship Game v. NY Giants
    48 yard catch
    -1987-
    38)wk 1 v. Philadelphia Eagles
    39 yard TD
    39) Super Bowl XXII v. Denver Broncos
    40 yard catch (1st completion by Doug Williams in game; came on 3rd and 16; Monk’s first game action since mid-season injury)
    -1988-
    40)wk 7 v. Phoenix Cardinals
    46 yard TD
    41)wk 15 v. Dallas Cowboys
    41 yard catch
    -1989-
    42)wk 2 v. Philadelphia Eagles
    43 yard TD
    43)wk 3 v. Dallas Cowboys
    40 yard catch
    44)wk 12 v. Chicago Bears
    18 yard TD (part of 152 yard 2 TD day for Monk)
    45)wk 15 v. Atlanta Falcons
    34 yard TD
    46) 60 yard TD
    -1990-
    47)wk 2 v. San Francisco 49ers
    35 yard TD
    48)wk 7 v. Philadelphia Eagles
    44 yard catch
    49)wk 9 v. Detroit Lions
    40 yard catch (on 3rd and 15 in OT on game-winning drive; 13-catch 168 yard day for Monk)
    50) Wild Card Playoff Game v. Philadelphia Eagles
    28 yard catch
    51) 16 yard TD (eventual game-winning score)
    52) Divisional Round Playoff Game v. San Francisco 49ers
    31 yard TD
    53) 40 yard catch
    -1991-
    54)wk 2 v. Dallas Cowboys
    37 yard TD (Monday Night Football)
    55)wk 4 v. Cincinnati Bengals
    54 yard catch
    56) 30 yard catch
    57)wk 5 v. Philadelphia Eagles
    19 yard TD
    58)wk 6 v. Chicago Bears
    26 yard TD
    59)wk 7 v. Cleveland Browns
    14 yard TD (diving catch; passed Charlie Joiner for 2nd on career receptions list with this catch)
    60)wk 11 v. Atlanta Falcons
    32 yard catch
    61) 19 yard TD
    62) 64 yard TD
    63)wk 12 v. Pittsburgh Steelers
    63 yard catch
    64) 11 yard TD (barely got both sets of toes in bounds)
    65) NFC Championship Game v. Detroit Lions
    31 yard catch
    66) 21 yard TD
    67) Super Bowl XXVI v. Buffalo Bills
    12 yard catch
    68) 17 yard catch
    69) 19 yard catch (on 3rd and 14)
    70) 31 yard catch
    71) 17 yard catch (Monk had 7 catches for 113 yards)
    72)wk 6 v. Denver Broncos (Monday Night Football)
    18 yard catch (tied Steve Largent for most career receptions)
    73) 10 yard catch (broke record for most career catches)
    74)wk 14 v. NY Giants
    42 yard TD
    75)wk 17 v. Los Angeles Raiders
    49 yard TD
    76) 43 yard catch
    -1993-
    77)wk 1 v. Dallas Cowboys (Monday Night Football)
    28 yard catch
    78) 15 yard TD
    -1994-
    79)wk 13 v. Miami Dolphins
    69 yard catch
    80)wk 15 v. Detroit Lions
    5 yard catch (set record for most consecutive games with a catch)
    -1995-
    81)wk 17 v. Chicago Bears
    36 yard catch (broke arm on play; last catch of career)

    I remembered most of these before I looked them up for the details. I remembered most of the rest of them once I’d been reminded about them.
    You’ll notice how many of them are not 8-yard outs. This list stands as partial proof that Monk was fully capable of stretching the field. Should Gibbs really have sent smurfs like Alvin Garrett, Virgil Seay, and Ricky Sanders over the middle on those short routes where they would get pounded? If you say yes, you’re just mean.

    Comment by remember the redskins — October 18, 2007 @ 5:44 pm

  4. New grassroots efforts to get Monk into the Hall. Check out the attempt at http://phsports.blogspot.com/2008/01/pro-football-hof-missing-important.html

    Comment by Sum — January 26, 2008 @ 11:46 am

  5. Being related to Thelonious alone should get him in! THIS HAS GOT TO BE THE YEAR!

    Comment by Lindsay R — February 1, 2008 @ 2:23 pm


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