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.