February 3, 2008

LAST OF THE GREAT ROUTE RUNNERS:

He Quietly Got It Done (Mike Wise, February 3, 2008, Washington Post)

Whether the cognoscenti feel he was wronged or not, there were reasons why Monk was excluded from Canton until yesterday. He often split votes with other stellar receivers, including the six elected ahead of him since his retirement -- James Lofton, Steve Largent, Charlie Joiner, Michael Irvin, John Stallworth and Lynn Swann.

Monk held the career receptions record when he retired in 1995. Jerry Rice, only the greatest wide receiver of all time, broke his record of 940 catches. Yes, he caught 121 more passes than Largent, 176 more than Lofton and 190 more than Joiner. But Monk's minions shouldn't fret; it took Swannie 13 years to get in.

Sports Illustrated deserves a thank-you card today. Its two most celebrated football writers -- Paul "Dr. Z" Zimmerman and Peter King -- came around on Monk's induction after essentially believing for years that a guy who catches 1,000 eight-yard outs is not worthy of a mustard-colored blazer.

His former coach, Joe Gibbs, lobbied every on-the-fence voter, including divulging one fact that can't be said about every receiver in Washington: "Not once did he come to me and say to me, 'Give me the ball,' " a source said Gibbs told one of the people in yesterday's room full of voters. "He played his position and kept his mouth shut." While Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders ran fly patterns toward the end zone, Monk dutifully tucked in the third-and-six buttonhook for a first down and hushed up.

Monk's relatively small touchdown numbers -- he had just 68 in 16 years -- and lack of 80-yard jaunts framed forever on celluloid underscored the real culprit keeping him out of the Hall of Fame: the bias against Gibbs's up-the-gut, ball-control game.

The perception was that Monk didn't have that signature Montana-to-Clark play, a defining moment in a game of great consequence. But that's largely a fallacy, on and off the field.

Denver was leading 10-0 in the 1988 Super Bowl when the Redskins faced a third and 16. Doug Williams and Monk connected for a 40-yard hookup, a huge play that became a catalyst for a five-touchdown second quarter and a Washington rout by halftime. That catch ignited that team that day. And if it doesn't come about -- if the ball was punted back to Denver -- who's to say the Broncos don't score, go ahead 17-0 and make it an entirely different game?

Another perception about Monk proved wrong: He never talked. Yes, he ducked out on many a reporter whose lone assignment was to get him to open up. But in the crucible of Gibbs's first era, Monk said he stood in front of his teammates as the Redskins were frittering their season away in 1990.

"It was one of the few times I stood up and spoke," he said. "It just seemed like we were going through the motions and I just made it clear we had to find a way to get that emotion. It was less than a couple minutes, just a 'Hey, guys, come on' deal."

But coming from Monk that season, it worked. The Redskins, over the rest of that season and the next, were 22-4 and won Super Bowl XXVI. If the guy whose rigorous offseason workouts included running hills at George Mason with Green, Dexter Manley and Vernon Dean said Washington had to rededicate itself, that went much further than a player who talked incessantly.


Mr. Monk's problem is that he was one of the best of all time at a facet of football that is too little appreciated--he ran perfect pass routes. In essence, his quarterbacks could throw the ball to a pre-determined spot on the field and know with 100% certainty that he'd be precisely there to catch it. That's invaluable to a good quarterback.

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 3, 2008 10:01 AM
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