Paving A Road to Canton
By Todd Westerfield
James Arthur Monk was born to Art and Lela Monk on December 5, 1957 in White Plains, NY. The younger of two children, he was raised in his birthplace in a racially integrated area called Battle Hill. The family lived in an apartment above the Shiloh Gospel Chapel, and attended services there. His unusual patience and ability to focus was evident at an early age. His sister, Barbara recalls Christmas of 1962, when she'd given the five year old Art a toy fishing rod as a gift. Lela had a small goldfish bowl in the apartment, and Barbara came home one afternoon to find Art fishing for them with his new rod. "There he was," she says, "standing in the middle of the living room, holding the rod with the plastic hook in the bowl. Anything he would put his mind to, he would go at it."His athletic abilities were not as apparent early on, as an eleven year old in Pop Warner. Self-described as "big and chunky", young Art was often placed on the offensive and defensive lines. Although he felt out of place at these positions, Art stuck with the game. Explains Monk, "I would practice hard, but it just wasn't ... Put it this way. I loved the game. I loved playing with my friends out in the schoolyard. But my initial exposure wasn't what I expected."
Monk outgrew the chunkiness, and focused on the position of his childhood NFL heroes Otis Taylor, Charlie Taylor and Paul Warfield: Wide Receiver. The biggest player on his JV squad, he was still placed on the line, playing both sides. Knowing that his body was not quite suited for his desired position, Monk joined the White Plains High School Track team in the spring of his sophomore year. Track coach Nick Panaro recalls Monk as "A once-in-a-lifetime athlete to coach." Monk looked back on his time with the track team as a means to an end. "I not only wanted to lose weight, but I wanted to enhance my agility, my speed and quickness. Track allowed me to do that. Once I saw some of the benefits I was getting from it, I really got excited and went full steam." The following season, he was placed at TE for the first time, but was utilized more as a blocker than a receiver. He returned to the track team, and blew everybody away. Starting out as a sprinter, he became a 330-yard intermediate hurdler in his junior year, winning races at dual meets that spring. With little or no practice, he high-jumped 5'10", triple jumped 47 feet, and put the shot 53 feet. Said Panaro, "Art never practiced the shot put, but if we needed some points in the event, we'd put him in and he'd win."
Back on the football field (and having shot up and thinned out) Monk was placed at RB, where he struggled early. By the end of the year, he reached a level of comfort. In the Championship Game that year, #42 carried 24 times for 105 yards and four touchdowns.
Syracuse University had scouts at that game, and they were impressed with his abilities on the field as well as on the track. Indeed, in his senior year, Monk had become state champion in the 120-yard high hurdles. "He just looked like a great, raw, physical talent," said Frank Maloney, then Syracuse's head football coach.
Signing with the Orangemen, Monk was placed at wingback. His first season was, to him, an unmitigated disaster. With only two receptions all year, Monk recalled, " I couldn't catch a cold. I don't know why. It was just a disaster. I remember practices where they'd throw the ball to me and it would hit my hands, and I couldn't catch it. I knew I was better than that. I got really depressed and down on myself. And I just made up my mind that this wasn't going to happen again."
And it didn't. In his second season, he had 41 catches for 590 yards, and 566 yards rushing. Finishing his college career with 102 catches for 1,644 yards receiving, 1,140 rushing and a whopping 1,105 in returns (a total of 3,889 yards) without ever missing a game or practice due to injury, he caught the eye of Redskins scout Charley Taylor, one of his boyhood icons. "We knew he had great hands," said Taylor. Bobby Beathard agreed, and the 10-6 Redskins selected Art with their #1 pick that year, 18th overall. Monk was watching the draft at home, and was stunned at the selection. With a lifelong belief that the NFL was too large a dream, he set his sights on doing his best to show his selection in such a high spot was warranted. In 1980, under Coach Jack Pardee, Monk was unanimously named to the NFL All-Rookie team. He also broke Charley Taylor's 16-year-old team receiving record for rookies, finishing with 58 catches for 797 yards and three touchdowns.
In the preseason of 1981, new Head Coach Joe Gibbs liked Monk's hands, but wanted to improve on his already strenuous work habits. He called upon his old Cardinal running back, Terry Metcalf, who joined the team as a player-coach. Metcalf bought the house across the street from Art in Arlington, and the two became fast friends. "Terry had a motor in him," recalls Monk. "We'd go to a high school track at 9 o'clock and run. We did a lot of agility work, running up and down stairs. Midafternoon we'd go and play eight games of racquetball. Then we'd play basketball at night. Or, we'd go jogging. Or riding our bikes. One time, we rode from Arlington to Redskin Park, 20 miles one way, and back." Metcalf retired after one season with Washington, and Monk continued the workaholic ways, adding a thing or two to the regimen. One notable addition was the use of a 45 degree, 15-yard hill at George Mason University. Years later, Gary Clark (who trained with Monk in the off-season in 1987) would say, "It was 25 times uphill, straight leg pumps. Then 25 times backwards. Then, 25 times in a stutter step. Then, 6 220's on the track and six 110's. I finally told him, 'You're crazy! I'll do my own program.' He's totally focused-God, family and football-and he knows what to do in each facet of his life. If I had a kid, I'd say, 'Art, you raise him for ten years and then send him back to me."
And so, his Redskin career continued. In '81, he led all NFL receivers with six touchdowns, and finished with 56 catches for 894 yards- an amazing 16.0 yard average, the longest being a beautiful 79 yard pass from Thiesmann against St. Louis for a touchdown. In '82, he slipped a little, finishing with 35 catches for 447 yards and one touchdown, but still led the team during the regular season. He missed the playoffs and Super Bowl that year with a broken foot that he'd played on most of the season, but gradually worsened to the point where he couldn't walk. The team carried on, and beat the Dolphins 27-17.
In '83, 47 catches for 746 yards put him 2nd in both categories on the team, despite having missed the first four games with a sprained knee. With the season ending at Super Bowl XVIII, Monk was primed for a breakout season. 1984 was Art's big year. He caught a then-league record 106 passes, for 1,372 yards and 7 touchdowns. In Week 2 against the 49ers, he caught 10 passes for 200 yards, and was voted team MVP. The league noticed, and Art earned his first Pro Bowl selection. '85 brought him his second straight Pro Bowl, along with 91 catches for 1,226 yards, with 6 100-yard games in the last eight. In '86, Art became the only receiver in Redskin history to register 3 straight 1,000-yard seasons, amassing 73 receptions for 1,068 yards and 4 touchdowns, and was selected for his third straight Pro Bowl. The strike-season of 1987 saw union stalwart Art come up with 38 catches for 483 yards. He missed the final 3 regular season games and two playoff games against the Bears and Vikings, but his 40 yard catch midway through the first quarter of SuperBowl XXII was Williams' first completion, and set the tone for the eventual rout of the Broncos. In '88, 72 catches for 946 yards (including a stellar 7 catch, 103 yard effort against the Cowboys in Week 15) gave Art his 4th best totals. Art became the #3 all time NFL receiver in 1989 with 86 catches for 1,186 yards. His 9 catch, 81-yard performance against San Diego pushed him past Charley Taylor as the Redskins all time leading receiver. A largely disappointing season was turned into a 5-game win streak by Art's 9 catches for 152 yards and two touchdowns in the second half against Chicago. In the next to last game of the season, trailing the Falcons by a 27-10 score, Art pulled down a 60-yard pass from Ryp to spark a 21 point third quarter that resulted in a 31-30 score for Washington, and we finished with a respectable 10-6 record.
In 1990, Art became only the third receiver in NFL history to reach the 700-catch mark, joining Charlie Joiner and Steve Largent atop the list. He finished the season with 68 catches for 770 yards and five scores, including a brutal assault on Detroit that year that saw Art grab 13 for 168 yards. In the Wild Card game that year against Philadelphia, Monk scored the only touchdown of the game while the Redskins were down 6-0. We went on to score twenty unanswered points, and advanced to the divisional game. There, at Candlestick, Monk gave us a 10 catch, 163-yard effort with one score in an eventual loss brought on by three interceptions.
1991 was a grand year for Monk. He led the team with 71 catches for 1049 yards and 8 touchdowns, including a Week 10 effort of 7 catches for 164 yards that featured a 64 yard reception for a score in a 56-17 squeaker. The team went on to win the Super Bowl against the Buffalo Bills. In 1992, Monk grabbed the national spotlight on Monday Night Football against the Denver Broncos with reception #820, passing Steve Largent for most career receptions. By the time the season was done, he would have 847 in the bag. Although the team finished with a disappointing Post-SuperBowl record of 9-7, Monk was steady and sure-handed with 46 catches for 644 yards and 3 scores. The team would suffer the loss of Joe Gibbs the following spring, and Richie Petitbon took the reins. In 1993, 38 catches for 381 yards and two touchdowns was his lowest output since 1987. The whispers began.
The Petitbon Era ended almost before it began, and the Redskins brought in Norv Turner, the offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. Norv was the hottest property in football in 1994, fresh from a slew of SuperBowl victories with Troy Aikman, Emmitt Smith and Michael Irvin. Turner made it clear to Monk that the new staff felt that he'd lost what little speed he had, and that there would be no competition for a starting job. The prospect of a severe reduction in salary and no chance to make the starting roster was less than palatable to Art, and he declined. The man who was once voted "Mr. Redskin" was a Redskin no more.
Pete Carroll, the new Head Coach of the New York Jets, salivated at the chance to sign Monk to his roster of veterans. Monk joined Ronnie Lott, Nick Lowery and Boomer Esiason, and did as he was asked. He finished the 1994 season with the Jets with a solid 16 starts, catching 46 for 581 yards and three scores. He drew double teams consistently, and Rob Moore reaped the benefit. The team finished with a dismal 6-10 record, and Pete Carroll was on the first train out of town. New coach Rich Kotite had no use for many of the veteran players, and Moore, Monk and Lott were all elsewhere for the 1995 season.
Monk would wait until Week #15 of the 1995 season to play again. He continued his workout regimen, and was ready when Ray Rhodes from Philadelphia called in Week #12. Ray wanted to know if Art was available to come in as a late season addition to a WR roster that had only Calvin Williams and Fred Barnett as legitimate threats, and a non-productive Rob Carpenter not exactly scaring teams, either. Monk agreed, but with one caveat: He would not sign until the Eagles-Redskins series was done. Rhoades agreed, and after a disappointing road loss to Seattle, he brought Monk in for a home game against a familiar foe: the hated Cowboys. Monk performed brilliantly for a man out of football for nearly a year. The Cowboys followed him all over the place, and ended up losing the game for it. Monk had two catches for 23 yards that day. The following week, he had 3 for 55 yards as the Eagles beat the Cardinals by a score of 21-20. In the final game of the season, with many starters resting for the playoff run that was about to begin, the Eagles traveled to Soldier Field to meet the Bears. Chicago, still smarting from having missed the playoffs due to consecutive losses to Detroit and Cincinnati, came ready to play. The smothered the Eagles receiving corps that day. Monk had one opportunity to help the team. Rodney Peete lofted a pass. Monk saw, grabbed it and hit the ground hard. It was a 36-yard completion. It was reception #940, with a total of 12,721 yards.
The price for the catch would be steep; Monk broke his arm on the frozen Soldier Field and would never play in another NFL game. Art spent the off-season rehabbing his arm, and training as hard as ever. He fielded a few calls from teams who wanted to know what his availability was, and what his salary requirements would be, but nothing serious was discussed. The '96 season came and went, and Art resisted overtures from the Redskins to come back for a day and retire a Redskin while watching the waiver wires and injury reports. Soon, he was making a few calls of his own, but there was no market for an aging WR. Finally, after waiting through the spring camps season the following year, Art agreed to the one-day signing, and ended his career as a Redskin on June 16th, 1997. "I had a good career, a great time and it's time to move on and do other things," the 39-year-old receiver said. "I felt like I could have performed (last year), it was just the opportunities weren't there. Things just weren't the same."
As he was on the field, Monk has been a dependable player in his community. He has been involved with myriad organizations and charities, most focusing on underprivileged youth. When asked about his involvement with the Good Samaritan Foundation, Art says, "Charles Mann, Tim Johnson, Earnest Byner and I started the foundation about ten years ago. We had all been active in community outreach, but we weren't satisfied with showing up at one-time events for photos, shaking some hands, but not seeing lasting results of what we were doing. So we started our own organization, a not-for-profit called the Good Samaritan Foundation. It started as a service organization, providing food, clothing and toys to needy children in Washington, D.C. This was better, but after a few years, we were still a little dissatisfied--rather than a one-day kind of thing, we wanted to build hands-on, lasting relationships.
So we formed STOP, the Student Training Opportunity Program. We work with 9th through 12th graders, giving them after-school training in things like technology. They can become Microsoft-certified through our program. We also put on a series of seminars where they learn life and leadership skills, things like hygiene, dress, finances, conflict resolution, things they need to know to be successful in the work environment. In the summers, we place them in internships in a field they have an interest in." 
A full eight years into his retirement, he runs and maintains the Art Monk Football Camp, passing on the knowledge gained in his 16 year NFL career. He remains active in his community, and even finds a little time here and there to squeeze some fishing in. The boy who once fished in his mother's goldfish bowl is all grown up and finally has time to cast out into deeper waters. There is one catch, though, that eludes him to this day.
In 2005, Art will once again have the opportunity to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall Of Fame. This is his fourth year of eligibility. He himself has no expectations of being inducted.
His coaches, opponents, teammates and numbers all say the same thing.
Facts & Figures
|Total Games Played: 224
Total Receptions: 940
Total Reception Yards: 12,721
Total Touchdowns: 68
Three consecutive Pro Bowls : 1984-1986
All-Time Top 50 Rankings
Receptions: # 5
Receiving Yards: # 9
Receiving TD's : # 28 (t)
Yards From Scrimmage: # 26
Top 10 Seasons
1984 - # 1, 1985 - # 2, 1988 - # 9 (t), 1989 - # 3 (t)
1984 - # 4, 1985 - # 3, 1989 - # 10
Washington Redskin records
Receptions in a season : 106
Receptions in a game: 13 (twice)
Combined Net Yards : 12,358
Post Season Totals:
| In 1992, catch # 820 made Monk the NFL All-Time Receptions Leader
He caught a pass in 183 consecutive games, ranking # 2 all time, between Rice and Largent
Founded in 1983, the Art Monk Football Camp is celebrating its 23rd successful year and has graduated over 14,000 athletes!