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AEO: Monk Deserves Induction


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Monk Deserves Induction

By David Damiani

As the NFL Pro Bowl is to the MLB All-Star Game, the Pro Football Hall of Fame—and the merits of those either inducted or passed over for membership—often seem like afterthoughts compared to the vast amount of sports punditry devoted to Cooperstown and its present or prospective inductees.

But plenty of devoted NFL fans and sportswriters enthusiastically debate the induction of several players Canton has overlooked, and it makes for some of the more entertaining reading material on the sports end of the Web. The always-valuable Football Outsiders website’s most recent features include a measured and insightful defense of former Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson’s case for the Hall, while the spirited remembertheafl.com chastises Hall of Fame voters for ignoring players who spent most or all of their careers in the pre-merger AFL.

And then there’s the notorious case of wide receiver Art Monk, who played between 1980 and 1995, primarily for the Washington Redskins. At one point late in his career, Monk held NFL records for most receptions in a season, most career receptions, and most consecutive games with a catch. He was considered a shoo-in for the Hall, so the Hall voters’ failure to induct him has become probably their biggest recent controversy.

Peter King and Paul Zimmerman of Sports Illustrated are two Hall voters who have publicly declared the case against Monk, much of which is reminiscent of the arguments against Eddie Murray’s baseball Hall of Fame membership. King notes that Monk was an AP All-Pro on only two occasions and was voted to the Pro Bowl three times, arguing that this proves he was not considered elite during his heyday. He also argues that while Monk won three Super Bowls with the Redskins, his teams had more dangerous weapons in speed receivers Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders and in whoever the team’s running back du jour happened to be. He also notes that as the passing game has evolved, Monk’s records have been eclipsed, with several more players on pace to pass his career receptions total.

While I appreciate that King was candid and respectful enough to fans to explain himself, his arguments don’t hold much merit. The rarity of Monk's Pro Bowl appearances shouldn't devalue his long peak period of great productivity any more than Hall of Fame running back John Riggins' relative lack of All-Pro seasons should have discounted his enormous career rushing yardage total.

And while Clark and Sanders were top speed receivers, most who played on, coached, or observed the 1980s Redskins teams credit Monk for their development as threats, in part because he commanded attention as a possession receiver and in part because of his relentless training regimen and work with his fellow receivers. (In any event, Monk also put up great seasons without Clark and Sanders as running mates; in 1984, his 106-catch extravaganza, Calvin Muhammad was his underwhelming counterpart, while in 1985 he caught 91 with Clark still working his way into the system and Sanders not yet in Washington.) A big, physical prototype for modern possession wideouts, Monk willingly blocked and worked over the middle as well, giving him an indispensable dimension the smaller Clark and Sanders lacked. As for the Redskins’ running backs, they weren’t as great a group as King perceives; Washington ran the ball quite well due to a fine offensive line and cohesive system, but only Riggins and (for a short time) George Rogers were particularly intimidating on their own merits.

King’s last argument, that Monk’s records have been eclipsed, is the weakest. Shunning the receiver with the greatest records prior to an explosion in reception totals in the mid-1990s has no logical merit. Indeed, it seems this statistical quirk, more than any other factor, keeps Monk out of the Hall; his 106 catches seem rather meaningless when there have been seasons where several receivers, including some forgettable ones, caught over 100. But a 106-catch season, for a run-oriented team with no credible #2 receiver, was phenomenal in 1984 when Monk broke a record that had stood for over 20 years, and it would be phenomenal now. Players must be evaluated in light of their eras; if we would keep Monk out of Canton because 940 receptions doesn’t seem so impressive now, then we would also have to excommunicate Lynn Swann, Paul Warfield, Don Maynard, and the like by extension of the argument. And how would we explain the inductions of the only two receivers whose careers were nearly contemporaneous with Monk’s—Steve Largent (1976-1989, 819 receptions) and James Lofton (1978-1993, 764 receptions)?

Though Zimmerman ridiculously belittled Monk’s career as nothing more than hundreds of eight-yard catches, he does have a more compelling point in that Monk did not have a particularly impressive yardage per reception career total (13.5, significantly lower than Lofton’s or Largent’s). But this understates the value of the possession receiver. Like onetime receptions record holder Charlie Joiner, Monk was renowned as a go-to receiver for converting third downs. As many from Football Outsiders have noted, Monk paved the way for other big possession wideouts to replace tight ends and backs as the chain-moving receivers in a modern, ball-controlling offense. (Monk could be a capable deep threat as well, but the Redskins did not exploit this dimension frequently.)

Incidentally, former Cowboys receiver Michael Irvin, a Monk successor of similar size and tools, who caught 750 passes for his career while playing largely alongside better skill position talent, curiously was considered to have an edge on Monk among the 2006 Hall of Fame finalists. This may be because people like Zimmerman are more likely to compare Monk to a player like O. J. McDuffie, who did in fact catch bushels of relatively benign short passes. Hopefully, a vibrant online campaign for Monk’s induction will inspire Hall voters to reconsider Monk’s merits independent of more recent developments in passing offense, and to recognize his caliber as a receiver.

David Damiani is a CPA with Witt Mares, PLC, in Newport News, Virginia. He is the Friday sports columnist for The American Enterprise Online.

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Great post, filled with facts. to bad guys like Queen and Z don't let facts get in the way of them blocking Monk into the HOF.

Who picks the voters for the HOF anyway?

Irvin was a great WR but no way should he make it in before Monk IMO.


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