Sunday, August 03, 2008

At Last, No Debating Their Hall Pass

By Michael Wilbon
Friday, August 1, 2008; E01

It's wonderful that Redskins fans can climb into their cars and drive the 350 miles from Washington to Canton, Ohio, to see the Hall of Fame induction of Art Monk and Darrell Green. It's fitting, given their contributions to multiple Super Bowl victories as teammates, that Green and Monk will be inducted together. The only thing more appropriate, given the personality of the team, would be if one of the Hogs, say, Russ Grimm, could have made it a threesome.

Perhaps all's well that ends well, but it shouldn't have turned out this way. They shouldn't be going in together, Green and Monk. Green, as he should have been, was elected in his very first year of eligibility.

Every once in a while, even in a room with a group of men who see football and the world differently, there's a player everyone agrees on to the degree his candidacy requires zero debate. Now, I was no longer in the room that Saturday morning last February when Green's name was put up for election. But I'd been a Hall of Fame selector for 10 years, long enough to see how it went on a couple of occasions when one of the true greats was up for discussion.

I remember the Joe Montana conversation in 2000 going something like this: "Guys, Joe Montana is up for election in his first year. . . . Do we really need to debate this?"


And the conversation for John Elway's candidacy in 2004 was just about the same: "Any objections to John Elway?"

Uhhh, no.

The presentation of Green's candidacy, made by The Post's Leonard Shapiro, wasn't that short, but it certainly didn't touch off any kind of contentious debate. Green was up there, in my book, with the likes of Ronnie Lott, Herb Adderly, even Mel Blount, as one of the absolute greats. Green's selection, I'm certain, was simple and clean. It was easy. Had I still been a selector I'd have done very little preparation to help Shapiro present Darrell Green. His body of work, over a stunningly long period of time, jumped out at anybody paying even partial attention. It didn't need to be highlighted or interpreted and sweetened.

Art Monk's candidacy, on the other hand, was a very different story.

It took years and years. And it, like Lynn Swann's candidacy, was at times contentious. I probably helped turn it in that direction because the arguments against voting Monk in seemed misguided to me. There was the argument that Monk didn't score enough touchdowns (68) even though he caught more than Michael Irvin (65), who was voted in ahead of Monk.

There was the argument that Monk's yards-per-catch average was too low (13.5) as compared to, say, James Lofton's 18.3. There was the argument that Monk had no signature reception.

All this was trumped, in my opinion, by the fact that Art Monk and Joe Gibbs were two of the few constants on a team defined largely by offense. Think about it. The quarterback changed from Joe Theismann to Doug Williams to Mark Rypien. The running back changed from John Riggins to George Rogers to Earnest Byner. The other receivers changed from Virgil Seay and Charlie Brown to Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders. The tight ends changed from Don Warren and Doc Walker to Terry Orr and Jimmie Johnson. Even some of the linemen changed. George Starke left, Mark May arrived.

Monk was there, always, from the beginning to the end. Joe Jacoby, Russ Grimm, Jeff Bostic and Monk. Even before Green, Monk was there.

Heck, one season before Gibbs arrived Monk was there. Monk was football's Cal Ripken. He didn't score a bunch of touchdowns because Gibbs didn't throw the ball in from the 5-yard line, he ran it in. Brown and Clark had greater yards-per-reception numbers in large part because Monk did so much dirty work underneath. He didn't have as many circus catches because he was where he was supposed to be more often than other great receivers and didn't have to be an acrobat.

We claim in today's sporting culture to value players who shut up and do what the coach asks for the good of the team, sacrificing personal statistics and goals for the good of the team. Then, at Hall of Fame selection time, we in the selection room too often asked, "Where are his stats?" Monk, if he played basketball, would have been perfect for the San Antonio Spurs.

I never became friends with Art Monk, haven't had one lengthy conversation with him to this day even though I've covered sports in this town for 28 years and arrived in D.C. the same summer Monk arrived. He didn't have much to say to reporters during his playing days, which was fine with me. But the failure to enshrine Monk angered me every single year, probably more than it should have. I called Gibbs in 2004 and told him he had to help me construct an argument that would help get Monk elected. Despite Gibbs's best efforts, it didn't.

I always seemed more ticked off about those unsuccessful selection Saturdays than did Monk, who was remarkably gracious despite the snubs.

He wrote me a note one year that said essentially, "Thanks for the effort . . . now stop worrying about it."

Even with Monk and Green being enshrined, the Redskins of the first Gibbs era are a little short on representation. Riggins, Monk and Green are in. No way a member of the most dominant offensive line of its time, probably Grimm, shouldn't be in as well.

But making the Hall of Fame is difficult, much more difficult than winning the Super Bowl. Probably, that's as it should be. Some of my colleagues are fond of saying, usually when rejecting somebody's candidacy, "It's not the Hall of Very Good, it's the Hall of Fame." Green and Monk, going in together, are joining the most exclusive of company.

No comments: