Sunday, August 03, 2008

Complementary Routes

By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, August 2, 2008; E01

Art Monk and Darrell Green were the conscience and the heartbeat of the greatest Redskins teams of modern times. Opposite on the outside -- one big for his job, the other small; one silent, the other a chatterbox; one driven by fear of failure, the other by grinning self-confidence -- Monk and Green complemented each other like an NFL yin and yang. Together, they provided the Redskins with the best of the predictable and the improvisational. And together, just as they should, they now go into the Hall of Fame.

As the Redskins rebuild their future, they should look backward, too. Formations and fashions change, but football never does. Teams must have leaders, on and off the field. In Washington in the last half-century, none has been better than Green and Monk. If there were also a Hall of Fame for social good works, for unselfish play, for setting a community example and for decades of responsible adult behavior, they'd be in that, too.

Of course, at 48 and 50, they may mess up yet. But it's not looking that way. The concept of athlete as hero has had a hard time for a long time. You wonder why. Vice is so ordinary. Nobody's come up with an original sin in centuries. Doesn't anybody want to risk being accused of virtue? These guys signed up for the whole job.

Monk, the 6-foot-3, 210-pound wide receiver, was the epitome of quiet self-discipline and dependability, while the 5-8 Green was a constant symbol of energy and generosity, whether lining up at cornerback or working for his youth foundation. In the odd way of such things, they not only lined up against each other in practice from '83 through '93 but also were close friends and mirror images in their passion for charity work.

While Monk was often inscrutable to the public, going many years between interviews, Green was an open book of cheerful quotes. Opposites on the outside, but with comparable character at the core, they exemplify the kind of men, not just the type of athletes, who are essential to a champion.

Monk inspired his teammates with fanatical year-round conditioning, physical toughness and intelligence. The tall, elegant wide receiver set Washington's standard for perpetual improvement and clutch catches, establishing then-NFL records for career catches (940), catches in a season (106) and consecutive games with a reception (164). Everyone else looked in the mirror and tried to match him. He seldom had to say a word.

"Big Money," as teammates called Monk, stunk at pass blocking, though he sawed up the same defenders when he met them in the secondary. He hated clamp coverage, though he beat it. And he was never as simpatico with any quarterback as he was with Joe Theismann. But, otherwise, he was the closest to a flawless Redskin in our lifetime. He even let John Riggins get all those discount scores inside the 5-yard line when that was the part of the field where his best pass routes, like the unstoppable Dodge, worked best.

Green's impact on his team was exactly opposite. While Monk was among the biggest men who also were swift and agile enough to play wide receiver, Green was almost always the smallest Redskin. His No. 28 seemed to cover the entire back of his jersey. Yet the high-leaping, quick-closing Green was a lightning bolt of talent; he started fireworks with an interception, switched momentum with a punt return or, with a huge hit on a bigger man, ignited his whole defense into a streak of magnificent reckless violence.

One second, you were just watching a normal football game. The next instant, as Green sped to the heart of the action, you caught your breath, gasped, "Uh-oh, what now?" and hoped the NFL's fastest man would hurdle a tackler or level a giant. The tiny sprinter was not just a shutdown corner but instant adrenaline, a secret weapon.

Go on, say, "But Darrell wasn't Deion Sanders." Maybe not. But both started on two Super Bowl champions. Green had 54 career interceptions, five in the postseason, to Sanders's 53 and five. Green had eight defensive touchdowns, two in the playoffs, to Sanders's 10 and none. Green averaged 15 pass deflections a season to Sanders's 11. Green made seven Pro Bowls to Sanders's eight. In his first dozen seasons out of 14 overall, Deion averaged 38 tackles a year. In the first 17 of his 20 years, the much smaller Green -- who liked contact much more -- averaged 64 tackles.

Deion picked his Prime Time spots. Then danced. Green played the whole game.

What Monk and Green brought was a kind of superstar certainty that almost no Redskin has provided since they were in their primes for Joe Gibbs. Each had a signature.

On third down and nine, which wide receiver would go in motion, identify the defense instantly, run his route precisely, catch the ball in traffic, absorb the biggest hit, yet hold on almost every time? Monk, of course. Foes knew the play, had practiced against it all week, but still could not stop him. Sometimes success can be scripted.

But what happens when it can't -- when mere game-planning and practice reps aren't enough? What happens when Tony Dorsett breaks free up the sideline and can't possibly be caught? Someone must do it anyway. What happens when the only path to a playoff-game-winning punt return is to hurdle a Chicago Bear and not break stride? Call Darrell -- with a Tootsie Roll stuffed in his sock for quick energy, like Popeye's spinach.

About the great ones, never make assumptions about motivation. Monk's defining character trait may have been a childhood lack of confidence and a corresponding fear of failure. Once, Monk showed me his typical day during the offseason -- a regimen he began in his second NFL season and never altered, except to expand it each year.

At 9 a.m., he would lift weights for 75 minutes continuously, bench-press 250 pounds 10 times, take one deep breath, then begin the next exercise. After lunch, he would run six 200-meter sprints and 15 sprints of 150 meters with only a walk back to the starting line for rest.

After dinner, he would run three miles wearing a weight belt. "Might mix in some basketball or racquetball along the way," he said. Once a week, he went to a chiropractor, an osteopath and a massage therapist to work on old injuries and prevent new ones.

"Sometimes I fall asleep before I get to the bed," Monk said.

Green worked, but not like Monk. Instead, he believed. He had to. At his size, nobody thought he could star in the NFL, not coming out of obscure Texas A&I. When Green arrived as a rookie in '83, he sought out Hall of Famer and assistant general manager Bobby Mitchell, the fastest man to play for the Redskins.

"In walks a little teddy bear -- about 5-foot-nothing and 120 pounds," remembered Mitchell. "In a high-pitched voice, he said, 'Hi, I'm Darrell Green. I'm going to be great.' " Then Green challenged Mitchell to a race -- as a joke. It was a gag they repeated for all 20 of Darrell's seasons. The more Green talked that day, the bigger he looked to Mitchell: "By the time he left my office, he was a tall man just waiting to get started."

Perhaps no two Redskins stars ever ended their careers on such opposite notes, either. Inside Redskins Park, Monk wasn't always a deft politician and, as his skills waned, he got the bum's rush out of town after the '93 season. If he'd talked a better game, been more loveable like Green, he'd have been inoculated. The next season, returning to Washington for a luncheon as a valuable wide receiver for the Jets, Monk had in his previous game broken the record for consecutive games with a reception.

In one day, Monk did 18 interviews with Washington media outlets. Dump me, will you? "That's the most I've ever talked," he said with a laugh. "It's enough to last a lifetime."

Green's exodus in '02 was all sweetness. At his farewell game after 20 seasons, a teenage fan made a sign: "Stadium: $800 million. Chopper: $40 million. Deion: $8 million. No. 28: Priceless."

All week, the team plotted one last moment of glory for the part-time nickel back -- a reverse on a punt return. And Green sped 35 yards up the sideline. "If Darrell had broken that last tackle and taken it to the house," said Fred Smoot, "I think the stadium would have erupted, and everybody would just have gone home."

In his farewell speech to fans, Green said, "I can't waste my three minutes crying." And he didn't, not when he wanted to make sure he could use the time to help his Youth Life Foundation. Off the cuff, he said: "With all this great joy, something in my heart has always said, 'Is that it?' You have given me a great platform and a great community to do what I believe . . . to change the world for all that is good, right and godly."

As they begin another year, the Redskins should use their preseason visit to Canton to remind themselves of the kind of players who form the core of a Super Bowl team. At their best, they resemble Green and Monk. Their standards are astronomical, yet their egos are under control. They lead by both on-field deed and off-field example. They know they're the stars, yet put the team first.

Above all, they define pride, yet remain humble -- a trick that's almost inexplicable. You know it when you see it; you just don't see it often. Glimpse it one more time as Green and Monk, opposites yet also identical, enter the Hall of Fame -- together.

No comments: