By Mark Maske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 4, 2007
MIAMI, Feb. 3 -- Former Washington Redskins wide receiver Art Monk again was left on the outside of the Pro Football Hall of Fame looking in, as the voters elected a six-member class Saturday that included Michael Irvin, Thurman Thomas and Bruce Matthews but not Monk.
Roger Wehrli, Charlie Sanders and Gene Hickerson also were selected to be enshrined in August in Canton, Ohio.
Monk made the first cut in balloting by a panel of 40 media members when the field was reduced from 17 to 11 but failed to make the second cut to six candidates. He did better than the day's other high-profile snub, though. Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue was eliminated from consideration in the initial reduction from 17 to 11 candidates.
"A good man and legitimate Hall of Famer is being denied entry for reasons we never know, by people who secretly vote," Redskins owner Daniel Snyder said in a written statement released by the club. "Art Monk is a Hall of Famer by any measure. This is not right."
Coach Joe Gibbs, who had lobbied voters on Monk's behalf in recent weeks, said in a written statement: "I'm disappointed that Art wasn't recognized for election into the Hall of Fame today, but I remain confident that he will be recognized for all the positive contributions he has brought to the game. I can't think of a more deserving player or person that possesses more Hall of Fame credentials than Art."
Monk was in his seventh year of Hall of Fame eligibility and seemed to have his best chance yet of being elected. This group of finalists was without the sort of clear-cut selections that many classes contain. Monk, who played for the Redskins between 1980 and '93, was the leading receiver in NFL history when he retired in 1995. He also had the single-season league record with 106 catches. But those records have since been surpassed and his detractors have said that his career lacked the sort of signature moments that a big-play receiver like Irvin, a key contributor to three Super Bowl titles for the Dallas Cowboys, produced.
He wasn't the only high-profile candidate who was passed over. Among his achievements, Tagliabue, who stepped down after 18 years as commissioner on Sept. 1, oversaw labor peace, helped enhance diversity, negotiated television deals that bring in more than $25 billion, led expansion to 32 teams, and guided a rising global presence.
Even Irvin said he "didn't understand" why Tagliabue wasn't voted in. Also failing to get enough votes were former "Hog" Russ Grimm (in his 11th year of eligibility), Derrick Thomas, Andre Reed, Richard Dent, Bob Kuechenberg, Fred Dean, Ray Guy, Andre Tippett and Gary Zimmerman.
Irvin was elected in his third year of eligibility after his off-field troubles played a role in keeping him from being selected the previous two years. He said he'd wanted to be elected two years ago to be "validated" as a first-ballot Hall of Famer, then he'd wanted to be selected last year with his former Cowboys quarterback, Troy Aikman. When it didn't happen, his mother told him that something good would result, he said. He didn't believe her, he said, until Saturday, when he was elected so close to his home town of Fort Lauderdale.
"This was worth the wait," Irvin said. "Being here in Florida, being with my family -- this was worth the wait. This is saying you are in a club with some of the best to have ever played the game."
Irvin had an emotional embrace following his news conference with Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who said, "It's a big day for fans of the Dallas Cowboys. We're very proud."
Jones and Aikman attended the announcement along with Norv Turner, the former Cowboys offensive coordinator who's a candidate to be named the team's head coach next week.
"His competitiveness always gave him an edge," said Turner, now the offensive coordinator of the San Francisco 49ers. "You knew if there was a play there to be made, he'd make it. We'd end practice every Thursday with a two-minute drill and the way he went at it, you'd have thought it was for the national championship. I know what this means to him because deep down in his heart he's always felt he belonged."
Thomas, a running back, helped the Buffalo Bills reach four straight Super Bowls, each of which they lost, in the early 1990s. "I don't know what to say," he said. "It's just a beautiful day for my wife and kids, the Buffalo Bills organization, the fans of Buffalo. We didn't win a Super Bowl, but this is my Super Bowl gift to the Bills fans."
Matthews was elected in his first year of eligibility after a 19-season career with the Houston Oilers and Tennessee Titans in which he played guard, tackle and center.
"If 20 or 30 years ago you told me as a kid one day I'd be able to play in the NFL and be able to play 19 years and be up for consideration for the Hall of Fame and then get in, I couldn't imagine anything more exciting happening," Matthews said. "I'm so thankful. I'm humbled. I grew up a huge fan of the NFL. Charlie Sanders, Gene Hickerson, Roger Wehrli--those are names that resonate with me."
Sanders, a tight end for the Detroit Lions in the late 1960s and '70s, and Hickerson, a guard for the Cleveland Browns between 1958 and '73, were elected after being nominated by the seniors committee. Wehrli, a cornerback for the St. Louis Cardinals between 1969 and '82, was in his final year of eligibility as a modern era candidate.
"It's a dream come true," Wehrli said. "I was just waiting to see if this was the year or not, and thankfully it was."