On Groundhog Day, Another Chance to Do Right by Hall
Friday, February 1, 2008; 7:20 PM
PHOENIX -- On Saturday morning, I'll be heading into my 25th selection meeting for the Pro Football Hall of Fame on a day when I'll also be celebrating a birthday. Here's hoping three of the finest players in Redskins history, not to mention a former Georgetown basketball star, will mark Groundhog's Day, 2008, as a memorable date in their own lives.
Art Monk, Darrell Green and Russ Grimm are among 15 modern-era finalsts to be discussed by the selection committee as possible members of the Hall's Class of 2008. The old Hoya in question, Paul Tagliabue -- once a skinny New Jersey kid with very sharp elbows -- always will be better remembered as the long-time NFL commissioner, a visionary deep thinker who guided the league to the loftiest of heights as the most powerful sports entity on the planet in the 21st Century.
Green has to be considered the only lock among the four candidates with ties to the Washington area. It's his first year of eligibility, and the fact that he played 20 years on that lonely island all cornerbacks inhabit should be enough to attract voters to his cause. Of course, he also played the position at an extremely high level, and likely could have been a Devon Hester-like return man if Joe Gibbs would have risked it more often, making his candidacy even more appealing.
Grimm will get in some day, but it may not be Saturday, not with four offensive linemen on the ballot, three of them finalists for far longer than Grimm has been. That trio includes Miami's Bob Keuchenberg, who will move from modern day candidate to the senior category if he's not voted in on Saturday.
Tagliabue should been elected last year, following his retirement after the 2005 season, no questions asked. You can't write the history of the league without his name in the first paragraph, right after the first sentence on Pete Rozelle.
While the owners adored him for what he did for their bottom lines, he was a corporate lawyer by training and temperament, far from media friendly. Sadly, judging from the tone of the discussion a year ago, some media members on the selection panel are not going to be particularly friendly toward him again this year.
Shame on voters for making Tagliabue's candidacy personal and not professional. His absence from the Hall diminishes the institution, as well as the selectors who insist on keeping him out.
Once again, Monk's supporters -- present company included -- will point out all the relevant reasons he should have been voted in a long time ago. The statistical evidence is indisputable, from being the league's all-time leading receiver when he retired, to the consecutive games with a reception, to being a member of four Super Bowl teams, three of which won championships.
More significant was what he meant to the franchise. Gibbs has described him as the heart and soul of so many of those teams, the quiet leader who may not have been chatty with the press corps but talked with his actions. He set an example with his rigorous offseason training regime, unselfish -- often lethal -- downfield blocking, his refusal to moan about not going deep as often as Gary Clarke or the Smurfs and his occasional brief, but powerful locker room talks to teammates in times of crisis.
In an age when wide receivers are constantly pounding their chests, preening for cameras and performing tiresome "look-at-me" diva routines, Monk was a player who shied from the glare of the spotlight and preferred to do his talking with deeds, not words or choreographed touchdown celebrations.
Monk frequently chose not to be interviewed, not because he was rude or a jerk, but because he felt uncomfortable talking about himself. He was a shy and private, and most reporters on the beat at Redskins Park generally respected his decision to stay far from the newspapers and cameras. Still, it must be said that there were plenty of times when he did sit for an interview if he felt he had something important to say.
You'd like to think that selectors in the room who were rebuffed by his silent treatment when they came to town to write the "Monk" profile stories editors demanded might not hold that against him. Again, shame on them.
Monk has also been the victim of a system that often sees worthy candidates stall because votes are split between players at the same position. We saw it for years with Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, the two Steeler receivers who both eventually got in. Monk has been on the ballot with that pair and other worthy receivers like James Lofton, Michael Irvin, Charlie Joiner and Steve Largent, all of whom were elected before him. He certainly lost votes that went to all of them, though in my mind it should have been the other way around.
This time, he's on a ballot with first-time eligible Cris Carter, the former Viking receiver who finished his career second on the all-time receiving list, and Buffalo's Andre Reed. Carter never played in a Super Bowl, and at times was a pill, despite his sunshine and roses demeanor in front of the HBO cameras. In my opinion, he is NOT a first ballot guy, and it would be a travesty if he or Reed, another man without a Super Bowl championship, get in ahead of Monk.
In recent years, some selectors opposed to Monk's candidacy have at least been willing to pay more attention to his credentials. Several voters who said no in years past have told me this week they've been won over by arguments they've heard in the selection room and by research sent to them by enthusiastic Monk supporters far and wide.
So maybe this will be the year for Monk. Wouldn't it be appropriate to see him smiling on that Canton stage in July, posing with fellow Redskin and long-time teammate Darrell Green for the photographers. Of course, Chatty Kathy Darrell probably would dominate the press conferences, but surely that would be just fine with Art Monk.
Leonard Shapiro can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.