By Les Carpenter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, February 3, 2008
PHOENIX, Feb. 2 -- They clutched each other's hand hard in a giant room in the Phoenix Convention Center on Saturday afternoon, husband and wife, even though it was obvious to everyone around Darrell and Jewell Green that the announcement on the television before them was a formality. A Washington Redskin for 20 seasons, Darrell Green was going to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
But when the voice on screen called his name, husband and wife screamed. Their children screamed. The owner of the team, Daniel Snyder, screamed. And the yells went on so long that for a moment they forgot to listen for the other name they so desperately wanted to hear.
"What about Art?" Snyder asked.
Everyone stopped. Yes, what about Art Monk, the Redskins' wide receiver through three Super Bowl seasons, so dependable, the holder of so many NFL records, yet for seven years always just short of a Hall of Fame selection? Art Monk, their fellow leader at Grace Covenant Church in Chantilly and a man too private to be here, too?
What about Art? The question hung in the air.
Then someone nodded. "Art made it," a voice said. And there came a cheer again just as a security guard pushed open the door and called for the Greens to head to a news conference. As they pushed through, the senior pastor of Grace Covenant, Brett Fuller, curled himself against the wall, dialed a number in Great Falls, and yelled into the voice mailbox of Monk's wife, Desire¿: "Art, congratulations! You made it!"
Later, after a television host called Green to a stage before huge pictures of the six newest members of the Hall of Fame, including Emmitt Thomas, once a coach to both players in Washington, the host scanned the photos and exclaimed: "It's a Redskin day right now."
To which Darrell Green replied: "It is a Redskin day."
They had assumed this day was coming. Green, in his first year of eligibility for the Hall, was a certainty to be elected by a committee of sportswriters -- one from each NFL city and several at-large -- but Monk's case had been a source of consternation around Washington. How was it that the player who once held NFL records with 106 receptions in a season and 164 consecutive games with a catch was not in the Hall?
Voters had long complained he was not what football people call "a deep threat" but rather a "possession receiver" who mostly caught short passes for first downs rather than long touchdowns. But all that was forgotten Saturday, just as the news slipped by that another Redskins teammate of Green and Monk -- Russ Grimm -- did not get elected. A speakerphone was hooked up on the stage where Green stood and Monk was placed on the line.
"You are a great receiver and a great friend. Art Monk, you have the floor!" Green shouted.
Monk laughed lightly into the phone. He had never enjoyed the attention, never talked much about the Hall of Fame even as others did around him.
"I've been accused of being quiet and of not being a man of many words, that's just who I am," Monk said through the speaker. "I speak when I feel there is a need to. And I'm so speechless right now. I'm not sure what to say right now."
For years they battled together on the practice fields: Green the cornerback going up against Monk the receiver. And for years, the man shouting to Green from the sideline was Thomas. Sometimes Monk won. Sometimes Green won. Many times Thomas didn't have to say much. What do you tell Darrell Green, with seven Pro Bowls and 54 career interceptions, about playing the game?
Green said Thomas had told him as much when he arrived in Washington. Then Thomas simply assigned Green to the other team's best receiver and told him to stop that player. Green, always determined to prove he was bigger than his 5-foot-9 stature, was more than happy to oblige.
It's ironic in a way that Green and Monk should go into the Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio, this summer, with the Redskins tentatively scheduled to play the traditional exhibition game in Canton the same weekend. They were teammates from 1983 to 1993 and when their careers ended they stayed in the Washington area, installing themselves as fixtures of the community. Green, 47, started the Darrell Green Youth Life Foundation in 1988, a learning center to help underprivileged children to improve learning skills. It is still in operation today. Monk, 50, has run the Good Samaritan Foundation, which feeds the poor and also helps children with learning, for 15 years with former teammate Charles Mann.
"Both of these guys are high-quality people," Joe Gibbs, their coach with the Redskins, said Saturday by telephone. "They mean a lot to our community. They have great character and are great family guys, too."
The Greens and Monks are close. So close, in fact, that all the Greens -- Darrell, Jewell and their four children, were lobbying the Monks to come with them this weekend. But the Monks declined. Coming down would be too much. They didn't want to be a part of all the action, to have the questions about the Hall of Fame.
"Art is a very even-keeled guy," Fuller said. "His expectation has never been that he should make it in the Hall of Fame, but he's always been hopeful he would make it. And when he didn't, he would always say he never expected it. Though I don't know any athlete that didn't want it."
Still, Fuller said, Monk never watched the Hall of Fame selection shows or sat around waiting for a call. It just wasn't his style. "I just tried to keep my mind off it," said Monk, who, upon hearing of his enshrinement, headed for a news conference at a Dupont Circle hotel.
Green, however, was anxious in the hours before Saturday's announcement. It startled his children who had long become accustomed to their father as a celebrity and were used to a man who never seemed bothered by any situation. At one point before the selection show came on, his daughter, Crystal, pointed to him sitting in a chair, body tense, hands gripping the edges.
"Can you see how nervous he is?" she asked.
On Friday night, as they sat in their rented house in nearby Glendale, Ariz., Darrell looked at his son, Jared, a redshirt freshman wide receiver at the University of Virginia, and said, "Do you know how big going into the Hall of Fame is?"
By mid-afternoon the Green family was in the holding room the NFL gave them, which was essentially an enormous convention room partitioned by 10-foot-high curtains. It created a small waiting area with a television and a nearly 100-yard-long room behind. Green spent many of the minutes before the announcement walking this area and talking to Snyder and Vinny Cerrato, the Redskins' executive vice president for football operations. At one point Green's phone rang. One of his sisters was on the line and she mentioned their parents -- Leonard Jr. (known as "Killer") and Gloria -- both of whom are dead. Green began to weep, rubbing his face with a handkerchief. Snyder patted him on the back.
But soon the television was on. The names were coming. The shouts went up and there came the triumphant walk of a new Hall of Famer down a kitchen hallway past piles of plates and ovens, then through a door and into the gigantic news conference room. There was applause as he walked in on the day the Pro Football Hall of Fame came to be all about the Washington Redskins.
Staff writer Jason Reid contributed to this report from Washington.