Complementary Routes

Former Redskins greats Bobby Mitchell and Charley Taylor and Seahawks legend Steve Largent reflect on the careers of Darrell Green and Art Monk. Video by Atkinson & Co.
By Thomas Boswell
Saturday, August 2, 2008

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.

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