A Class Reunion in Canton
Sunday, August 3, 2008
CANTON, Ohio, Aug. 2 -- They came from the District and beyond to see them. Way beyond. Some of the pilgrimages began in Orange County, Calif., and others in Murphy, N.C., where a white-haired couple began driving through the Blue Ridge Mountains some nine hours earlier.
"After all the memories, we had to see them go in," Bill Garrod said as his wife, Nancy, nodded in agreement, hours before Art Monk and Darrell Green were to be enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Saturday.
And the moment the last Class of 2008 inductee took the stage, their patience was rewarded for those $4 gallons of gas and hours on sweltering freeways -- just as Monk's patience the past eight years was rewarded.
For 4 minutes 4 seconds before Monk spoke -- an applause lasting nearly three times as long as that for any other honoree -- the steadiest and most reliable wide receiver to play pro football in Washington took in the chants, smiles and unconditional love heaped upon him.
"Thank you, thank you," Monk kept saying, happily unable to quiet the applause from the announced crowd of 16,654 at Fawcett Stadium, about 15,000 of whom wore burgundy and gold.
Green had spoken nearly an hour earlier, drawing a monstrous ovation as fireworks cascaded behind him. He was the third inductee to be honored and the first Redskin introduced.
Bill Garrod wore one of those Super Bowl T-shirts with the caricatured mugs of Redskins players from another era. There was Charles Mann, Earnest Byner, Ricky Sanders and, of course, the ebullient and grinning Green. Bill spoke of seeing Eddie LeBaron play at Griffith Stadium in the 1950s the way others spoke of the magic and majesty of RFK in the 1980s and early 1990s.
They overwhelmed this lush, northeastern Ohio town about an hour south of Cleveland with numbers and passion, thousands of fans clad in burgundy and gold hats, jerseys, assorted paraphernalia and, yes, Halloween masks. They dwarfed other Hall of Fame inductees' fans, transforming Canton into a rollicking yet respectful RFK tailgate.
Soon after the national anthem, 2007 inductee Michael Irvin took the podium and was booed long and lustily, as if the former Dallas Cowboys wideout were still standing across the line of scrimmage from Green. According to NFL broadcaster and former coach Steve Mariucci, the crowd was "95 percent Washington Redskin jerseys!"
The fans' journey to the cradle of professional football to pay homage to Monk and Green began less in a place than a time, when the Redskins were frequently atop the NFL, led by groups of men nicknamed the Fun Bunch and the Hogs. Among the most skilled were Green, the loquacious, lightning-quick cornerback who played longer for the Redskins than any player, and Monk, the sure-handed wide receiver who let his solid play speak for him.
Monk and Green were enshrined with former New England Patriots linebacker Andre Tippett; Gary Zimmerman, an offensive lineman for the Minnesota Vikings and Denver Broncos; Fred Dean, the pass-rushing demon of the San Diego Chargers and San Francisco 49ers; and Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Emmitt Thomas, who also mentored Green and Monk for eight seasons as a Redskins assistant.
Monk's selection in February to Canton was the culmination of a rejection process that went on for almost a decade, as other, more showy wide receivers and less-accomplished players received enough votes for enshrinement. Monk resigned himself to being known as the durable yet often unspectacular pro, the guy who did not have enough go-long highlights to impress a suddenly pass-happy league.