We all need somebody to lean on. And when the yardage gets tough, the Washington Redskins lean on No. 81.

Five hundred teenagers, in helmets and pads on a summer afternoon, are dispersing after an awards ceremony on closing day. Many wear T-shirts that read "I Survived an Art Monk Football Camp." The kids, and their parents, head to countless cars. The scene is perfect chaos -- siblings and dirty laundry, trophies and high-fives. Standing in the midst of the lovely mess, leaning against a big old shade tree on the campus of Western Maryland College, is serene Art Monk, talking softly and earnestly with a father.

The boys have come to Monk's camp for a week to learn football from NFL stars. While he's had them in what might be called a weakened state -- infatuated with Darrell Green's speed or Jim Lachey's muscles -- Monk has tried, around the edges, to give the kids some life-advice when they weren't expecting it. Now the parents take turns trying to get tips from Monk too.

"It isn't enough for pro athletes to be good role models," Monk tells the man. "It isn't even enough for good parents like you to pay to send their kids to the right kind of activities.

"You have to follow up. You have to know where your children go, who they go with, what they do. You have to know all the little things about them -- care about what they care about -- so they'll trust you. Follow up."

The man leaves. Monk is 32 years old; his three children are too young to have encountered most of the problems about which their father is giving advice. The great Washington Redskins wide receiver shakes his head. "It's kind of frightening," he says. "Because you're an athlete, because you score a touchdown, people think you know everything.

"We don't know that much. The power we're given is scary." IT'S THE MIDDLE OF THE OFF-SEASON. NO GAME IN THE PAST three months. No game the next three months. This is Monk's day:

In the morning, he comes to Redskin Park at 9 a.m. and lifts weights for 75 minutes without any interruption between exercises. For example, he will bench-press 250 pounds eight to 10 times, take a deep breath and move to the next exercise.

After lunch, Monk goes to George Mason University's track and runs six 200-meter sprints. Then, he does 15 more sprints of 150 meters. "Go about as hard as I can go. Then I walk back and start again," he says.

That night, after dinner, Monk runs two to three miles with a weight belt "to work the stiffness out."

Is that all?

"Might mix in some basketball or racquetball along the way."

How often does he attempt this morning-afternoon-and-night program that might exhaust an Olympic decathlon candidate?

"Every day," says Monk.

"I gear down for a month after the season, then I start again," he amends. "Five days a week -- minimum. On days I don't lift weights, I'll run more -- maybe three miles in the morning and five miles at night . . .

"I go to a chiropractor, an osteopath and a massage therapist once a week," adds the veteran, who must keep the pain of old injuries at bay in order to endure conditioning at this level.

How long has he been on this regimen?

"The last 10 years.

"{Former teammate} Terry Metcalf got me started my second {Redskin} season. Back then, I could maybe run one mile. I couldn't have imagined being able to do what I do now. But I built up to it. Once you get there, it's a sense of accomplishment. Every season, I add a little more. Gotta do more to keep up.

"It gets a little monotonous . . . But if I'm going to lose my job, I want to lose it because I'm not catching the ball or because somebody's performing better. I don't want anybody ever to be able to say I wasn't in shape."

What does Monk do at the end of the day?

"Sometimes I fall asleep before I get to the bed."

FEW ATHLETES HAVE EVER BEEN AS APTLY NAMED AS THIS elegant, ascetic and silent craftsman in a burgundy-and-gold hair shirt: Art Monk.

On a football field, his every act is a choreographed and minutely studied piece of performance art, with just a smidgen of leeway left around the edges for improvisation. He sees potential for perfectibility, as well as a personal signature, in corners of the game where most NFL wide receivers notice nothing.

That's why Monk caught 86 passes for 1,186 yards and eight touchdowns last season and passed Charley Taylor as the Redskins' career leader in receptions. And it's the reason that, if he retains his health, he will finish his career with more pass receptions than any pro football player who ever lived.

Steve Largent, now retired, should enjoy the next couple of years. That's about how long his newly minted all-time record figures to last. Largent leads Monk by 157 catches -- 819 to 662. But 157 catches isn't very long in Monk Time. Over his last five Redskin seasons (excluding strike-shortened 1987), Monk has averaged 86 catches for 1,160 yards. In other words, last season was merely typical.

"Don't look at where he is," says Taylor, now a Redskin coach. "Just look where he's going. He's not finished yet."

Off the field, Monk adheres to the secular equivalent of strict monastic discipline. His conditioning program is to football what Nolan Ryan's is to baseball: a standard few can imagine and almost none can match. Taylor says that perhaps three or four other Redskins are in Monk's conditioning class.

"If there's even one who works as hard as Monk, I'd be surprised," says former quarterback Joe Theismann. "I played with guys who had talent at Art's level but who didn't work hard, especially in the off-season. If Darrell Green had Monk's habits, he'd be the greatest defensive back who ever lived. If Dave Butz had worked as hard, he'd have been better than Bob Lilly. Art shows what happens when you never miss a day."

When Monk rests from his devotions, his idea of big fun is to nap. When he wakes up, he might fish for bass. Or work with the computers he loves. None of these activities requires that he speak -- something he does with unpretentious grace, but only at great intervals. Though he's now in his 11th season of Redskin stardom, he's given hardly any lengthy interviews.

Dexter Manley talked more about himself on any day of his Redskin career than Monk has in some entire seasons. It's said that in 1984, Monk set two NFL records that may never be broken: 106 catches and zero quotes. Monk may be the best player never to explain himself.

"Art gave an interview in 1982, then broke his foot the next day and missed the playoffs and the Super Bowl," says Theismann. "Athletes are superstitious. I don't think Art's talked very much since then."

"People don't know much about Art Monk," says Bobby Beathard, who chose Monk with his first draft pick as Redskin general manager in 1980 (the 18th selection overall). "Before he got on the drugs, he was a great receiver." Beathard, now the general manager of the San Diego Chargers, pauses for dramatic effect, then laughs. There aren't many NFL players about whom a GM could make such a joke and feel secure that nobody would take it wrong.

"Art's the nicest guy," says Beathard, seriously. "That soft voice. Classy dresser. So handsome. He could be anything in Washington if he wanted -- be a TV anchor. What's neat about him is that he doesn't have to satisfy his ego. He may still be embarrassed by it all. Which is refreshing when you see guys like {Atlanta Falcons defensive back and New York Yankees outfielder} Deion Sanders {whom} nobody wants to hear but they won't shut up.

"Unfortunately, Art has always been taken for granted because he never promotes himself -- inside or outside the team," adds Beathard. "You spend 90 percent of your time with the {jerks}. You have to catch yourself and say, 'Hey, we never spend any time with Donny Warren or Art Monk.' "

"He's a secret outside Washington because both times the Redskins won the Super Bowl, Art was hurt and missed almost the whole post-season," says Theismann. "Those are practically the only times Art's EVER been hurt. I mean, he won't even miss a practice. The one time he did get to play a lot in the Super Bowl, I played lousy and the Raiders shut our offense down."

Monk has made only three Pro Bowls -- just one more selection than Charlie Brown, who has 500 fewer receptions as a Redskin. Such relative anonymity won't last long. The record book won't allow it. "Art sneaked up on everybody -- even himself. He tends to underestimate himself," says Beathard. "But he's a star and he's going to have to live with that the rest of his life . . . Isn't it nice that Deion, who probably already thinks he belongs in the Hall of Fame, isn't likely to accomplish very much, and Art, who never thinks of himself that way, just keeps working and may end up with all the big records."

RFK STADIUM CROWDS SEE AN ART MONK PASS RECEPTION as a moment of athletic inspiration. They see Monk as an acrobat tapping his toes in-bounds as he stretches to snag the ball on his red-gloved fingertips. Or as a vicious downfield blocker who delights in chopping up safeties. Or, perhaps, as the big receiver (with little-receiver speed) who invites a defender to belt him, then shrugs off the tackle and breaks a long gainer up the sideline, followed by a frenzied roar. That's not the Monk that Monk sees.

"People see pro football and think, 'Loud and crazy.' They see Sunday players screaming, fighting. That's not the game to me," says Monk, settling in for a two-hour conversation after a July workout at Redskin Park. "For me, catching passes is precise and analytical. It's hard work, all year round, just like a 9-to-5 job."

For Monk, pass receiving is the culmination of at least five different kinds of labor: conditioning, practice, film study, pre-game psych and technical adjustments made in the moment of battle. To hear him tell it, preparation is everything, and, in a sense, the reception -- because it seems like a byproduct of so much work -- is almost inevitable.

Monk believes so deeply in the efficacy of work habits that he creates some that are uniquely his own. He'll pull himself out of practice for no apparent reason and do stretching exercises that make him look like a human pretzel. His body has told him that a muscle pull is in the air. Coaches accept it.

They also allow him to spend a whole day working on nothing but phantom pass patterns, then devote the next practice entirely to techniques for releasing from the line of scrimmage. Only on the third day of practice does Monk touch a ball -- and then he does nothing else, working only on receiving. Finally, a day or two before the game, he puts the whole package together.

He admits he takes these extreme approaches because they remove some of the fear and self-doubt from his sport. And Monk, despite his seamless high-stepping cool on the field, has all the normal NFL fears, plus an industrial-strength load of self-doubt.

"When you see somebody get really hurt on TV, you think, 'Man, why am I doing this? Is it worth something like that?' " he says. "Sometimes I looked at {defensive back} Lester Hayes {a k a The Molester} when we played Oakland. And he'd have stickum all up his hand and arms. He'd never stop talking. He'd do anything to mess with you. He'd be in that weird {crouched} stance and look at you funny. I'd think, 'What am I doing out here? I don't want to be WITH this {kind of} guy.'

"But we all love this game so much and we've been doing it so long . . . You just let your body go limp, relax, try not to fight the situation. Let whatever is going to happen happen. You get used to it," says Monk, who, because of the type of pass routes he runs, may get hit as much as any receiver who ever played. "I try to remember one thing. You're going to get hit anyway. So, after the play, have 'em say, 'Great catch,' not 'Great hit.' "

Whatever his own doubts, none of Monk's qualities impresses his peers more than his physical courage. "His designated role is to get hit by somebody," says Theismann. "He's a devastating blocker too. One of the Cards hurt him once with a cheap shot, and the next time we played 'em, Monk went after that guy with a vengeance. He put the guy out of the game with one of those hits that, the next week in meetings, the coach plays over and over." Theismann can't resist adding that Monk, for some unknown reason, is an atrocious pass blocker. "I have yet to see him touch a blitzing linebacker or defensive back -- the same guys he kills downfield. I got the crap kicked out of me more times on Art's pass blocks."

Monk's view of his own talents is so wonderfully out of touch with reality that it's charming. Here is a man with classic size (6-foot-3, 209 pounds), the speed of a natural hurdler (4.5 in the 40) and the broken-field moves of a top college halfback (at Syracuse). In addition, he absorbs more licks with fewer injuries than most players. Everybody has known he was solid gold since Day One. "He was easy to spot. That kind of guy has Number 1 pick written all over him," says Beathard.

Yet Monk says, "I don't consider myself a standout player. I never thought I had the ability to play in the NFL . . . Even now, when I see highlights of {San Francisco 49ers star} Jerry Rice, I say, 'Man! How does he do that?' But when I see myself, it doesn't look very special to me . . . That's why I don't take anything for granted. I know it's not long for me now. I'm on the down side of my career."

This attitude may be the reason Monk is still at his peak, not on the down side. "The guys who don't think they need to work, who get the big money and forget their priorities, those are the ones who lose it quickly," says Beathard. "But players don't have to waste away. Art's proven it. The reason he's accomplished everything -- and more than was expected -- is because he's taken such care of himself."

Monk talks about how he has to watch old highlight films and hang around younger players to reignite his engine. Taylor, who's been Monk's receiver coach his whole career, just laughs and says, "Art's so full of life for a guy who's done what he's done. He loves every part of the game. A couple of years ago, the Cowboys came out in a defense scheme where Art had to block Too Tall Jones {6-foot-9, 280 pounds}. After the first series, Art came out with this big smile. He did what we wanted done to Too Tall all day long."

Again last season, Monk was not selected to the Pro Bowl, though he was third in the NFL in receptions and had the highest touchdown total of his career. "What a disgrace," said Doug Williams, noting that, because the other receivers in the Redskins' "Posse," Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders, also had 1,000-yard seasons, "they all stole votes from each other."

"I'm not complaining," said Monk at the time, adding, "I like it just the way it is."

Both on and off the field, Monk's view of himself is the antithesis of Art for Art's sake. He has turned down $10,000 speaking fees because he isn't comfortable in front of groups and won't take money for a poor performance. Difficult as it may be to credit these days, Monk may actually be a member of that rare endangered species: the unselfish team player. (This, of course, cannot actually be proved. It's our last modern leap of faith.)

"He'll never say, 'Call on me,' " says Taylor. "But he's always there when you do call."

"I like having pressure put on me. I like for the team to be relying on me. That makes me want to perform," says Monk. "I pride myself on people being able to count on me."

If it makes Monk feel any better, the hometown crowds, at least, appreciate this attitude. In a citywide poll on the occasion of the Redskins' 50th anniversary, Monk was voted by Washington fans as the greatest player in the franchise's history -- ahead of Sonny Jurgensen, Sammy Baugh, John Riggins and Charley Taylor.

"Shows how sophisticated Washington fans are," says Beathard.

"ART IN THE BLOOD TAKES STRANGE forms," said Sir Arthur Conan Doyle of his character Sherlock Holmes.

The son of a construction worker ("His parents gave him his values," Taylor says), Art Monk grew up in White Plains, N.Y. He is a second cousin of the late jazz legend Thelonius Monk, and "music runs all through the family," he says. He learned to play four instruments -- the bass guitar, the drums, the baritone trombone and the tuba -- though "I dropped all that a long time ago."

But he picked up computers. His home office is full of them. At one time, Monk had his own graphic arts business in his house. Monk's agent, Richard A. Bennett Jr., who helped negotiate Monk's $900,000-a-year contract, claims he's never met anyone with such an exact sense of his own financial history: "He can tell you how much money he spent in October of 1986."

"The most important part of Art Monk to our teams," says Theismann, his teammate for six years, "was not his legs or his hands. It was his brain. In Joe Gibbs's system, with all the men-in-motion and the formation shifts, Monk was the key. He had to master four positions -- both wide receivers, halfback and tight end as well as all the inside slot routes. He had the whole week's game plan mastered in the first hour of practice.

"He was also the smartest receiver I ever had. When I was in trouble, I never had to look for Art. He was already coming back, finding me."

Intelligence aside, however, perhaps it's just as well Monk doesn't talk too often. He has a small problem: He lacks practice at being political and bland.

For instance, Monk has never completely digested the Redskins' 38-9 loss, as heavy favorites, in Super Bowl XVIII, and he hints that foul play may have been involved.

That Redskin team still holds the all-time NFL single-season scoring record of 541 points. But the team, and Monk, were shut down. "We were humiliated," says Monk. The Raiders' Lester Hayes has bragged that he figured out Monk's habits from film. "That guy was null and void," Hayes said after the game.

"It was like they had a spy in our practice," says Monk, knowing that Raiders owner Al Davis would only do such a thing if he could. "Every play, they were in the right defense."

But even with his doubts about the Raiders' honor, Monk gives Hayes far more credit than Hayes will ever give Monk. "Lester was great in the bump-and-run {defense}. That still is my hardest thing {to beat} . . . {To play bump-and-run} you need a defensive back with that crazy mentality, like they say Pat Fischer used to have. Someone who plays mind games and {whom} receivers fear. If you've got someone hammering on you, you can be lightning and it doesn't make any difference.

"Hayes was good at the little things that distracted you. All that stickum wasn't to intercept passes. It was so you couldn't get away from him at the line. He actually stuck to you.

"And he'd walk across the line of scrimmage into your backfield before the snap to give you a false sense of where you should line up. Then he'd back up, but you were set and couldn't move . . .

"Charley Taylor always tells me how easy we have it nowadays since the {bump-and-run} rule changed. He got bumped all over the field and chopped at the knees. The game is easier and safer for receivers now."

"Bump-and-run is Art's only weakness," says Theismann. "He wants to fight 'em, not get away from 'em. But he's okay at it."

"He keeps improving at more physical releases {from the line}," says Taylor, adding, "You know, when Art came here, he didn't catch everything he touched. Now, he does."

Monk is candid about the best and worst things that have happened to him as a Redskin. The best was the arrival of Joe Gibbs in 1981 with his H-back offense and constant use of a man in motion -- often Monk.

"I liked being in motion right away," he says. "I'm not a sitting target. I can get a release and also read the defense before the snap. If no one follows me, it's a zone. If someone does follow, I know he's my man. When I'm in motion, I can set up my defender by adjusting my speed. He wants to stay even with me, but as soon as I slow up, he's out of position."

With Gibbs, also, came the pass pattern that made Monk a historic figure in the NFL's record books: the dodge.

"Yes, I'm famous for the dodge," says Monk, laughing. Some say he has made nearly half his receptions on that one move.

Why not? It's unstoppable. As long as you have a receiver with five key qualities. He must be big -- to make a physical inside release. He must be fast -- to make the pattern work quickly as a first option. He must be nimble -- because the heart of the play is making a quick move (in, out or a sudden stop and turn) between five and seven yards downfield. He must be smart -- because he must read the defense in a hurry before deciding which way to go. And he must be tough -- because he who catches the dodge is going to get Mack-Trucked every time.

Maybe some other receiver in history has had all of these qualities. And maybe not.

The dodge may be the ultimate third-down possession route. And that's why Monk may be remembered as the ultimate possession receiver. "The run-and-shoot may be the NFL offense of the '90s," Theismann notes. "And it's built around guys running the dodge."

"We call {Monk} the Punjam of the Dodge," says Taylor. "He's awful quick for a guy so big. He's in a crowd, then he springs out of there free. That pattern brings out all the skills. Plus, you have to be a runner after you catch it, and you can't fumble."

Monk is the first to point out that he's only scored 47 touchdowns in 10 years and that he's only broken a dozen plays of 50 or more yards in his whole career. "That's not saying much," he volunteers. In contrast, Largent holds the NFL record with 100 TD catches. Charley Taylor is the top Redskin with 79, while Gary Clark has 35 in just five seasons.

Everyone agrees that the Gibbs system has cut into Monk's scoring catches. But Monk doesn't complain. "Art runs the patterns that a team would use inside the 5-yard line," says Theismann. "But the Redskins NEVER pass inside the 5. One year, John Riggins scored 24 touchdowns -- almost all of them on short dives. On some teams -- like if Monk had played with Dan Marino in Miami -- about eight of Riggins's touchdowns that year would have gone to Monk."

Regardless of the touchdown count, don't tell other pro players, especially other receivers, that spending a career working the middle of the field "isn't saying much." That's where the heavy pounding is, and Monk takes it.

Each member of the Posse makes life better for the others, because their skills complement one another's. Each does some of everything -- Monk's average gain per catch (13.8) is only two yards less than the averages of the two supposed deep threats -- but they're still very different receivers.

Sanders loves to run the deep fly or the stop-and-go and can get to the post with the best. Clark does a deceptive fade up the sideline and excels at the mid-range patterns with exotic names like "China," which are mostly crossing patterns and zigzag down-and-outs to the corner. "I wish I knew how Gary can be so deceptive in his routes," says Monk. "He has guys turning around looking for him. I do it and the guy is right next to me."

Generally speaking, that leaves the high-impact dodges, the dangerous drags (across the field through Clothesline Alley) and the quick outs (which draw a crowd of tacklers) for Monk, who's 30 pounds bigger.

But while all members of the Posse may be equal, some are more equal than others. It's simply an NFL fact of life that Clark and Sanders are more dependent on Monk for their high level of success than he is on them. If necessary, he could do their jobs more easily than they could do his.

Monk usually lines up on the strong side, the home of double coverage. Next time Clark fades into the end zone or Sanders flies there, you can bet they probably started on the weak side, with Monk playing decoy and subtracting two defenders.

As for Monk's worst break as a Redskin: After he gets finished talking about how lucky he's been to play his whole career in an offense with such great Hogs and Smurfs and Riggos, he will confess that he still misses Joe Theismann. And that he's never developed a relationship as close with any subsequent quarterback.

"It's like being married. The longer you're with someone, the more you learn about them," the receiver says. "He knew everything about me. We sensed each other. There were times he probably shouldn't have thrown to me, but he did. In Philadelphia once, it made no sense why he would ever throw to me -- I was triple covered. But we made a big play."

"Oh, yes, he was my guy," says Theismann. "I called him Big Money. He wore a gold dollar sign around his neck because he was the man when the money was on the line . . . On that Eagles play, Monk was the only guy to the right. I was supposed to go left. He had a cornerback, a safety and a linebacker on him. But I saw a hole and threw it in the end zone. When we got to the sideline, all Coach wanted to know was, 'Why?' All I could say was, 'Because it worked.' "

"Since Joe left, it's been hard. First Jay Schroeder, then Doug Williams and now Mark Rypien," says Monk, who was with Theismann longer than he's been with those three combined. "Even though we work hard, it takes a long time."

All Theismann's successors have thrown hard and loved the bomb. None has had Theismann's deftness with short and medium passes. And none has had Theismann's quick feet and anticipation. "Joe could get you the ball in the same place and at the same time, but it would arrive softer. Joe had a strong arm AND touch," Monk says. "With Jay, there was a lot of velocity. Jay loved to go downfield, and I wasn't one to get down there for him.

"Rip's come a long way. He's capable of being a starter. He made a lot of mistakes last year, but he learned from them. It was his first year as a starter. We all stood beside him and pulled him along."

From almost any other Redskin, this might sound like damning with faint praise. From Monk, it's probably just honest analysis.

"Been a lot of quarterbacks since me, huh?" says Theismann with typical modesty. "Schroeder and Williams were throwers, not passers. Rypien is a passer, like I was. On Art's patterns, you're not throwing over people as much as you're throwing between them, under armpits sometimes. Rypien has that kind of touch. By the third or fourth year they're together, you'll really see something."

Monk tends to evaluate the whole current Redskin team in a matter-of-fact way that may reflect the feelings of many players. But not many say it exactly the way he does.

"We're solid. I mean, we're solid everywhere. We're good," he said before training camp opened. "But we went into last year with the same attitude. We have to get beyond having talent. We have a bad habit of playing close to the other team."

Maybe that explains how the Redskins could lose at home to the 1-15 Cowboys, a defeat that cost Washington a playoff spot.

"I remember what Tom Landry said about our Super Bowl team {three years ago}. We weren't very talented, but we played well together," Monk continued. "Now, we seem to act like, 'So and so can pick up the slack if I don't do it.' We're still capable of winning, but you have to give it your all.

"Motivation is the key. Coach Gibbs has done a great job of keeping us playing as well as we have, but the spark that gets everybody pumped up has to come from within the team. It's easy to think you're playing hard, but you're not really doing anything. When one guy sets an example with a big hit or a big play, then it spreads. Once you see someone else playing with abandon, you start doing it too."

REDSKINS FANS MAY NEVER KNOW THE price Monk pays for his perfectionism. Certainly he won't express it, though a few years ago, he blurted out, with exasperation, "Everything I do has to be great," and "when things go wrong, no matter whose fault it is, the receivers always take the blame."

For the most part, he keeps the sources of his drive hidden. Once, speaking to a children's group, he said, "When I was younger, I had very little self-esteem. I didn't have confidence in myself. In a Pop Warner League tryout I didn't do very well. I didn't feel I was very good, so I didn't try hard. I didn't think I could do it, and people around me -- with the exception of my family -- didn't think I could either . . . It wasn't all peaches and cream when we grew up."

Monk's motivation, and his sense of himself, seem to have increased steadily with age. He started with talent, gradually recognized it, but only in adulthood became passionately committed to developing it.

"The only thing I heard said against Art when he was at Syracuse was that he was so talented he wouldn't realize how hard he'd have to work in the NFL," says Beathard. "And he wasn't that hard a worker until Metcalf got hold of him his second year."

The constant conditioning program he started then may have become an addictive crusade, a form of identity-crafting, as well as a way to transform vague insecurities into hard accomplishments. "Once you get to a certain level," Monk says of his workouts, "you don't want to go back."

If this be overcompensation, then play on. For in a sport full of extroverts with gigantic egos, Art Monk has proven how far an intelligent introvert with a childhood inferiority complex can go. Even today, at a juncture when it's clear that he could end his career as the top receiver in history, Monk still says, "You always question yourself: 'Am I ready?' " But few players can say with complete confidence, as Monk now can, "When I go on the field, I know I'm ready."

Monk has his limits, to be sure. He may lack the heroic knack, the ability to be the spark that will start a Redskin fire. He's many things -- a magnet to footballs, a mystery to the public and model to children. But he's not a hell-raising leader.

His best-known game probably isn't his 13 catches for 230 yards against the Bengals in 1985 but rather a notorious Monday nightmare against the Rams in 1987 when he dropped two potential game-winning touchdowns. "So, Monk is human after all," was all Doug Williams said.

Perhaps the worst that can be said against Monk is that it's been proven -- both in '82 and '87 -- that he is expendable, at least in the short term. He's more the conscience of the Redskins than their heart or soul. He was the sobersided one in the Fun Bunch. Now, he's the old sheriff in the Posse. He doesn't give pep talks or crack jokes. And he usually doesn't even score the winning touchdown.

But when it's third and nine and somebody has to dodge over the middle, catch the ball in traffic, then go limp and let whatever happens happen, there's never been a pass receiver you'd rather have than Monk. As much as any Redskin ever, he's someone you can truly count on.

"After you leave Washington, you miss him," says Beathard, now in San Diego with a team in need of just such exemplars. "He's never made an effort to make people like him, but everybody loves him. He just acts like himself . . . He's done everything right.

"You begrudge some people in this league their stardom because they're jerks. Sometime, you'd like to see a good guy get it all. He's the good guy."

Thomas Boswell is a columnist for The Post's Sports section. His last article for the Magazine was "What We Talk About When We Talk About Sports."