The last time the Washington Redskins had receivers with the talents of Art Monk and Charlie Brown, Sonny Jurgensen and Billy Kilmer were the team's quarterbacks, George Allen was the coach and Charley Taylor was finishing an almost certain Hall of Fame career.
Taylor, who caught more passes than anyone else in pro football history, was at his best in 1972, when he and fellow receiver Roy Jefferson played well enough to help the Redskins into their only Super Bowl.
Brown and Monk still haven't reached that class. But it probably is no coincidence that since Jefferson and Taylor retired in the mid-1970s, the Redskins had failed to gain the playoffs five straight years -- until this season, when their pass catching improved dramatically.
"They are just starting to complement each other," said Taylor, now the Redskins' receiver coach. "You have unselfish guys getting better all the time. When they fully bloom, it's going to be beautiful for them and the team."
It would be hard to find two players at the same position with more contrasting styles than Monk and Brown.
Monk, the high-profile former No. 1 draft choice, is large for a pro receiver, 6 feet 2 and 210 pounds. He is fast, but his dominant characteristic is the bruising way he plays. When the Redskins need a tough catch over the middle in traffic, they go to Monk, who outweighs most defensive backs.
Brown, the "who's he" former eighth-round selection, is 5-10 and 180. His unique, shuffling run ("It looks like he is ice skating," said Dan Henning, the assistant head coach) neatly hides a burst of speed that allows him to get by cornerbacks.
Brown is flash, Monk is power. Yet Brown has a natural aggressiveness that has helped him become a productive blocker, while Monk had to overcome an early hesitancy to use his strength against opponents. And no Redskins player runs a faster 40-yard dash than Monk, not even Brown.
Monk became the cornerstone last year of Coach Joe Gibbs' passing offense. Brown gave it pizazz this year. He has emerged as the receiving partner Monk needed to lose at least some double coverage and that quarterback Joe Theismann needed to make the long pass work with any consistency.
Monk, despite being shut out in one game, is fourth in the National Football Conference with 35 receptions. Brown, despite increasing defensive attention, is second in receiving yards (662) and third in touchdowns scored (eight).
Each has had two 100-yard plus games this season. Brown's 156 yards in New Orleans Sunday were the most by a Redskin in six years. He is averaging 22.8 yards a catch, with eight receptions of more than 35 yards, with touchdowns of 78, 65, 58 and 57 yards. Monk has six catches of more than 25 yards, and, although he's played less than three seasons, is the team's eighth all-time receiver.
Brown was supposed to be Renaldo Nehemiah.
When Nehemiah, the world-class hurdler, decided to try pro football last spring, the Redskins wanted him because he had the speed and potential to complement Monk.
But Nehemiah signed with San Francisco. The Redskins were left with Virgil Seay, who had beaten out Ricky Thompson the previous season, and Brown, who spent what would have been his rookie year on injured reserve with a knee injury.
Brown had been a training camp sensation in 1981 until the knee was hurt. He became depressed about the injury and the coaches, disappointed he was hurt, wondered about his durability. Brown didn't become a starter until Seay hurt his hand just before the final preseason game.
Brown didn't play football until his junior year in high school in South Carolina. Even though he was an immediate success, he still considered himself better at basketball, which he still plays almost daily in the summer.
He wanted to attend North Carolina A&T, where the passing game is emphasized, but was not offered a scholarship. He went instead to South Carolina State, which emphasizes running; although he had 19 touchdown receptions there, he made a mere 19 catches his senior year. He was considered such a marginal prospect that he wasn't listed on some scouting reports.
But Taylor worked him out one day and liked his potential. General Manager Bobby Beathard later was intrigued with his sure hands and bursts of speed. On draft day, Beathard told reporters: "We just picked a true sleeper."
Henning: "He looks so frail and gangly, like he's going to get hurt. But he has those long arms. He has a wing span of 80 inches, 10 inches more than you'd expect from a guy his size. Defensive backs don't expect him to reach balls he gets to. He is sneaky quick, too. Everyone is becoming more aware of him now, but he still gets open."
Brown, who used last year to increase his strength, lives with teammate Otis Wonsley in a modest townhouse in Sterling, Va. If sudden fame has changed him, it doesn't show.
"I'm not overjoyed; not yet," he said. "I'm not going to get an attitude about what's happening. I'm not going to get hyped. I always dreamed this would happen. I always knew I could play on this level, but from high school on up, everyone has wondered about me. I'll let everyone else be surprised by what I've done."
Last offseason, fans driving on the Dulles Access Road might have noticed Monk on a bicycle.
Three or four times a week, Monk and neighbor Terry Metcalf would pedal for hours and when Monk reported to minicamp last spring, there was a noticeable change.
Monk was stronger, quicker and faster. He turned the best 40 time of his pro career, and dashed through agility drills. He had problems in 1981 when cornerbacks bumped him at the line of scrimmage, but now he gets by them more easily. The improvement became more important when Metcalf was released and Monk gradually assumed the role of third-down motion back that his friend had played so well the previous year.
"People see Charlie making the long catches, but there isn't a more versatile receiver around than Art Monk," Gibbs said. "We ask him to do more than any receiver in the league. He plays his regular receiver spot, he becomes a second tight end (motion man) on third down, he becomes a blocker on short yardage plays. He runs reverses and sweeps, he blocks linebackers, cornerbacks and safeties."
Taylor: "Art's arrived. He now considers himself on the level with the best receivers in the league and he should. No one is any tougher than Art Monk."
Monk has changed. "I used to have a lot of high hopes and letdowns, but I'm more patient," he said. "In games, I don't stand out there and think, 'Why don't they get me the ball?' I've found the passes will come. And Charlie's presence has helped. People have more to worry about now, not just me." graphics/1photo: AP Charlie Brown: 156 yards against New Orleans were most for a Redskin receiver in six years.