Art Monk has never spoken to Charley Hennigan. Until recently, Monk said he had never even heard of Hennigan.
But when Monk, the Washington Redskins' fifth-year wide receiver, caught a 36-yard pass over the middle in the third quarter of yesterday's 29-27 Redskin victory over St. Louis at RFK Stadium, he broke Hennigan's professional football record of 101 catches in a season.
Hennigan set the record in 1964 playing for the Houston Oilers of the old American Football League. In the past 20 years, the closest anyone had come to the record was Todd Christiansen of the Los Angeles Raiders with 92 catches in 1983.
Monk, who finished the season with 106, said he never thought about the record until his total approached 80. "Catching 100 balls is so far out of sight," said Monk, whose previous season best was 58 in his rookie year. "I never thought I'd ever catch even 70 or 80. I've tried to be low-key about the whole thing because I didn't want to start thinking I had to catch the ball. That's when you start messing up."
Needing seven receptions coming into yesterday's game, he did have one bad moment early. On Washington's next possession after Monk's 23-yard touchdown reception from Joe Theismann gave the Redskins a 6-0 lead, Monk beat Lionel Washington on a right-side fly pattern. He dropped what could have been a 68-yard touchdown pass. "I got excited because I knew I had beaten him bad," said Monk. "I just tried to run before I caught the ball."
Monk finished with 11 receptions, tying his single-game best set against the Indianapolis Colts earlier this year. His 136 yards marked his fifth 100-yard game of the season.
Monk said yesterday he was not upset earlier this week when he was chosen only as a backup instead of a starter on the NFC Pro Bowl team. He also said much of his success this year was a result of the injuries that have kept Charlie Brown out of the lineup. Ironically, Monk's record-breaking catch occurred with him lined up as a tight end and Brown, who was used only on rare occasions yesterday, as a split end.
Catching a 36-yarder to set the record was particularly gratifying, said Monk. "It was good to get it on a long pass because most of my catches have been on high-percentage passes," he said.
Cardinals wide receiver Roy Green, selected to start ahead of Monk in the Pro Bowl, signaled a wave of congratulations from the St. Louis sideline. Even cornerback Wayne Smith, whom Monk beat most of the day, offered praise following catch No. 102. "I'm a man and when another man does well, I congratulate him," said Smith.
Theismann said he was not concerned with Monk's record, or any personal record, only the victory. Monk, however, said his teammates were very aware of the mark, and demonstrated their appreciation when the game was stopped to present him the ball.
"Everybody was conscious of it," said Monk.
Monk conceded he would like to see the record stand for a while.
"I hope it does," he said. "After all, 101 stood for 20 years."