Charley Taylor has nicknamed his latest class of receivers "Smurfs, the Second Generation." Remember the original Smurfs? Charlie Brown, Virgil Seay and Alvin Garrett helped the Washington Redskins get into Super Bowls XVII and XVIII.
At the center of those Smurfs was a non-Smurf, a tall, slick receiver named Art Monk, and as the Redskins prepare for their first Super Bowl appearance in four years, Monk remains at center stage. His supporting cast is new, but very Smurfish -- 5-9 Gary Clark and 5-11 Ricky Sanders.
Denver's "Three Amigos" -- Vance Johnson, Mark Jackson and Ricky Nattiel -- may be more famous and have more shake-and-bake dances. They may also end up doing the spots for Tang and Jockey that'll show up in your den during the Summer and Winter Olympics, but are they any better than the Washington receivers?
"Oh, I don't know," said Taylor, the Redskins' receivers coach and a Hall of Famer himself. "The Three Amigos are famous because they're good. Our guys have to work a little harder, which is not all bad, either. This Super Bowl is a chance for them to show the country what they can do."
Actually, they already have. Monk returns to the Redskins after missing five games because of a sprained knee. Only 30, he's the second-leading active receiver in the NFC (behind only San Francisco's Dwight Clark, who has two more catches). He's also 19th and climbing on the NFL's all-time list, and his 106 receptions in 1984 is an NFL record.
"He's our leader," Taylor said. "In every group, you need one sparkplug, a guy the others are measured against. For us, that's Monk. He helps our young guys because he's one of the best ever."
In Super Bowl XXII, he's still likely to be the receiver that draws the most attention, which may open things up for . . .
Gary Clark. Only 25, he's making a second straight trip to the Pro Bowl, and in only three seasons, already has 13 100-yard games and 19 touchdowns. His 1,066 yards was third-best in the NFC and he's only the second Redskin ever to have back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons.
He's also a near-incredible human interest story. A native of Dublin, Va., he played college football at James Madison, where he was the school's all-time leading receiver. At one time, he thought that's where his football career would end, especially after going untouched in the 1983 NFL draft.
He returned to Dublin, took a teaching job for $12,000 a year and went to work. His first break came a year later when the USFL's Jacksonville Bulls made him a first-round draft pick. He caught 56 passes in one USFL season and made about $120,000. The negative was that the Bulls had a $4.6 million payroll, and in two seasons ran up losses of more than $9 million.
To survive, massive cutbacks were made, and on his 23rd birthday (May 1, 1985), he was let go. But Larry Csonka, a Bulls executive, told him not to worry. Clark says he didn't -- much. But in the NFL's supplemental draft of USFL players, the Redskins took him in the second round. He walked into a training camp with a veteran team with no apparent openings at wide receiver and won a job.
"There were guys like Monk and Brown, both of 'em all-pro," Clark said. "They weren't stuck up to me at all. Every question I asked, they answered. They might have laughed behind my back because I was so dumb, but they never let me know it."
He still remembers his first practice, when he watched Darrell Green fly out of nowhere to intercept a pass and how he thought: This might be tougher than I thought.
"I came in with the rookies, so for the first few days, I was working against them," he said. "I was feeling pretty good. When I played in the USFL, I thought of it as pro football. But when I got here, I was scared. It took awhile to get over that."
It didn't take awhile for him to have an impact. He caught 72 passes his rookie season, 74 more in 1986 and 60 more this season. When Monk injured his knee, Clark became the Redskins' No. 1 offensive weapon, and Sanders got a chance to play.
Another USFL refugee, Sanders was obtained from New England in 1986 for a third-round draft pick. He played only sparingly his rookie season, catching 14 passes. But this season, he has caught 43 passes for 722 yards and three touchdowns. He had the biggest day of his pro career on the last day of the regular season when he caught eight passes for 164 yards and two touchdowns in an overtime victory at Minnesota.
"Everyone wants a chance to play," Sanders said. "I'm sure having Gary has helped, but when defenses find out I'm a threat, too, that's going to make it hard to cover us. One of us is going to have single coverage."