Monk, Art 1957–
Art Monk 1957–
Professional football player
In 1992 Art Monk of the National Football League’s Washington Redskins set a record for most career pass receptions when he caught his 820th NFL pass in a game against the Denver Broncos. Many football fans felt that the honor couldn’t have been bestowed on a more deserving player, for while many NFL wide receivers rely on sheer speed and innate athletic ability, Monk made his mark through persistence and a severe training regimen that observers noticed at every stage of his football career. Another NFL record that Monk set in the early 1990s testified to his approach to the game: he caught at least one pass in each of 183 consecutive regular-season contests.
A second cousin to jazz piano great Thelonious Monk, James Arthur Monk was born in suburban White Plains, New York, on December 5, 1957. His father, Arthur, a welder, and his mother, Lela, a maid in a Westchester County mansion, instilled in him a strong desire to excel. Attending public schools in White Plains, Monk for a time seemed likely to follow in the footsteps of his jazz-playing cousin: he played the tuba and the electric guitar well, and his teachers urged him to pursue a college music scholarship.
But Monk’s performance on the football field in high school led him down a different path. He started out as a lineman (both offensive and defensive), but he had always admired several pro football wide receivers. So Monk set out to transform himself into an end, going out for the White Plains High School track team and training for such grueling events as the decathlon and the 330-yard hurdles race. On the football team, Monk was moved to the position of tight end during his junior year. Although he was far from being a star during high school—he caught only a dozen passes over his whole high school career—Monk impressed his coaches with his good grades, positive attitude, and growing talent. On their recommendation he won a football scholarship to Syracuse University.
During his four years at Syracuse, Monk never missed a game or even a practice. As he had in high school, Monk started slowly. In his freshman year he notched only two pass receptions. Determined to prove that he was worth the scholarship he had been given, however, Monk embarked on a crash training program of daily ball drills and running. His hard work paid off: by the
At a Glance…
Born on December 5, 1957, in White Plains, NY; son of Arthur (a welder) and Lela (a domestic worker) Monk; married Desiree; children: James Arthur Jr., Danielle, Monica, Education: Syracuse University, Syracuse, NY, 1980.
Career: Selected by Washington Redskins in first round of 1980 NFL draft; wide receiver with Redskins, 1980-94; set NFL record for most career receptions, 1992; wide receiver, New York Jets, 1994; set record for most consecutive NFL games with at least one pass reception, 1994; wide receiver, Philadelphia Eagles, 1995; re-signed to Redskins and retired, 1997; fourth on ail-time list of NFL players with greatest career yards gained; Rich Walker’s Scoreboard Restaurant, Herndon, VA, part owner; founded Cactus Advertising Associates, Chantilly, VA, late 1990s; co-founded Good Samaritan Foundation, Washington, DC.
Selected awards: Named to NFL Pro Bowl team, 1985, 1986, 1987; named most popular Redskin of all time in fan poll.
Address: Office —Cactus Advertising Associates, 13930 Willard Rd., Chantilly, VA 20151.
time he graduated from Syracuse in 1980, Monk had set school records with 102 receptions for 1,644 yards gained, 1,140 rushing yards gained (as a running back for several years), and 1,105 yards in return yardage.
Monk’s speed as a punt returner attracted the attention of Washington Redskins’ scout Charley Taylor, a former pro wide receiver who had been one of Monk’s heroes during his high school days. Monk was picked 17th in the 1980 pro draft by the Redskins, who hadn’t enjoyed a first-round pick since 1968. “Being drafted was a surprise to me,” Monk later recalled to the Washington Post. “I knew I had some abilities, but I didn’t know I could compete on this level.”
As he had in college, Monk started slowly as an NFL player. The Washington Post wrote that he was “as confused and tentative as a high school student trying to solve his first algebra problem.” And yet again, Monk buckled down and applied himself, training hard with hill running, sprints, weightlifting, and racquetball, and he also sought guidance from Redskins veterans. Midway through the season, results began to come.
By late October of 1980, Redskins coach Jack Pardee could tell the Washington Post that “cornerbacks are going to wish he had never come into the league.” Even Pardee couldn’t have known how right he was. Monk was named to the NFL All-Rookie Team after the 1980 season. He was a consistent performer in the early 1980s, learning to maneuver his six-foot three-inch, 209-pound bulk around defenders (he was one of the NFL’s biggest wide receivers and one of its most physically powerful) and honing his already impressive ability, acquired as a former running back, to avoid fumbles.
Monk was always a shy man, who spoke of hard work and downplayed expectations for his own career, but in 1984 everything came together and he exceeded his own expectations along with everyone else’s. With 106 pass receptions, he set a new NFL record for a single season, and his 1,372 yards gained marked the first of five seasons in which he exceeded 1,000 yards (along with 1985, 1986, 1989, and 1991). Monk was named to the 1985 NFL Pro Bowl squad and received a host of other honors at the season’s end.
A local celebrity in Washington and a record-setter on the field, Monk was seemingly lacking only one thing: a star performance in a Super Bowl game. The Redskins were perennial Super Bowl contenders through much of the 1980s, but Monk sat out the 1982 Super Bowl with a foot injury, and caught only one pass en route to a losing Redskins effort in the 1983 game. In 1987, when the Redskins defeated the Denver Broncos by a 42-10 score, Monk notched only one reception.
By the 1990 season Monk and the rest of the Redskins’ squad were struggling. But Monk, who had emerged as an unofficial but crucial team leader who set the tone for NFL play, unexpectedly called the team together late in the 1990 season and declared that they all, himself included, could play with more effort and determination. The Redskins rallied to make the playoffs that year, and the following season the team went all the way to the Super Bowl, where they defeated the Buffalo Bills. In that game Monk caught seven passes for 113 yards.
In October of 1992 Monk broke the all-time NFL record for pass receptions, but the following spring was marked by disappointment and controversy. Monk, whose reception total had dropped to 46 the previous year, was benched by the Redskins at the start of the 1993 season. He ended up spending a good deal of time as a backup, and subsequently the 37-year-old Monk signed with the New York Jets for the 1994 season. Many Redskins fans and members of the organization thought that the team had treated him shabbily, and felt vindicated when they watched Monk, in a Jets uniform, break Steve Largent’s record of 177 consecutive games with at least one pass reception, on the way to his eventual 183. The Redskins’ record that year was dismal.
Monk played for the Philadelphia Eagles in 1995, and officially retired in 1997, when he was re-signed by the Redskins so that he could remain with the organization where he had spent most of his professional life. With 12,721 career yards gained, Monk was fourth on the NFL’s all-time list, in addition to logging other record-breaking feats. Art Monk had become a strong contender for eventual election to the Professional Football Hall of Fame. In retirement, Monk opened an advertising agency, Cactus Advertising Associates, in Chantilly, Virginia. He also co-founded Washington’s Good Samaritan Foundation, a nonprofit job-training organization, and invested in other businesses around the Washington area. Monk and his wife Desiree have raised three children and continued to live in suburban Virginia.
Newsmakers 1993, Gale, 1993.
Houston Chronicle, June 27, 1993, p. Sports-14. Jet, July 7, 1997, p. 46.
New York Times, December 16, 1984, section 5, p. 3; December 4, 1994, section 8, p. 5.
St. Petersburg Times, January 27, 1988, p. C3.
Washington Post, April 30, 1980, p. Dl; October 24, 1980, p. El; July 29, 1992, p. Dl; December 4, 1994, p. Dl.
Football Camps, http://www.footballcamps.com/artmonk/art.html
—James M. Manheim
American football player
Throughout his sixteen-year professional football career, Art Monk developed a reputation for quiet determination and fearless play. The longtime Washington Redskins' receiver was known primarily as a receiver who could gain tough yardage over the middle, rather than a deep play threat. His personal records and longevity, however, were always secondary to his teams' success. After spending the majority of his career in Washington, Monk played for both the New York Jets and the Philadelphia Eagles bringing with him the experience and leadership of a successful veteran. Despite being riddled with self-doubt, Monk went on to become one of the most productive receivers in National Football league (NFL) history.
The Early Years
Born James Arthur Monk in White Plains, New York, on December 5, 1957, he learned early on the value of family and religion. "I really enjoyed my childhood," Monk told Sports Illustrated. "We didn't have a lot of money, but enough to be happy with - to be clothed and with a roof over our heads. I can never remember want or struggle. I mean, we never had a color TV but we had a car, and there was always food on the table." Raised by hard working parents, Monk's father, a welder, was also a first cousin of jazz great Thelonious Monk and as a child Art was encouraged to pursue music. His natural
ability was surpassed only by his passion for sports and in particular football. His high school football coach saw his potential despite a lack of production on the field and recommended him to visiting scouts. With good grades and the support of his coach, Monk won a full scholarship to Syracuse University.
During his first year at Syracuse, Monk struggled again on the field. "I couldn't catch a cold," Monk said of his freshman season at Syracuse. "I don't know why. It was just a disaster. I remember practices where they'd throw the ball to me and it would hit my hands and I couldn't catch it. I knew I was better than that. I got really depressed and down on myself. And I just made up my mind that this wasn't going to happen again." His determination, however, forced him to develop a strict training regiment that helped him become one of the best pass receivers in college football by his senior year. His play caught the attention of one of his childhood heroes, Washington Redskins' scout, Charley Taylor. To his surprise, Monk was drafted in the first round of the NFL draft by Washington, where he began a long and productive career.
|1957||Born December 5 in White Plains, New York|
|1980||Drafted in the first round by the Washington Redskins|
|1982||Makes first Super Bowl appearance|
|1983||Makes second Super Bowl appearance|
|1984||Appears in first of three consecutive Pro Bowls|
|1987||Makes third Super Bowl appearance|
|1991||Makes fourth Super Bowl appearance|
|1992||Sets NFL career receptions record|
|1994||Signs with the New York Jets|
|1995||Signs with the Philadelphia Eagles|
|1996||Retires from football|
|NY: New York Jets; PHI: Philadelphia Eagles; WAS: Washington Redskins.|
In Washington, Monk was a member of a tremendously successful team in the league's most competitive division. Although his production wasn't great in either game, Monk went to the Super Bowl with the Redskins in 1982 and 1983. Continuing his relentless training regiment, Monk was the league's top receiver by 1984. The Redskins' won the Super Bowl again in 1987 and Monk's popularity in the nation's capital began to swell. The team, however, was in decline and this and a lack of satisfaction in his personal performance drove Monk to take matters into his own hands the following season. "I just wasn't happy with the way my life was going," he said. "I had an empty feeling inside, like something was missing. I was always reaching for something to make me happy or feel good - cars and money and houses. But whatever it was out there, it wasn't doing it. I really struggled for a while." He began attending Bible studies with teammates and recommitted himself to the religion in which he was raised. The serenity he discovered helped him prioritize and rededicate himself to the team. A revitalized Monk then challenged his teammates to do the same. In 1990, after taking a more visible leadership role on the team, the Redskins' advanced into the playoffs. The following year they posted a 17-2 record and defeated the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl.
Monk played a season with the New York Jets and one with the Philadelphia Eagles after leaving the Redskins, bringing experience and leadership to both teams. Although he retired as the second all-time leading receiver only sixty catches short of 1,000 career receptions, Monk was without regret. "I consider myself more fortunate than most who have played the game," he said. "By God's grace, I have achieved far more than I ever could have imagined. I've had a wonderful career and I will miss the game."
Awards and Accomplishments
|1980||Named to NFL All-Rookie Team|
|1982, 1987, 1991||Super Bowl Championship|
|1985-87||Named to NFL Pro Bowl|
|1992||Sets record for most career receptions|
|1992||Voted most popular Redskin of all time|
|2000||Honored on Washington's Ring of Fame|
|2002||Finalist for induction into Pro Football Hall of Fame|
Art Monk's career was unusual for its longevity and productivity. It was his own self-doubt and passion for the game that drove him to work harder and achieve more than most. "I do two important things in my life," Monk said. "I play football, and I spend time with my family. Most everything else is a distraction." Although he shunned the attention of the national press, he was voted the most popular Redskin of all time in a fan poll conducted during the team's 50th anniversary season. His achievements were considered for induction to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2001.
Newsmakers. Detroit: Gale Group, 1993.
"A Monk's Existence." Sports Illustrated (September 7, 1992): 32.
"If You Throw It, He Will Catch It." Time (October 26, 1992): 26.
"Monk, Manley and Gibbs Added to Ring of Fame." Washington Business Journal (September 15, 2000): 33.
"The Art of Receiving." Sports Illustrated (December 3, 1990): 104.
Sketch by Aric Karpinski