It can be argued that the best teammates are those who deflect praise, say little, and lead by example.
That was certainly true of Art Monk.
ART MONK – Washington Redskins – Vintage Slide #1 pic.twitter.com/bS0gXdWb0p
— Redskins Collector (@SkinsCollector) July 5, 2013
As one of the best receivers in the NFL for 16 years, Monk helped the Washington Redskins reach four Super Bowls, winning three.
He could have let his superior talent go to his head, but Monk was happiest just doing his job and helping his team win.
Monk also didn’t say much, but when he did, his teammates listened and took what he said to heart.
By the end of his career, Monk had quietly set several NFL records including the first receiver in history to catch over 900 passes.
This is the inspirational story of Art Monk.
James Arthur Monk was born on December 5, 1957, in White Plains, New York.
Join us in wishing a happy birthday to Redskins legend, Art Monk! #HTTR pic.twitter.com/rmgcbAmyos
— Washington Commanders (@Commanders) December 5, 2018
He was the younger of two children born to parents Arthur and Lela.
The Monk family lived in an apartment above a church where they attended service every Sunday.
Faith was the backbone of the Monk family as well as hard work.
“My parents always told us, ‘Nothing in life is free. Whatever it is you want, you have to knuckle down and work for it,'” said Monk.
Using his parents as role models, Monk started playing sports at a young age and delighted in competition.
He also began playing the tuba and guitar.
The inspiration to make music came from his first cousin once removed Thelonious Monk, a highly respected and groundbreaking jazz musician.
Thelonious Monk y Dizzy Gillespie
📸 Jim Marshall pic.twitter.com/fSNF47wVY8
— Pol Niuman (@Joshuacagose) April 21, 2023
Monk’s internal drive to be the best helped him become an accomplished tuba player, and his middle school music teacher believed he could eventually get a college scholarship with his skills.
However, Monk didn’t see music in his future.
As he was about to begin high school, Monk was driven to succeed on the gridiron, though he wasn’t sure which position he’d play.
“I grew up watching Otis Taylor, Charley Taylor and Paul Warfield,” he said. “I would have liked to be a wide receiver, but I didn’t think I was quick enough or good enough for that. So I always wanted to be a tight end. I loved catching the ball.”
Monk Keeps Working
Growing up in a religious family, Monk didn’t believe in stirring the pot and calling attention to himself.
Therefore, when he played on the offensive and defensive lines early in his prep career at White Plains High School, Monk didn’t complain.
NY Made: "Did You Know"
Hall of Fame WR Art Monk was born & raised in White Plains NY. Playing his high school ball as a White Plains Tiger‼ Monk actually played OT on JV as a sophomore, TE as a junior & RB as a senior.#WPHS #NYmade #NYfootbal #ArtMonk #HOF pic.twitter.com/Z7YP9kLpnT
— NY MADE FOOTBALL (@NYMadeFootball) September 13, 2022
His way of asserting himself came by way of the Tigers’ track team.
With good practice and concentrated training, Monk became an accomplished sprinter, and he saw his track achievements as a way of aiding his football opportunities.
“I not only wanted to lose weight, but I wanted to enhance my agility, my speed and quickness,” he said. “Track allowed me to do that. Once I saw some of the benefits I was getting from it, I really got excited and went full steam.”
During his junior year, the White Plains coaches moved Monk to tight end, a position that led to only a dozen receptions that year.
Monk still didn’t complain and played his role dutifully.
Although he was rarely targeted, it was obvious Monk had the ability to succeed if given the chance.
Near the end of his junior season, a coach from Syracuse University arrived to scout a teammate.
During the visit, a White Plains assistant principal pointed the coach in Monk’s direction.
“You’re not going to hear much about him,” Harry Jefferson told him, “but he’s a diamond in the rough as a football player.”
When his senior year arrived, Monk was inserted as a running back, though the early returns weren’t very positive.
“He’d get hit in the legs and go down,” said Monk’s coach, Brant Wintersteen. “He wouldn’t keep driving.”
Monk continued working and improved in running after contact.
By the end of his final prep season, would-be tacklers had to fight to bring Monk down.
Monk Becomes an Orangeman
The Syracuse recruiters returned to watch Monk and loved his passion for football.
They also like his ability as a hurdler in track.
Monk’s final year on the oval brought him a state title and a state record in the 120-yard high hurdles. He also won a national meet in California.
“He just looked like a great, raw, physical talent,” said Frank Maloney, then Syracuse’s head football coach.
When it came time to pick a college, Monk wanted to go to the University of Maryland.
His mother, however, liked Syracuse, so Monk became an Orangeman.
Not long after arriving on campus, Maloney wasn’t quite sure where to play Monk. He ended up as a running back/receiver hybrid out of the backfield.
Art Monk Syracuse pic.twitter.com/tShSzhTSWJ
— sweatinbets (@sweatinbets) November 13, 2022
For someone who wanted to catch footballs, the position did not suit Monk well. He caught all of two passes in 1976.
“I couldn’t catch a cold,” he recalled. “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.”
Monk’s work ethic kicked into overdrive, and he threw himself into training.
In 1977, his receptions spiked to 41 for 590 yards (program records for a sophomore) and four touchdowns.
He also had 566 rushing yards and two more scores and his 14 receptions against Navy also set a program record.
“I think the whole year, I may have dropped one ball,” Monk recalled.
One of the Nation’s Best
Monk’s hard work paid off, even though Syracuse struggled on the field.
During his first three years with the Orangemen, the team won 12 games in total.
In 1979, Monk’s senior year, Syracuse won seven games and became Bowl eligible for the first time since 1966.
By then, Monk was a respected athlete who created highlight-level plays in every game.
His junior season in 1978 saw Monk rush for more than 500 yards and catch passes for over 200 yards.
As a senior, he played mostly as a receiver and collected 40 passes for 716 yards and three scores, leading to an All-American designation.
Art Monk at Syracuse. pic.twitter.com/7zrMEp9HX9
— Bruce Proctor (@3xsuperbowlchmp) September 9, 2017
In his final college game, Monk caught a touchdown as Syracuse crushed McNeese State in the Independence Bowl, 31-7.
Monk’s final college totals were 1,174 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns, 102 receptions, 1,644 receiving yards, and nine more touchdowns.
He also had 430 punt return yards and a return score and 675 kick return yards.
Many of Monk’s totals set school records at the time and he was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2012.
Washington Drafts Monk
By the time he was graduating from Syracuse, Monk was on the radar of several NFL teams.
Most scouts noted that Monk was exceptionally gifted with great hands and the ability to catch the ball in traffic.
Of course, that didn’t mean he would be drafted in the first round of the 1980 NFL Draft—until he was.
Monk was sitting at home during the draft and completing assignments for his coursework.
While looking at his school books, he heard then-commissioner Pete Rozelle call his name.
“I was shocked,” said Monk. “I just couldn’t believe it, especially the first round. I never grew up saying I wanted to be a professional football player. I thought it was too far fetched. I just loved the game and figured that college was about as far as I was going to go.”
The Washington Redskins could tell Monk loved the game and grabbed him with the 18th overall pick in the first round.
#tbt The Washington Redskins drafted Art Monk in the first round of the 1980 NFL Draft. #HTTR #ArtMonk #NFLDraft pic.twitter.com/5UTd6hz1yG
— Patrick Waring (@WaringPatrick) April 26, 2018
He arrived in Washington and worried about his ability to stick as a pro.
As usual, Monk compensated by listening to his coaches and immersing himself in practice and the Redskins’ playbook.
Eventually, Monk became known for his intense workouts and drive to be the best at his position.
“I always viewed him as being insecure about his ability,” Monk’s college coach, Maloney, said. “That’s why he always listened to everything you said. He fears failure. That’s why he works out like a madman. He fears the end of his career. He fears slowing down. That’s a wonderful thing to have, that fear.”
In his first season as a pro, Monk started 11 games and caught 58 passes for 797 yards and three touchdowns.
His reception total set a Washington record for a rookie, and Monk was selected for the PFWA All-Rookie Team.
Super Bowl Bound
In 1980, Washington had a 6-10 record and fired head coach Jack Pardee.
The organization then hired San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator Joe Gibbs as its new head coach.
Gibbs got to work assembling a team in his image, which meant throwing the ball a lot and having a solid running game.
His 1981 team improved to 8-8, and Monk had 56 catches for 894 yards and six touchdowns.
Art Monk was born with greatness in his gene pool.
Besides being one of the most durable and consistently excellent wide receivers of all-time, he's also the first cousin once removed of jazz legend Thelonious Monk. #GoldJacketSpotlight pic.twitter.com/2IcMpv5Tqa
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) February 22, 2023
Then, in 1982, the Redskins went 8-1 during the strike-shortened season.
The roster included quarterback Joe Theismann, John Riggins, Monk and rookie receiver Charlie Brown, Don Warren, and an offensive line known for their strength and girth.
Known as “The Hogs,” the line protected the offensive backfield like their life depended on it.
The result was Theismann finding Monk 35 times for 447 yards and a score in 1982.
During the playoffs, Washington took care of Detroit, Minnesota, and Dallas by a combined score of 83-31.
In Super Bowl XVII against the Miami Dolphins, Monk was held without a catch, but the ‘Skins won 27-17.
It was the franchise’s first championship since 1942.
One season later, Monk had 47 catches for 746 yards and five touchdowns as Washington went 14-2 and returned to the Super Bowl.
This time, Monk caught one pass for 26 yards in Super Bowl XVIII, but the LA Raiders owned the ‘Skins and won easily, 38-9.
Monk Sets an NFL Record
While Washington was on its way to Super Bowl XVIII in 1983, Charlie Brown set a new club record with 78 receptions.
Brown’s record wouldn’t stand for long.
In 1984, Monk caught fire early and often, corralling at least eight or more receptions in six games and netting 100 or more yards five times.
During Week 2, he caught 10 balls for 200 yards against San Francisco.
In a Week 13 contest against the Buffalo Bills, he passed Brown’s record with 11 catches to bring his season total to 82 receptions.
By then, he was in sight of former Houston Oilers receiver Charley Hennigan’s league record of 101 receptions in a single season.
Hall of Famer Art Monk, 1984. #Redskins #Syracuse pic.twitter.com/8vi1DulwX5
— Ken Gelman (@kengfunk) March 17, 2017
Despite the national media attention, there was no way the soft-spoken Monk was going to toot his own horn.
”I’m very happy and proud of myself for all my accomplishments,” Monk said. ”I’m excited about my chances to break the record. But if I don’t break it, it won’t be a great disappointment because I still feel like I have accomplished something.”
At the end of the regular season, Monk had set a new NFL record by grabbing 106 passes (also best in the league that year) for 1,372 yards (both career highs) and seven touchdowns.
”Art could catch a BB in the dark if he heard the gun go off,” said receivers coach Charley Taylor. ”That’s how much confidence I have in the man.”
Regrettably, Washington couldn’t take advantage of Monk’s stats and lost in the Divisional round to Chicago after an 11-5 season.
Monk, however, was selected as a first-team All-Pro and picked to his first Pro Bowl.
When he learned of his Pro Bowl selection, Monk responded, ”That’s nice.”
Back to the Super Bowl
In 1985, Monk had a great follow-up season by catching 91 passes for 1,226 yards and two scores and leading the NFL with 81.7 yards per game.
That led to Pro Bowl number two and a second-team All-Pro nod.
Washington won 10 games but didn’t make the playoffs in ‘85.
In 1986, the franchise won 12 games and advanced to the NFC Championship game against the New York Giants before losing 17-0.
Monk had more than 1,000 yards receiving on 73 receptions and four touchdowns, leading to Pro Bowl number three.
His yardage total meant that Monk was the first Redskins player to have three consecutive seasons of 1,000 or more yards receiving.
He was also the first Washington player to have 70 or more catches for three straight seasons.
Then, in 1987, the NFL endured yet another strike-shortened season, and just like the previous shortened season in 1982, the ‘Skins took advantage.
After winning 11 games in the regular season, the team defeated Chicago and Minnesota in the first two rounds of the postseason.
1-3-1987, the Redskins beat the Bears 27-13. Art Monk had 81 yards receiving and 2 touchdowns. pic.twitter.com/VGnBVycqwr
— Scott F (@TheFrizz87) January 4, 2018
Monk’s abbreviated season saw him catch 38 passes for 483 yards and six touchdowns.
In Super Bowl XXII versus the Denver Broncos, Washington quarterback Doug Williams led the ‘Skins to 35 unanswered points in the second quarter, a Super Bowl record.
Denver had no response, and Washington had another world title after winning 42-10.
Monk had one reception for 40 yards during the game.
Monk Speaks Up
Washington would end up missing the playoffs in 1988 and 1989, but Monk didn’t slow down.
He caught 72 passes in 1988 and 86 in 1989, including a career-high eight touchdowns.
That same season, Monk and fellow receivers, Gary Clark and Ricky Sanders, were nicknamed “The Posse.” Each had racked up more than 1,000 receiving yards.
Throwback Thursday.The Posse – Art Monk, Gary Clark, Ricky Sanders @AkersArlene @kellfromsuitlan @DDD_Cookie pic.twitter.com/atRvGKAS0h
— leonard kirby (@leonardkirby) January 21, 2016
That was the first time in NFL history a trio of receivers on the same team had reached that mark in the same year.
However, great talent doesn’t always mean great results.
In 1990, the Redskins were proving to be an agonizingly inconsistent team.
They were a talented group of individuals, (evidenced the year before by The Posse), but they were on the verge of missing the playoffs for the third straight year.
Finally, just before a Week 13 game against Miami, Monk had had enough.
He asked Gibbs if he could hold a player-only meeting, which surprised the coach.
“The best way to describe Art Monk,” Gibbs said, ”well, he’s very much… what I want to say is… he’s very, you know… he’s more or less self-contained and quiet and he has a good sense of humor.”
When the players assembled together, Monk stepped forward and informed his teammates that he was the one that requested the meeting.
“Everyone looked around and said, ‘Art Monk is going to talk?'” said former tight end Ron Middleton. “That had never happened before.”
Monk’s message to the team was simple.
“I am rededicating myself to this season and this team,” Monk said. “It’s time for everybody to raise it up a notch. We can play a lot better than we’ve been playing, me included… We have to rededicate ourselves. I am… We have to do whatever it takes. And we have to do it now. We can’t wait till next week. It will be too late. If we are going to get to the playoffs, it has to happen right now.”
After Monk sat down, his teammates were still in disbelief that their quiet captain had spoken up.
Some #MondayMotivation courtesy of @Redskins Gold Jacket Art Monk. pic.twitter.com/RrFRQRVylZ
— Pro Football Hall of Fame (@ProFootballHOF) March 9, 2015
However, it launched the team from a 6-5 to a 10-6 final record.
Monk himself ended the year with 68 catches, 770 yards, and five touchdowns.
“That night, Art decided to become a general,” said Bobby Mitchell, the Redskins’ assistant general manager. “That was the greatest thing that ever happened to us. Man, we took off!”
In the Wild Card round, Washington beat Philadelphia but lost in the Divisional round to San Francisco.
Super Bowl #4
Monk’s speech carried over to 1991, and the team didn’t drop a game until Thanksgiving when they lost to Dallas.
Ultimately, the franchise led the NFL with 458 points and only allowed 224 on the way to a 14-2 record.
As usual, Monk led by example and had 71 receptions for 1,049 yards and eight scores.
Washington’s playoff opponents stood no chance, and both Atlanta and Detroit were crushed by a combined 65-17.
During Super Bowl XXVI against the Buffalo Bills, Monk finally had a big day in the sport’s biggest game as he contributed seven receptions for 113 yards in the ‘Skins 37-24 victory.
24 years ago today, Art Monk, Mark Rypien, and the Redskins defeated the Bills in Super Bowl XXVI pic.twitter.com/lmhPUVKXUV
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 26, 2016
It was Monk’s third title in four opportunities, leading several sports writers to speculate about his bona fides as a future Hall of Famer.
“What determines a Hall of Famer?” he asked. “I don’t take anything for granted,” he said. “If I need one catch to be the all-time anything, I still need one catch. I don’t like to assume anything or start feeling good about myself.”
Monk Passes Largent
If there was any time Monk should have felt good about himself, it was during a Week 6 game against the Denver Broncos in 1992.
At that point in the season, the Redskins were 2-2, but they had a huge day at home against John Elway and the Broncos.
Washington started well with 17 points in the first quarter and continued pounding Denver until they won 34-3.
However, the reason the media and the franchise were so attuned to that particular game is that Monk was on the verge of greatness.
During the contest, he caught seven passes for 69 yards.
One of his receptions was for a 10-yard gain with just over three minutes remaining.
25 years ago, the greatest receiver in #Redskins history broke the NFL career receptions mark. Hail Art Monk! #HTTR pic.twitter.com/XLBrMcsBub
— TheHogs.net (@TheHogsdotNet) October 12, 2017
That marked his 820th career reception, which helped him pass former Seattle Seahawks receiver Steve Largent for the most receptions in NFL history.
“I knew it was for the record. It was a play designed for me to catch,” said Monk post game. “I’m glad it’s over. I was nervous before the game—that’s something I’m not used to. I was glad to be able to do it here.”
After he caught his record-breaking ball, the Redskins team went onto the field and lifted Monk on their shoulders.
That prompted former Redskins quarterback, and then-radio host, Sonny Jurgensen, to declare “It couldn’t have happened to a more dedicated player.”
Washington salvaged the rest of the season to go 9-7 and lose in the Divisional round to San Francisco.
Monk ended the year with 46 receptions, 644 yards, and three scores.
When the season concluded, Joe Gibbs retired to spend time with family and work in television.
Monk Leaves Washington
Nothing lasts forever, and that was certainly true for Monk.
He played the 1993 season with new coach Richie Petitbon and caught 41 passes for almost 400 yards and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, the ‘Skins suffered through a 4-12 record.
It was evident that the franchise was in the early stages of a rebuilding period. That proved to be the perfect time to shed some contracts.
After 14 years with the Redskins, the team let Monk walk as a free agent.
According to Monk and his agent, Richard Bennett, Washington gave the receiver a short period of time to sign their offer of one-year and $600,000.
Monk didn’t sign the offer before the team’s deadline, and the Redskins cut him loose.
“He (Monk) was shocked that the Redskins would handle an extremely poor decision in this way, that they would try to execute this by giving him a very short deadline. … I just couldn’t believe that they would force Art to play for $600,000 or run him out of town,” said Bennett.
More than a few organizations wanted Monk’s services, and he signed with the New York Jets.
“It feels like I’m starting all over again,” he said at his first Jets training camp. “This is unfamiliar territory, kind of like you’re the odd guy on the block.”
Unfortunately, despite a fairly talented roster and a 4-3 start to the season, New York only won six games in 1994.
Man, I thought I knew everything about my favorite team’s players. I never knew Art Monk was with The Jets 😢… pic.twitter.com/bx35ErYzw4
— 👑 WerdsofWysdom 👑 R.I.P. MAB (@Jeronimobrat) April 27, 2022
Monk still caught his share of footballs and added 46 more receptions to his career total.
During a Week 15 game against Detroit, Monk caught a short pass from quarterback Boomer Esiason.
That gave him another NFL record of 178 consecutive games with a catch.
“I think it’s a little hard for me to recognize the significance of the record now. It probably won’t sink in until my career is over,” Monk said. “I had a chance to do something that too many others didn’t have a chance to do. I feel very fortunate and blessed that I had an opportunity. This is far beyond anything I could ever imagine.”
Monk Becomes an Eagle, then Retires
After the 1994 season, the Jets did not retain Monk.
For the first few months of the 1995 season, Monk watched games at home until the Philadelphia Eagles came calling in November.
“I love the game,” said Monk after signing. “This is something I’ve enjoyed doing. Football has given me a great talent in being able to catch the ball and I just want to do it as long as I possibly can.”
At the time he suited up for Philadelphia, Monk had 934 career receptions, yet was just 29 ahead of Jerry Rice.
Art Monk @Eagles @EaglesOrtheYear @NFLFilms @NFLAlumni @NFL pic.twitter.com/aVDLE2MScX
— NFL Classic! (@79_nfl) May 11, 2022
He played in three games in ‘95, starting one, and caught six more passes for 114 yards.
When the season concluded, Monk retired.
During his career, Monk had 940 receptions, 12,721 yards, and 68 touchdowns.
He was a three-time Super Bowl champion, two-time All-Pro, three-time Pro Bowler, and league receptions leader once.
His NFL records included first player to surpass 900 career receptions, most receptions in a single season, most career receptions, and consecutive games with a reception.
The most catches in a single season. The most career catches. The most consecutive games with a catch.
Before the passing game exploded, Art Monk set all kinds of NFL records.
Happy birthday to the @Redskins legend! 🎂 pic.twitter.com/WdbjqhJENk
— NFL Legacy (@NFLLegacy) December 6, 2018
Monk is currently 20th on the all-time NFL career receptions list.
Since retiring, Monk has been selected to the Washington Commanders’ 90 Greatest Players in Team History and the Commanders’ Ring of Fame.
In 2008, Monk was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
When he was announced at his induction, Monk received the longest standing ovation in Hall of Fame history.
“Never in my wildest dreams would I ever have imagined myself, as a little boy, getting to this point. Whether I actually deserve to be here or not is for others to determine,” he said. “This is always something that was very unattainable for me growing up, playing in the NFL and obviously being considered a Hall of Famer. It’s a great honor.”
Life in Retirement
Throughout his life, Monk has worked hard to be a role model to his teammates and his family.
“Coming out of college,” said Monk, “one thing I always said was that I would never want circumstances to change who I am, regardless of how good things might get, regardless of how bad things might get. I always want to stay who I am as a person. I think I’ve done a pretty good job at that.”
Since leaving football, Monk has continued staying on the right track by starting the Good Samaritan Foundation with former Redskins teammates.
The Absolute Best Of AllTime#Redskins #HTTR
ART MONK🐐 pic.twitter.com/iRd7wrTQUK
— JASON #SCM (@JkRolltide) February 22, 2022
The foundation serves to help teens with the skills and opportunities needed to help them navigate their high school years.
Monk is also a co-founder of Alliant Merchant Services, an electronic payment company.
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