The wait was long for Art Monk, but the former Jet was finally rewarded for his receiving exploits last weekend. Monk was one of the six new members elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame and will be inducted Aug. 2 in Canton, Ohio.
A native New Yorker, Monk played football and ran track at White Plains High School before attending Syracuse University. The Redskins selected him in the first round of the 1989 draft and he spent his first 14 NFL seasons in Washington. Then in 1994, he returned to New York and inked a free agent deal with the Green & White.
"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."
Monk admittedly wanted to finish his career where it began, but the Jets gave him the opportunity to continue playing.
"Change can be for the better or for the worse, but I don't like to take anything for granted. So I'm just going to prepare myself and not worry about trying to do well," he said. "I'll just do the best I can and let whatever happens happen."
The Jets were very much alive in the '94 playoff race in late November. They were 6-5 and hosted the 7-4 Dolphins in a much-anticipated battle at the Meadowlands. Monk turned in his most productive yardage game as a Jet that day, catching five balls for 108 yards, including a season-long 69-yarder from QB Boomer Esiason. But the home team couldn't hold on to a second-half lead and Dan Marino led the visitors to a 28-24 victory.
"I think it is important that we all keep a positive frame of mind and not panic," said Monk after that game. "We have to stay positive. We still have a chance of making the playoffs depending on what other teams do."
But the loss to the Dolphins sent the Jets into a tailspin and they would end the season with a five-game losing streak under first-year head coach Pete Carroll. Monk had decent numbers for a No. 2 receiver, averaging 12.6 yards on his 46 receptions while scoring three touchdowns. Rob Moore, a younger Syracuse product, led all Jets receivers that same campaign in receptions (78), yards (1,010) and TDs (6).
"I can't put into words what it means to play with a guy like Art," Moore said. "I keep asking his advice, like what kind of shoes he wears, what kind of cleats he puts on his shoes. He's generous in sharing all that stuff."
The highlight of Monk's short tenure with the Jets came during an 18-7 home loss to the Detroit Lions on Dec. 10. On the Jets' first pass play, Esiason hooked up with Monk for a short 5-yard gain. But the completion gave the 36-year-old receiver the then-NFL record for most consecutive games with a reception at 178, breaking Steve Largent's streak of 177.
"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."
"We're disappointed that Art had his day and we couldn't do anything to make it better," said Carroll.
In a classy move, Largent was one of those in attendance at the Meadowlands to watch his record get broken.
"I don't consider it my record," Monk said. "I'm just borrowing it for a time."
True enough. Monk's streak ended at 183 with Philadelphia in 1995, then was eclipsed by Jerry Rice, who holds the record at 274.
Monk was always understated. He never looked for the camera and talked about his credentials. He was named All-Pro in 1984 and '85, played in three Pro Bowls (1985-87), was voted to the 1980s All-Decade Team and helped the Redskins win three Super Bowls. He was the first player with more than 900 career receptions and finished with 12,721 career receiving yards and 68 TD catches.
"He screams leadership just by watching him," Carroll said back in '94. "He doesn't have to say a word."
"There's not one person in this league who doesn't respect him and hold him in high esteem," former Detroit RB Barry Sanders said.
Viewed perhaps unfairly as only a possession receiver, Monk averaged 13.5 yards per reception. He also gave back, supporting a number of community initiatives in both Washington and White Plains. Monk embodied consistency on and off the field and was finally rewarded in his eighth year of being a Hall of Fame finalist.
"I never really expected this to happen, even though there was the anticipation of it happening the past several years," Monk said this past weekend. "I just sort of let it get by me without trying to notice it, but I'm extremely excited about the induction. I'm also extremely humbled at the same time."
Monk is now 50. While his claim to fame was in D.C., he will always be a New Yorker who passed through the Jets on the way to Canton.
"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."