CANTON, Ohio – For the second year in a row, the Pro Football Hall of Fame saved the best for last.
Art Monk, whose election to the Hall of Fame was delayed by years of debate over his greatness, finished the festivities Saturday night with an eloquent, dignified speech before a Washington-heavy crowd that turned the event into a burgundy-and-gold festival. Some of the fan base's joy came at the expense of the rival Cowboys and former Dallas receiver Michael Irvin, who last year gave a stirring final speech about the highs and lows he had dealt with in his life.
In contrast to Irvin's mea culpa performance in 2007, Monk's speech was more subdued and came after being denied enough votes for induction the previous seven years. Monk, who was joined by his former Washington teammate and cornerback Darrell Green, among the six men inducted Saturday, showed not even the least amount of bitterness.
Rather, he played off his trademark quiet approach to open the speech. As the many Redskins fans among the crowd of more than 16,000 at Fawcett Stadium stood for more than four minutes, Monk silently soaked in the praise before saying "thank you" five times amid long pauses.
As fans clapped and eventually chanted "We love Monk," the former wide receiver backed away from the lectern several times to gather himself before giving his speech while rarely glancing at his notes. His speech was a study in dignity and precision.
"Getting here didn't come without a lot of controversy," said Monk, who finished his career as the leading receiver in NFL history and as a member of all three of Washington's title teams under Joe Gibbs. "But I was OK with that."
Monk, who spoke after Green, defensive end Fred Dean, cornerback Emmitt Thomas, offensive lineman Gary Zimmerman and linebacker Andre Tippett addressed the crowd and talked about the privilege of joining the fraternity that makes up the Hall. He also talked about the enshrinees luncheon he attended Friday, where he sat as other Hall of Famers talked about their experiences.
"At that moment, I realized I was in a room with the greatest athletes to ever play this game," Monk said. "For me, it was a privilege, something which I watched in awe."
Monk described the events of the past several days as "much different than I imagined" and the realization that he was in the Hall of Fame was "overwhelming."
All the while, Monk maintained the same reserved tone that defined his career. Without fail, former teammates say that Monk was a player who rarely spoke and came to be known as the "Quiet One."
"Art was all about doing his job, doing it well and doing it without ever saying a word," former Washington quarterback Doug Williams said. "He wasn't some prima donna receiver that everybody sees with other guys. He wasn't no diva. He was all about being dependable."
Monk's son James, who presented him, made a point of conveying those sentiments during his speech.
"Although he is a great speaker, he would rather show you than tell you."
In almost complete contrast, Green was an emotional mess from nearly the moment he started his sometimes rambling 24-minute speech. Tears streamed from Green's face as he mocked himself.
"(Fellow Hall of Famer) Deacon Jones said I would cry," Green said as he opened his speech. "You bet your life I'm going to cry."
Later, as he struggled to continue his speech, Green said with light sarcasm, "Am I going to cry? You gotta be kidding me."
Green then recounted his journey to the NFL from a "5-foot-nothing and a hundred-and-no-pounds" college freshman. Along the journey, Green's two closest friends died, including one of them in a car accident. Green, one of 61 men to be elected in his first year of eligibility, recounted that he nearly went with his friend to get a ride home from college.
Green even quit the team at Texas A&I when he found himself homesick, eventually returning after a year-and-half away to resume a career that eventually would end after 20 years in the NFL, a record for cornerbacks. The long journey, with a few bumps away, might have been responsible for Green dancing the line between humility and arrogance during his speech.
"Can I tell you today at the expense of sounding real self-righteous, I belong here," Green said, repeating the three-word phrase three more times. "I belong here because I know what to do with it. I know what to do with God's fame, with God's dollars, with God's visibility, God's influence and relationships. I know what to do with it."
Likewise, Monk knew what to do with his moment. He just handled it more quietly.
- Pro Football Hall of Fame
- Michael Irvin