PHOENIX – Bill Belichick essentially asked the question five times in the span of 10 minutes: What is the measure of a Hall of Famer?
What are the criteria?
What's the definition?
By most measures he would consider, Washington Redskins receiver Art Monk should be one.
"What (Monk) did, he was really, really good at," said the New England Patriots coach, who measures his praise as closely as a cartographer. More telling is that Belichick, a man who has great appreciation for the history of the game, took so much time to talk about Monk several weeks ago as his team was getting ready for the first round of the playoffs against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
"He has the numbers, the stats and he won … That was a very good offense he played on, an offense that transcended a lot of changes at quarterback. Yes, he had his role and he played it very well. So you have to ask, 'What's the criteria?' " Belichick said.
Of course, that's one of the most difficult questions the 44 voters for the Pro Football Hall of Fame face. The group will gather Saturday morning to go over the 17 candidates for this year. The list eventually will be whittled to between four and seven elected for induction in August. The meeting lasts hours (not including the inevitable discussion beforehand) and often is heated.
But the debates have become pretty formulaic. Should there be more pass rushers inducted? Are defensive players in general overlooked, particularly with the recent explosion in offensive numbers since the 1980s?
Then there's the ever-popular, inexact talking point: Was this player truly great?
Where Monk, a finalist for eight years, falls this year in the discussion should be very interesting. Last year, former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin made the Hall of Fame despite the fact that some voters said they wouldn't vote for him until Monk was elected.
Now, Monk has fellow wide receiver Cris Carter, who caught 1,101 passes in his career and scored 130 touchdowns (Monk had 68) also eligible. Carter also remains front and center in the football world because of he's an analyst with HBO and Yahoo! Sports. Beyond Carter, there are Washington teammates Darrell Green, a superlative cornerback, and Russ Grimm, an anchor of the team's famous offensive line.
The other candidates this year are: Former NFL commissioner Paul Tagliabue, wide receiver Andre Reed, guards Bob Kuechenberg and Randall McDaniel, offensive tackle Gary Zimmerman, punter Ray Guy, linebackers Derrick Thomas, Andre Tippett and Randy Gradishar, defensive ends Fred Dean and Richard Dent, running back Marshall Goldberg and cornerback Emmitt Thomas.
What Monk decidedly lacks is sex appeal as a player. There are no dramatic Super Bowl performances, such as those turned in by current Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth. There isn't the blazing speed of James Lofton or the overwhelming stats (at least for their eras) of Steve Largent and Charlie Joiner. Monk was a Pro Bowler only three times in his 16-year career.
By any other measure, Monk is pretty much the equal of all of them. He finished his career as the leading receiver of all time with 940 catches, although he was quickly passed by Jerry Rice. He was the first receiver to ever catch 100 passes in a season, laying the groundwork for so many other receivers to do the same.
In the playoffs, Monk's numbers are almost identical to Largent, Joiner, Swann, Stallworth and Lofton. In fact, he averaged more catches per game in the playoffs than all of them and more yards per game than all but one. Finally, he has more Super Bowl rings than Lofton, Largent and Joiner combined, and as many Super Bowl appearances as both Swann and Stallworth (Monk was with the Redskins for Super Bowl XVII but missed the game because of injury).
And isn't that really the point of why the game is played?
"I don't really understand the process, but I played against the man twice a year for a long time and he was big and tough and strong," said Baltimore Ravens secondary coach Dennis Thurman, who faced Monk for seven years in the NFL. "You had to account for Art Monk. He has the numbers, he has the championships. He was consistent for a long time. To me, that's a Hall of Famer."
Said Jacksonville assistant head coach Mike Tice, who coached Carter and played against Monk: "Cris Carter is a great friend of mine. He deserves to be in the Hall of Fame and he's going to get there someday. But Art Monk has been passed over for too long."
Monk was also a prototype teammate, a guy who quietly did his job, demanding little or no fanfare. He led by deed rather than word.
"When I got there, Art had already been in the league for five or six years," said former Redskins running back Earnest Byner, now a coach with the team. "But here he was in meetings, taking notes like he was still a first-year guy. He was just a great leader."
Said quarterback Doug Williams: "I think I saw Art say something maybe twice in a game and that was when he got mad at the other team. He never complained on the sideline or called for the ball in the huddle. Never came back and said, 'Man, I was open.' He just did his job and he did it great."
Williams makes another great point in relation to Monk. His accomplishments were achieved with a steady rotation of quarterbacks (Williams, Joe Theismann, Mark Rypien and Jay Schroeder were the primary passers during Monk's career).
"Jerry Rice was great, but he had either Joe Montana or Steve Young almost all his career. He was always working with the same guys. Art was the same productive player no matter what," Williams said.
That degree of difficulty hasn't always meant much to some of the voters. Long-time Sports Illustrated writer Paul Zimmerman has said of Monk's career on many an occasion that "catching 800 eight-yard hooks just doesn't do it for me." Zimmerman's opinion was that only classic deep-threat receivers deserved Hall consideration.
Then again, Zimmerman admitted last summer that his view may be changing. Proof of that came earlier this month when Zimmerman named his 2007 All-Pro team. The three receivers he named were Randy Moss, Reggie Wayne and Wes Welker. While Moss and Wayne are class big-play receivers, Welker is the definition of a possession receiver, as he caught 112 passes for 1,175 yards – a scant 10.5 yards per catch.
Of course, what Welker did was plenty good enough for Belichick and the Patriots.
Just like it was for Monk and the Redskins.