Neben Monk werden heute Abend in Ohio noch 49ers-Defensive End Fred Dean, Redskins Cornerback Darrell Green, undrafted free agent Emmit Thomas, Patriots Linebacker Andre Tippett und O-Liner Gary Zimmerman in die Hall of Fame aufgenommen. Die Feier wird Live im Netz ab 6 pm ET (00:00 MEZ) auf übertragen.

Interview mit Art Monk

Why do you think it took so long to happen?
Art Monk: I’ve heard all kinds of reasons why it took so long, that I was quiet, wasn’t a very outspoken about person, I didn’t speak to the media, wasn’t good enough. A lot of different reasons. Whether they’re valid or not, again, it was what it was. So there’s really not much I can do about it.

When you were growing up in New York, did you play youth football? What kind of lessons did you learn, if you did?
AM: Yes, I did play Pop Warner football. I played for one year. I was 11 years old. I was convinced to go out with my friends. It was the worst experience I ever had in my life (laughter), but in a good way. As much as I loved the game and wanted to play it, because we always played it in the streets, now I was playing organized football.

It wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. I mean, it was a lot of hard work, you know, practice, other guys that were just more talented than you. It just kind of woke me up and said, hey, wow, if I’m really going to have to play this game, I’m going to have to change my thinking about it.

It was a bad experience, but it was the greatest experience I ever could have had. It kind of changed my whole paradigm and thinking about what I needed to do to be successful at it.

Is it a special meaning to have waited so long for this?
AM: You know, what I really think about it, I think I’m sort of glad it took longer. I can appreciate it more. You know, these past seven, eight years, there’s been so much, it just set people in an uproar in this community, you know, Why not? What’s the problem? How come you’re not in? Really, when I think back, just sit down and think about it, I’m glad it didn’t happen right away, otherwise I would never have gone through all of these years just kind of really getting more of an appreciation for it.

Was there anyone from your childhood in White Plains that had a particular impact on your football career, long-lasting impact?
AM: A friend or coach?

Specifically related to football.
AM: Yeah, probably Brett Winterstein, he was the head coach of White Plains High School. You know, because I was always one of the biggest kids on the team, you know, I was always delegated to playing offensive, defensive line, which didn’t matter too much for me because I just loved playing the game.

But I really wanted to be a tight end because I loved catching the ball. I thought I was pretty good at it. No one ever gave me a chance to do it. But he did. He put me at tight end and then from tight end to running back. That really kind of gave me the exposure really I needed for college recruits to kind of see who I was.

That happened right away in your high school? When did that switch happen?
AM: My junior year. 11th grade.

You had played varsity? You had been an offensive lineman on the varsity before that?
AM: I was on the JV team. I was an offensive/defensive lineman. At the end of the year, the JV always played I think two less games than the varsity team, at least back then. At the end of the year, the varsity could call up players that they felt had a good chance of really playing on the varsity level and playing right away. I was one of like three guys that were called up. I was used — I didn’t really play much, but I was kind of exposed to being the position of tight end and a defensive end.

Then the next year, that’s when I played. In my senior year, I was moved — I did really well. In my senior year, I was moved to running back and then I stayed at defensive end. That’s kid of what gave me the exposure for college recruits to say, Hey, this kind has talent.

Your most noted NFL accomplishment was career receptions. What was your reaction when Jerry Rice broke that?
AM: I was excited for him, having been in his shoes at that point previously, I knew the excitement of it, being able to accomplish something like that. So I was really excited for him.

You know, the fact that he broke my record was no big deal. I had no problem with that. I mean, records are made to be broken. You know, I took it from somebody else. So it’s inevitable that someone was going to take it from me, and then someone will eventually take it from him.

So I was excited for him, happy for him. You know, I enjoyed it while I had it.

You’re well-known as a very good blocker. Was there a special sense of pride for you in being a complete player?
AM: Yes. I mean, most receivers are just, you know, they’re great at that time running routes, catching the ball, being well-known for that. But when it comes more to the physical end of things, blocking, really getting involved in a lot of traffic, then most kind of shy away from that or don’t do as good of a job. I don’t know if I necessarily took pride in it, but I just felt good about being able to not just be a good receiver down field, but also being a good blocker, being a good guy, being able to operate in traffic as well.

Can you tell me how the Route to Canton is going, how that came about?
AM: Well, it came about obviously with both of us being inducted into the Hall of Fame. We also both have foundations that work with youth within the City of Washington DC metropolitan area. Where most athletes kind of take advantage of the Hall of Fame to benefit themselves, we decided to use this opportunity to benefit our organization — raising money for our organizations that serve our youth.

So in just brainstorming the idea of his number and my number, jersey numbers being combined together, we had 281, then we just kind of put Route 281 to the Hall of Fame as a means of a marketing scheme to help raise money for our causes. That entailed us going around to various cities locally and remotely to speak, to do autographs, signings, different activities, punt, pass and kick contests, to really engage those communities to come together. You buy tickets and we would sell paraphernalia, hats, T-shirts, and all of that money would go to our foundations. So far it’s working out practically well.

You’re just hours away now. What are your emotions right now? What are you feeling?
AM: It’s almost like before I got married, I was fine until a couple days before the actual wedding. Not that I was getting cold feet, but I just woke up one day and I was terrified, not in the sense of being scared, but just the reality of what was about to happen.

You know, past five months or six months, however long it’s been, I’ve been fine. Talk about it and everything. But now that we’re just a few days away, I’m not scared. But it’s just kind of a reality of, okay, this thing is real — this is for real, you know, it’s really happening.

So there are butterflies, being nervous, that sort of thing. But I think once I get there, hopefully I’ll calm down a little bit and that will go away.

You probably have been able to especially share this experience with Darrell Green. Compare what the two of you are going through?
AM: Well, I mean, the past several months, there’s just been a lot of activity, a lot of hoopla, a lot of excitement. We’ve been so involved in this tour, doing things, trying to get ready for this day that, you know, I really haven’t had a chance to kind of digest it all. You really kind of sit back and think about what’s really about to happen.

But it’s great. I mean, what makes this even more significant than just being in the Hall of Fame is that we’re going in together. He wasn’t just a teammate of mine, he’s a great friend. Our families are like real family. His kids call me uncle. My kids called him uncle. We do those things together. This makes it just that much more of a special event for us.

What have you done in terms of businesses, things like that?
AM: A lot of little things, odds and ends. When I immediately retired, I started an advertising agency with a couple of business people in the community. That lasted about four years. I decided to get out of it because it just wasn’t what I really, really wanted to do. And then since then, for the past eight years, Charles Mann and I, we started our own company in merchant services, which is a credit card processing business. We started it eight years ago. We liked it and have been doing it ever since. Very successful at it.

So those are kind of the two major things I’ve done since retiring. I’ve gone into some real estate development, those kinds of things that have been slow. But I’ve done well.

You were always a guy of few words. You’re always very well-spoken. How is your speech going? Have you found that easy to write, difficult to write?
AM: Not easy. But not difficult either. I mean, basically you’re just writing about your experience, maybe what you think about the Hall of Fame, about receiving this honor, identifying people who have helped you along the way.

You know, maybe making a statement about how you feel, what you stand for, those kinds of things. So just a matter of kind of pulling all those thoughts together and putting them in a form that kind of makes sense to everybody.

You’re known as a tireless worker. Does that go back to your Pop Warner days when you realized what it was going to take to be successful?
AM: It was probably part of it. But I got most of that from my parents. I mean, that’s all they did, they worked. They worked because they had to. They worked because they wanted to. So I saw that in them, how they really worked for the family, for the needs of the family. And then the more I progressed in football, especially when I got to the professional level, I had a teammate who actually lived across the street from me, Terry Metcalf. He came down from playing in Canada, was getting ready to sign with the Redskins. He was a workaholic. Every time he trained, he just walked across the street, pulled me out of the house, made me train with him. That sort of what got rooted in me of something that I really, really had to do to be successful. In a past life, I saw my parents. I realized early on in the Pop Warner league that hard work was important. But for a young man who doesn’t know how to push himself, not really disciplined to really do that, I never really followed through with it until I got to the NFL.

Can you clarify, the Pop Warner experience that you spoke about earlier, where did that take place? Where were you living at that point?
AM: White Plains, New York. The name of the — it was called the White Plains Patriots. They had a pee wee league and a midget league. I was too heavy to play for the pee wee league, so I had to play on the midget team, which guys were a little older than I was. So I took a pounding when I played (laughter). It was a wake-up call at that point.

How much did playing with Joe Gibbs mean to you personally and to your career?
AM: It meant a lot. As an athlete, first of all, when he came in from San Diego, he was very innovative. He was young, excited about his opportunity to be a head coach. He had a wide open offensive game plan which obviously we were just chomping at the bit because now we could really open up our offense and throw the ball. It didn’t really happen that way because we didn’t win that way. But eventually we sort of came back around to that, threw the ball just as much as we ran the ball.

So on the field, I think it was very important for him, for us as a team to have him because he kind of changed the way we did things offensively and defensively. But as a man, he was a great example. You know, in my life I’ve had coaches who are just concerned about winning, cursing, not being the example, example for children. He was a good person all along the way. Of course, he got upset about things. But his whole approach about discipline, all of that, was much different.

There are times in my career where I just lost confidence, didn’t have confidence in myself. Sometimes that reflected in my performance. Gibbs, I can even remember one point we were going into a meeting, he pulled me aside and said, hey, I know you’re going through some hard times right now but I still believe in you, I’m going to play you, I’m still going to count on you. It just meant a lot for me to hear that from him that he understood, whatever the reasons were, that I was feeling this way about myself. He understood, but he was still going to stand by me anyway.

It was important for me to have him as my coach during those years.

You always played well, always had that streak of consecutive games with receptions. Why did your confidence suffer?
AM: Well, you know, there’s one thing about this game is that someone looking in from the outside, all they see is just bodies running up and down the field, running, catching, blocking. They never see what’s really going on on a team or within an individual. So the perception is everything is fine. He’s doing well. He’s catching the ball. But really in 1987, most specifically, I had a hard time holding on to the ball. I don’t know if people really remember that. But I really struggled. I don’t know why. I don’t know how many balls I ended up catching that year, but I probably dropped about 30 of them. I mean, I just couldn’t catch.

The infamous Rams game?
AM: Yeah. One of the games was a Rams game. Last couple seconds of the game, Doug Williams threw two perfect balls to me right in the end zone. I dropped both of them. It was hard to shake that. I have no idea why I went through a season like that. But thank God I kind of recovered the next year and the following years. But that was a tough year for me.

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