But they know he's there, as he has been for them since the day he arrived out of Syracuse in 1980, a taciturn young man standing 6'3", with a long, fluid stride, a pair of sure hands and a talent for making fearless catches in perilous traffic over the middle. Monk was a first-round draft pick, 18th overall, and for the next 12 seasons—sustained by a furious off-season work ethic that he learned from veteran running back Terry Metcalf in his second year as a pro—he gradually emerged, in this golden age of receivers, as one of the toughest, most durable and consistent of all. His 106 catches in 1984 is still the NFL record for a single season, and by the time he reaches the age of 35, on Dec. 5, he very likely will have caught more passes in his career than any player in pro football history. Monk begins the season with 801 receptions, only 18 behind the retired Steve Largent's record of 819, and he is as certain of a place in Canton as Joe Montana or Largent himself.
For all the years he has played and the hits he has taken, Monk has not shown signs of yielding to the simple mandates of passing time. "I look at him in his good games last year, and I'm amazed," says San Diego Charger general manager Bobby Beathard, the former Washington G.M. who drafted Monk. "It looks like the same Art Monk. It's the way he takes care of himself. He continues to push himself."
Indeed, if there is a driving force within him, a demon that has pushed him to excel, it is the self-doubt that has pursued him through most of his playing life.
Art Monk, for all that he has done, is a hero in a city that hardly knows him. Private and introspective by nature, religious and family-oriented by choice, Monk has forever preferred the shadows thrown by home fires to fame's swimming lights. He rarely gives interviews, and he has never been one to schmooze with reporters after games. He is the one slipping quietly out the locker-room door, climbing into the Ford Bronco and heading for the suburban Virginia home, with the two-acre fishing pond out back, to be with his wife, Desiree, and their three kids—James Arthur Jr., 9, Danielle, 8, and Monica, 5. "I do two important things in my life," says Monk. "I play football, and I spend time with my family. Most everything else is a distraction."
Modesty clearly suits the needs of the man. Not only has he helped lead the Redskins to four Super Bowls (three of which they won) in the years he has been in Washington, but more than anyone except Joe Gibbs himself, he has represented football excellence in a town that follows the team and the game with an almost fanatical zeal. Monk is the most regal figure on the team, and he could make whatever he might choose to make of his celebrity. "If most of us had Art Monk's ability and looks, we'd turn out to be jerks," says Beathard. "He has really handled it well. He could be an anchor on the news. He could do anything he wants. This guy could own Washington."
But that, of course, is not to be. "I don't want to own Washington," he says. "I just want to be Art Monk."
He has been that, with remarkable consistency and few deviations in life and style, since he came of age in the 1960s in White Plains, N.Y., 27 miles north of Manhattan. Monk was born and raised in a racially integrated area called Battle Hill, the second of two children born to Arthur Monk, a welder by trade, and his wife, Lela, a domestic who worked in the tonier New York City suburb of Scarsdale. The family lived in an apartment above the Shiloh Gospel Chapel, where they all attended Sunday services. They were a close-knit, soft-spoken family, and the virtues of perseverance, patience and hard work were exalted daily.
Something of the patience rubbed off early on young Art. His older sister, Barbara, recalls the Christmas that she gave her brother, then five, a toy fishing rod. Lela always kept goldfish in a bowl in the apartment, and one afternoon Barbara came home to find the boy fishing for them with his toy pole. "There he was," she says, "standing in the middle of the living room, holding the rod with the plastic hook in the bowl. Anything he would put his mind to, he would go at it."
What he also learned early, of course, were the ways and rewards of 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,' " says Monk. "This wasn't just talk. They actually lived it. I saw that in them. My mother was always out working. For a period of time I never even saw my father. By the time I'd get up, he was already gone. That was their way of life."
Raised with affection, the boy had a blissful childhood filled with hours playing summer games in the sandlots and streets: basketball, tackle football, stickball and street hockey by day, and hide-and-seek by night. "I really enjoyed my childhood," he says. "We didn't have a lot of money, but enough to be happy with—to be clothed and with a roof over our heads. I can never remember want or a struggle. I mean, we never had a color TV but we had a car, and there was always food on the table."