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A Monk's Existence
William Nack
September 07, 1992
Even as he closes in on the alltime reception record, the Redskins' Art Monk remains a distant, mysterious figure
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September 07, 1992

A Monk's Existence

Even as he closes in on the alltime reception record, the Redskins' Art Monk remains a distant, mysterious figure

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Of course, Monk plays the game in the only style that suits him, with focus and surpassing self-control. In contrast to Clark, who is given to outbursts, Monk is mute in the face of corner-backs who try to bait him verbally. Over the years Monk has taken Clark aside to give him what Clark calls "Art's usual calm-down speech: Don't show so much emotion on the field. You need to tone it down a little bit. Let your actions speak for you."

If Monk is a largely silent, austere presence on that ball club, he is given to occasional moments of levity. "The man's 34 years old, and he's still shooting spitballs across the room during meetings," says Clark. "He plays practical jokes now and then. Once we were in the middle of practice, and Art hid [running back] Gerald Riggs's helmet in the weeds."

The momentary playfulness aside, Monk has always conveyed an aura of strength in calm. But there was a time, five years ago, when the quiet exterior belied the turmoil within. In 1987 it appeared he had everything a man could want: He was young, handsome and rich. He had a family he loved and a future without limits in a town that revered him. He had a Super Bowl ring, though winning it was not what he had expected it to be. "You're happy you won, but the feeling just isn't what you'd imagine it to be," he says. "It's not as good.

"I just wasn't happy with the way my life was going," he says. "I had an empty feeling inside, like something was missing. I was always reaching for something to make me happy or feel good—cars and money and houses: But whatever it was out there, it wasn't doing it. I really struggled for a while."

As a child he had gone to church and Sunday school, but not willingly. "I had a lot of friends, and I was having a good time," he says. "I didn't feel the need." Until he came to this troubled point in his life. Then he became aware of the serenity that enveloped some teammates who held regular Bible studies together. "I just watched the life they were living and the joy they felt," he says, and he asked if he could join them—and he was born again. "All those things I'd learned in those early years came flooding back," he says. "I said, 'My parents were right. This is what I need.' It made a big difference in my life."

Sixteen years have passed since he left White Plains, and today he is perceived in that town as a kind of folk hero. "Back then, when I was in high school, you'd never have thought Artie would do what he did," says Sam Bowers, a security guard on the 8-to-4 shift at White Plains Hospital Center. "They would have thought I would, first." Alas, poor grades did Bowers in. "I had over 250 letters from schools trying to recruit me," he says. "But the first thing they'd want to see was my GPA. Once they saw that, they'd kind of back off. It hurt."

It still does. Bowers grabbed at a football career here and there—at three small colleges, through five tryouts with NFL teams and finally three years as a tight end with the New Jersey Generals in the USFL. "I haven't played in years," he says. "I screw around in softball now. I feel proud of Artie. He's keeping our school up there, in the limelight."

On the campus of Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., it is Monday, July 20, the first day of Redskin training camp. Monk is sitting in a foyer of one of the players' dorms, stiff-arming a mention of his heading for the Hall of Fame—"What determines a Hall of Famer?" he asks—and stutter-stepping around a question about his inevitably breaking the Largent record. "I don't take anything for granted," he says. "If I need one catch to be the alltime anything, I still need one catch. I don't like to assume anything or start feeling good about myself."

It is growing late, and Monk is getting edgy, looking at his watch. Afternoon practice is about to begin, and there are the new guys out there who want his job and, he knows, come September, the old cornerbacks and linebackers who want his head. The fear is back. And the doubts are gnawing at him again, all but one—the one about who he is.

"Coming out of college," says James Arthur Monk, "one thing I always said was that I would never want circumstances to change who I am, regardless of how good things might get, regardless of how bad things might get. I always want to stay who I am as a person. I think I've done a pretty good job at that."

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