Art Monk had endured the 1990 season in silence long enough, as the Washington Redskins' preeminent pass receiver for nearly 11 years and how the team's unquestioned leader, he knew there was no getting around it, that there was only one thing left for him to do. As distasteful as the idea was to him—six consecutive words out Of his mouth is virtually a speech, by his standards—the time had finally come, for him to rise and say his mind. "I had never done anything like that before," says Monk. "Something inside me moved me to do it. I had to do it."
It was Saturday night, Dec. 1, in a large meeting room of a Marriott hotel in northern Virginia. Coach Joe Gibbs arid his staff had gathered the players together for their usual team meeting there on the night before a home game. The next day they were to play the Miami Dolphins at RFK Stadium. Of course anyone who had seen the Skins' most recent effort, on Thanksgiving Day—when struggling Dallas Cowboys had humiliated them in Texas for the better part of 60 minutes and finally whipped them 27-17—figured that the Skins were in for another long afternoon against Miami.
"We couldn't even run a sweep play against Dallas," recalls Washington tight end Ron Middleton. "It's one of the simplest plays we have, and we couldn't get the ball back to the line of scrimmage. They were stuffing us. So there was a sense of urgency...."
The team's 6-5 record had created an ominous feeling among the Redskins, most of whom were members of the 1987 Super Bowl champion team. They felt as if they were thrashing in a tar pit, disappearing as a playoff contender—and Monk knew it. He had approached Gibbs and gotten permission to hold a players-only meeting after Gibbs had finished with them that night. As the coach led his staff out the door, James Arthur Monk—on his way to the Hall of Fame and to catching more passes than any NFL receiver in history—rose to his feet. "I called this meeting," Monk said quietly.
The room grew eerily silent. Players stared at each other in disbelief, wondering what was going on. "Everyone looked around and said, 'Art Monk is going to talk?' " says Middleton. "That had never happened before."
Wideout Ricky Sanders, under his breath, muttered, "Not the Monkster!"
What Monk said on that December evening, in no more than two minutes on the floor, was as simple as it was eloquent. Speaking softly, in what offensive lineman Joe Jacoby called "a little bit of a butt-chewing, in Art's way," he gently but decisively rattled the cage. "I am rededicating myself to this season and this team," Monk said. "It's time for everybody to raise it up a notch. We can play a lot better than we've been playing, me included.... We have to rededicate ourselves. I am.... We have to do whatever it takes. And we have to do it now. We can't wait till next week. It will be too late. If we are going to get to the playoffs, it has to happen right now."
Nearly two years have passed since that night at the Marriott, and even now the Redskins sec it as the moment on which their future turned. "That night Art decided to become a general," says Bobby Mitchell, the Redskins' assistant general manager and a Hall of Fame wide receiver. "That was the greatest thing that ever happened to us. Man, we took off!"
The Redskins beat the Dolphins 42-20 the next day—"We owned 'em, both sides of the ball," recalls Middleton—and lost only one more regular-season game on the way to the playoffs, where they defeated the Philadelphia Eagles before the San Francisco 49ers finally ended it for them. Last year, of course, the Redskins went undefeated through the first 11 regular-season games and wound up losing only twice, by a total of five points. With their run through the playoffs, including a victory over the Buffalo Bills in the Super Bowl, they finished 17-2.
In all, the Skins have won 22 and lost only four since Monk addressed his teammates. And not incidentally, players-only meetings have been a part of the team's routine on the eve of games. Of course, having spoken his mind once, Monk has said not a word at any of the sessions since the one he called, despite the teasing entreaties of players that he do an encore. "Don't need to," he tells them.