State Your Case: Gary Clark
The deep threat on two Super Bowl champions of Joe Gibbs
(Published March 2021)
Art Monk is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. But as a selector, I always had a difficult time with his candidacy.
Washington won three Super Bowls during Monk’s career. In each of those seasons, Washington had a Pro Bowl wide receiver. But it wasn’t Monk in any of those three seasons. Can you be a Hall-of- Fame receiver if you were never the best receiver on your best teams?
In the 1982 championship season, when Washington won the first of its three Lombardi Trophies under Hall-of-Fame coach Joe Gibbs, Charlie Brown was voted to the Pro Bowl. Monk caught 35 passes for 447 yards and one touchdown that season. Brown caught 32 passes for 690 yards and eight touchdowns. Monk averaged 12.8 yards per catch, Brown 21.8 yards.
In the 1987 championship season, when Washington won Lombardi Trophy No. 2, Gary Clark was voted to the Pro Bowl. Monk caught 38 passes for 483 yards with six touchdowns that season. Clark caught 56 passes for 1,066 yards and seven scores. Monk, who missed three games with an injury, averaged 12.7 yards per catch, Clark 19.0 yards.
In the 1991 championship season, when Washington claimed that third Lombardi, Clark was again voted to the Pro Bowl. Monk caught 71 passes for 1,049 yards with eight TDs that season. Clark caught 70 passes for 1,340 yards and 10 scores. Monk averaged 14.8 yards per catch, Clark 19.1 yards.
I understand how we as a committee eventually elected Monk in his eighth year of eligibility. He was one of the great volume receivers in NFL history at the time of his induction in 2008. He set an NFL record with 106 catches in 1984 and retired 11 years later as the league’s all-time leading receiver with 940. Both records have since been broken. He was Washington’s go-to guy on third downs, a master of the short-yardage catch.
But my question at the time was why aren’t we discussing Clark? Monk hit the singles, but Clark delivered the home runs.
Monk went to three Pro Bowls in 16 seasons. Clark went to four Pro Bowls in 11 seasons. Monk was a two-time All-Pro, Clark a three-time selection. Monk caught 68 career touchdown passes. Clark caught 65. Monk had a pair of 72-yard receptions in his career. Clark had three 80-yarders. Both players were selected among the 70 Greatest Redskins.
So why – and how — has Clark disappeared from the Hall-of-Fame’s radar? His 20-year window of modern-era eligibility expired in 2020, and he’s now in the senior abyss, never having had his career discussed by the Hall-of-Fame selection committee. Clark was never even a semifinalist. Why not?
Let’s go back to the start. Monk was a first-round draft pick by Washington in 1980, the 18th overall selection. He was expected to have an impact … and he did. Monk set a franchise rookie record with 58 catches and went to his three Pro Bowls in succession from 1984-86. After the 1989 season, Monk was voted second-team NFL all-decade.
Clark arrived in the NFL in 1985 with no such expectations of greatness. Clark was a college teammate of Charles Haley at James Madison. When NFL scouts showed up on campus it was to see Haley, not Clark. Despite becoming the first player in school history to have his jersey retired, Clark went undrafted by the NFL in 1984. So he signed with the Jacksonville Bulls of the upstart USFL.
Clark led the Bulls as a rookie with 56 catches for 760 yards and two touchdowns, but injuries limited him to just 10 receptions in 1985. When the league folded following that season, Washington claimed Clark in the second round of a supplemental draft of players from the USFL and Canada.
Clark became a walk-in starter for Washington in 1985 and over the next eight seasons teamed with Monk and another USFL refugee, Ricky Sanders, to form “The Posse.” Despite competing in the best division in football, the NFC East, Washington reached the playoffs five times during that eight-year stretch and won those two Super Bowls. Clark caught a TD pass in both of his Super Bowls. Monk never scored in a Super Bowl.
Despite that later start to his NFL career, Clark became one of 49 players in NFL history with 10,000 career receiving yards – and one of just 13 players to amass the bulk of those yards in the pre-salary cap NFL. His 65 touchdown receptions matched the career total of Hall-of-Famers Michael Irvin, Charlie Joiner and Bobby Mitchell. Clark was a great player, an impact player.
Monk now has a bust in the Hall of Fame. Clark is certainly worthy of that same discussion.