“Quiet about his work, very loud with his results.” - Mark Rypien, former quarterback, describing Art Monk, former Washington Redskins wide receiver.
James Arthur "Art" Monk, number 81, is one of the top arthletic heroes of my childhood. Known as "the Quiet Man" by his teamates for how he approached the game of football, Monk became one of the Redskins' clutch players over his 15 seasons with the team -- in my opinion, however, he was the best clutch player of them all. That's because most of his 940 receptions for 12,721 yards came over the middle -- the most dangerous place on the field for a wide receiver. Focused on the ball, the receiver can't see the linebackers coming at him, leaving him vulnerable to devastating tackles. Yet Monk delivered time and time again in this most dangerous of spots -- making big yardage gains, first downs, even touchdowns.
I think about Monk around this time of year, as that's when I start getting press releases about all the truck drivers heading to the National Truck Driving Championships. These men and women, like Monk, exemplify world-class professionalism and skills, yet (for the most part) don't brag about it. Monk wasn't a showboat (unlike most football players today) preferring instead to lead by example -- letting his play and his dedication to practice speak for themselves. Those same attributes shine brightly from these truck drivers as well.
"It's much, much more that punching a clock for them," Jim Staley, president and CEO of YRC Regional Transportation, which is sending 13 drivers to the championships this year, told me. "They have a strong commitment to safety, to professional conduct, and they have a lot of pride in what they do. They do so much to improve our image not just with the general motoring public but with our customers as well. When you put it all together, they make a strong statement about what it means to be a truck driver."
The comparison with Monk is also apprpriate for another reason: the emotions around the championship -- indeed all of the truck driving competitions -- make it feel just like a football game in many ways.
"There's a lot of excitement about this, especially at the local facilties where the competing drivers are based," said Staley. "It's huge morale boost not just for our drivers but for all of our employees at those locations. It's like the feeling you get when you are at a major sporting event -- and this is true from the local competitions right up through the state and finally national championships. There's a lot of fervor about it."
Not only do winning drivers get HUGE trophies (I've seen them -- they are MASSIVE) to mark their victories, they get to do it in front of their families as most carriers -- like YRC Regional -- coordinate travel not only for their competiting drivers but for their spouses and sometimes chldren as well. "We want everyone there, to see what this means to our drivers and to our company," said Staley. "It's really important for people to realize, too, that these competitions are serious and very challenging -- they are not just circling a racetrack. Real skills are involved here -- skills that make the highways safer when they are on the road."
And when you think about it, piloting 80,000-plus pound rigs at highway speeds every day is just like Monk making plays over the middle -- a very dangerous activity, though it doesn't look that way when you watch it on TV. That's why you need clutch players behind the wheel.