The first thing you'll notice about my 1984 All-Pro team is that it has too many people on it—12 on offense, 12 on defense, or two more than the rules allow. Before you start hollering "Cop out!" let me give you my reasoning.
I've got an extra defensive player because I've selected both a noseguard used in 3-4 alignments and a tackle from the old 4-3, while also picking one 3-4 inside linebacker and one 4-3 pure middle linebacker. Noseguard and tackle, and inside linebacker and middle linebacker are different positions, really different jobs. So I lined my unit up in a 4-4. Try running against that. The extra man on offense is James Wilder, Tampa Bay's versatile tailback. Walter Payton and Eric Dickerson are the chalk selections at running back. You can't get away from them. But no one's going to tell me Wilder doesn't belong on All-Pro. I've seen him bust his hump in too many lost causes, and isn't that what All-Pro is all about?
The wide receivers were also difficult choices this year. Rather, one spot was difficult. The Steelers' John Stallworth was in a class by himself. Injury-free at last, he had the finest season in his 11-year career—and that's without a Terry Bradshaw to get the ball to him. The other spot came down to a three-player shoot-out among St. Louis's Roy Green, Washington's Art Monk and Miami's Mark Clayton. I gave Green the nod over Clayton because Green didn't have another deep threat, as Clayton did in teammate Mark Duper, to take the pressure off. Monk was indispensable to the Skins' offense, but his single-season reception record (106) was built on a lot of eight-yard hitches, while Green was more of a threat downfield.
If I had more guts, I'd go with Hoby Brenner of New Orleans as my tight end. Not long ago, linebacker Matt Millen of the Raiders said, "None of those tight ends can block," but he hadn't seen this guy. Believe me, Brenner blocks, but in the Saints' run-oriented offense he simply didn't have enough catches (28). Which brings us down to the agonizing choice of the Raiders' Todd Christensen, who usually lines up close in, over the Browns' Ozzie Newsome, who's generally flexed. Newsome had more catches (89 vs. 80), Christensen had more TDs (7 vs. 5) plus a higher yards-per-catch average (12.6 vs. 11.2). I gave him the tiniest of edges.
I don't like to leave the Redskin tackle Joe Jacoby off my team. He's a booming drive blocker, but his pass blocking slipped a bit this year. My choices: the 49ers' Keith Fahnhorst, the ultimate pro, who put together another magnificent season, and the Bears' Jimbo Covert, a wild, raw talent and a big reason why Walter Payton had the year he did.
No problem with Washington's Russ Grimm at one guard. Big trouble making a selection at the other. The Patriots' John Hannah suffered neck and back miseries and didn't have a typical year. So I looked hard at other guys, and I found Kent Hill and Dennis Harrah of the Rams, John Ayers of the 49ers, Mike Munchak of the Oilers and Ron Hallstrom of the Packers. Then I looked carefully, and I couldn't say any of them were as effective as even a subpar Hannah.
The Dolphins' Dwight Stephenson has the center position to himself and should have it for a number of years. He's such a handful that the Raiders designed a special game plan to try to nullify him—closing down hard with a defensive end, socking it to Stephenson on a severe angle charge. It was a tribute to him as the best.
I've heard cases made for San Francisco's Joe Montana as the NFL's premier quarterback, but no one has ever had the kind of year Miami's Dan Marino has. If Joe Namath were playing today, under the modern, more liberal passing rules, he'd look exactly like Marino, a hungry, greedy, nasty type of quarterback who's always trying to beat you downfield. The high-percentage dink passers look like so many paper dolls after you've seen Marino in action.
You don't qualify as a running back these days unless you go in the record books—the Bears' Payton, most yards ever (13,309); the Rams' Dickerson, most yards in one year (2,105). So where does that leave the Bucs' Wilder? Well, he caught 85 passes for 685 yards, folks, and when you add that to his rushing total of 1,544, you get a higher number of yards gained than anyone else but Dickerson.
O.K., I didn't pick the Jets' Mark Gastineau at defensive end, and here's why. He started off as the best defensive lineman in pro football, piling up sacks in bunches, trying as best he could against the run. But when fed a steady diet of double-and triple-teaming, his run-stopping skills gradually deteriorated, and after a while he didn't even bother to play the run. The Bucs' Lee Roy Selmon is the best. The Raiders' Howie Long didn't have the year he did in 1983, but I gave him a slight nod over the Seahawks' Jacob Green and the Chiefs' Art Still.
At midseason I rated the top 4-3 defensive tackles this way—No. 1, Dan Hampton, Bears; No. 2, Dave Galloway, Cards; No. 3 Randy White, Cowboys. White went past the other two with a rush after midterm exams. Did you see the highlights of the Dallas-Buffalo game? When the Bills' Greg Bell broke that 85-yarder on the first play, White was gaining on him at the end—and he'd breezed by teammate Ron Fellows, a cornerback. He occasionally might get blocked at the point of attack, but no one hustles more.
My 3-4 noseguard is the Giants' Jim Burt. Not since Quasimodo has anyone played in greater pain. He was one-legged, with a badly sprained right arch, against the Cards. The Giants didn't even want to take him to St. Louis. He said he'd pay his own way. So they took him—and he got seven unassisted tackles and two sacks. He's the best.
The Giants' Lawrence Taylor is the premier outside linebacker, but he eased a bit after midseason. Clay Matthews, the leader of Cleveland's amazing defensive unit, is his running mate. Matthews has been underrated for years. There are so many outstanding players at this position that it's tough to sort them out: New Orleans' Rickey Jackson, San Francisco's Keena Turner, the Raiders' Rod Martin, Green Bay's Mike Douglass and others.
Jim Collins of the Rams is my choice at the 3-4 inside backer position, based on overall activity and nose for the ball. Steve Nelson of the Patriots had a great year. So did Barry Krauss of the Colts. That's right, Barry Krauss, who has finally come into his own after six years in the league. The Bears' Mike Singletary is the premier 4-3 middle linebacker, with the Cards' E.J. Junior runner-up.
Mike Haynes of the Raiders is the consummate cornerback. The Shadow. It's hard to separate him from the receiver he's covering. The Broncos' Louie Wright, emerging from a few years in the doldrums, had a vintage year, and he gets the other spot.
After a few years of being described as promising, Seattle's Kenny Easley finally put it all together, and he's my strong safety, a vicious, flamboyant ball hawk. Free safety's a tough position to fill. You don't know what the system calls for. Does it require an obstructionist, like the Raiders' Vann McElroy; a general hell-raiser, such as K.C.'s Deron Cherry; or a combination cover guy/blitzer, like Dallas's Michael Downs? I chose Downs, based on his contributions in multitudinous areas.
The Pro Bowl will honor the top two percentage kickers, Jan Stenerud of the Vikes and Norm Johnson of the Seahawks, but I can only pick one, so I go with old Jan. Has a nice ring to it, doesn't it? Old Jan. He's 42, you know. I give it to him on the skinny margin of the 53-yarder he kicked to beat the Bucs in the last two seconds on Nov. 4.
Miami's Reggie Roby, with the third best overall average but the best net (after 15 games), is my punter. There's one stat in which he's all by himself—lowest percentage of punts returned (32.6). No one else is even close. The returners should feel lucky to even fair catch those moon shots of his.
My Player of the Year is Marino. The way I pick my player is to remove each of the leading guys from his team's lineup and try to figure out where the team would be without him. The Dolphins, with their defense, would be about 9-7 on that basis. Marino has completed more than 50% of his passes in every game but one (48.3% against the Colts), and he has thrown for fewer than 200 yards (192 against the Jets) only once.
San Francisco's Bill Walsh won more regular-season games (15) than any coach in league history, and making him our Coach of the Year would be a fitting send-off after what may be his last season. But I must search my heart for who really did the most remarkable job, and I find it's Denver's Dan Reeves. The Broncs were 13-3 with basically the same people who went 9-7 a season ago. Give Reeves credit for a terrific organizing job.
Payton flew past Jim Brown's career rushing mark and now has run for 13,309 yards.
PETER READ MILLER
Dickerson ran off with Simpson's record when he rushed for 2,105 yards this season.
Marino got few breathers while tossing TDs.
Taylor (sacking Neil Lomax of the Cardinals, above) was a Giant among linebackers, while his teammate Burt (mashing poor Lomax again, below) proved to be a man of iron.
[See caption above.]
Packer James Lofton grabbed only a handful of air when Haynes (22) covered him.
DR. Z's ALL-PRO TEAM
WIDE RECEIVER—JOHN STALLWORTH, Pittsburgh
TACKLE—JIMBO COVERT, Chicago
GUARD—Russ GRIMM, Washington
CENTER—DWIGHT STEPHENSON, Miami
GUARD—JOHN HANNAH, New England
TACKLE—KEITH FAHNHORST, San Francisco
TIGHT END—TODD CHRISTENSEN, Raiders
WIDE RECEIVER—ROY GREEN, St. Louis
QUARTERBACK—DAN MARINO, Miami
RUNNING BACK—WALTER PAYTON, Chicago
RUNNING BACK—ERIC DICKERSON, Rams
RUNNING BACK—JAMES WILDER, Tampa Bay
END—LEE ROY SELMON, Tampa Bay
TACKLE—RANDY WHITE, Dallas
NOSEGUARD—JIM BURT, Giants
END—HOWIE LONG, Raiders
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER—CLAY MATTHEWS, Cleveland
INSIDE LINEBACKER—JIM COLLINS, Rams
MIDDLE LINEBACKER—MIKE SINGLETARY, Chicago
OUTSIDE LINEBACKER—LAWRENCE TAYLOR, Giants
CORNERBACK—MIKE HAYNES, Raiders
STRONG SAFETY—KENNY EASLEY, Seattle
FREE SAFETY—MICHAEL DOWNS, Dallas
CORNERBACK—LOUIE WRIGHT, Denver
KICKER—JAN STENERUD, Minnesota
PUNTER—REGGIE ROBY, Miami
PLAYER OF THE YEAR—DAN MARINO, Miami
COACH OF THE YEAR—DAN REEVES, Denver