Last things first: If I had my way, my alltime pro football Dream Team would include, besides the starters, five specialists for situation substitution—then I'd be ready to take on the world with depth as well as class. Here they are: the Colts' Raymond Berry, extra wideout, the finest possession receiver I've ever seen; the Packers' Forrest Gregg, finesse tackle, to handle the speed rushers; the Steelers' Jack Ham, outside linebacker, for pass defense; the Packers' Willie Wood, free safety, for long-yardage situations; and the 49ers'Joe Montana, quarterback, to enter the game when it switches eras, from old to modern.
As for my starting teams, I can tell you that I've seen every one of these players in the flesh. First the offense. Alworth was, simply, the finest deep threat ever to play the game. In the '40s I saw Hutson through a child's eyes; I wasn't sure about him until I did a film study a few years ago. Yes, he would be terrific today. Tight end Casper had the blocking skills of the tackle he once was, and a great pair of hands. Shell is the power tackle, a narrow choice over the Eagles' Bob (Boomer) Brown, and Mix is the finesse tackle. Choosing the guards was easy. Hannah is the best drive-blocking lineman I've ever seen, Parker the finest pass protector. And no other center has had Stephenson's blinding speed off the ball.
Unitas was the No. 1 quarterback in the pre-1978 era, when the receivers were getting bumped all the way downfield. Montana would be my choice in the modern game, with the passing lanes opened up. But the trademark of each QB is the same: a great ability to bring his team back. Brown is my running back. Any arguments? And Motley is my pick as the game's finest classic fullback—a power runner and a tremendous blocker.
Now the defense. I wish the league had kept official sack statistics when Deacon Jones played—he'd have gone off the charts. Tombstone Jackson of the Broncos will never make the Hall of Fame because his career was cut short by a knee injury in '72, but in his prime he was the very best run-pass defensive end the game has seen. Olsen was the prototype bull-rush defensive tackle, but he had agility, too. At the other spot, Lilly is a very tough call over the Steelers' Joe Greene.
In an era of dominant 4-3 middle linebackers, Butkus gets the edge over the Chiefs' Willie Lanier and the Packers' Ray Nitschke, on sustained ferocity. The outside backers are Taylor, the finest pass-rush linebacker ever, and Hendricks, a dominant force wherever he lined up. Lane, a devastating bump-and-run guy, teams with the vastly underrated Johnson at the corners, with the Raiders' Willie Brown ranked close behind. Houston, a combination of speed, force and coverage skill, is an easy pick at strong safety. Harris, with his impressive string of KOs, is my killer-type free safety.
Finally, to coach the Dream Team...Lombardi. No one would be counting his paycheck with Vince around.
Back row (left to right): Lane, Harris, Taylor, Butkus, Houston, Hendricks, Johnson. Front (left to right): Jones, Lilly, Olsen, Jackson.
E: RICH JACKSON, DENVER BRONCOS DEACON JONES, L.A. RAMS
T: MERLIN OLSEN, L.A. RAMS BOB LILLY, DALLAS COWBOYS
MLB: DICK BUTKUS, CHICAGO BEARS
OLB: LAWRENCE TAYLOR, N.Y. GIANTS TED HENDRICKS, BALTIMORE COLTS/OAKLAND RAIDERS
CB: JIMMY JOHNSON, SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS DICK (NIGHT TRAIN) LANE, L.A. RAMS/CHI. CARDINALS/DETROIT
SS: KEN HOUSTON, HOUSTON OILERS/WASHINGTON REDSKINS
FS: CLIFF HARRIS, DALLAS COWBOYS