Brett Favre is my quarterback. Terrell Davis and Barry Sanders
are the running backs. No surprises there. But wait, we've found
a few sleepers. Here, then, is my 1997 All-Pro team, based on
140 games viewed in their entirety, either live or on the tube.
Quarterback: Favre, Packers. He's had rocky first quarters, but
no one's better when the game's on the line.
Running backs: Sanders, Lions, and Davis, Broncos. There's
absolutely no way to choose between the two. Sanders can total
minus yardage for a quarter, then break the game open. Davis is
the glue that holds the Broncos together.
Fullback: Mike Alstott, Buccaneers. By a whisker over the
Giants' Charles Way. Both are multidimensional, both give the
running game that extra punch. For pure blocking, I like
Denver's Howard Griffith.
Wide receivers: Herman Moore, Lions, and Rob Moore, Cardinals.
Was there a more gritty performance this season than the one
turned in by Herman Moore, who battled through injuries in that
comeback win over the Vikings on Dec. 14? Jake Plummer to Rob
Moore became one of the NFL's most feared long-ball combinations.
Tight end: Ben Coates, Patriots. It was nip and tuck between
Coates and the Broncos' Shannon Sharpe, but while Sharpe had the
better numbers, Coates gets the nod on consistency.
Tackles: Jonathan Ogden, Ravens, and Brad Hopkins, Oilers. It's
not easy to find stars these days. Ogden, an old-style boomer
and our pick as a rookie guard last year, is the best. Hopkins,
coming into his own in his fifth season, has been Eddie George's
key blocker on the weak side. The Jaguars' Tony Boselli slipped
from last season, when he was the game's top tackle.
Guards: Will Wolford, Steelers, and Mark Schlereth, Broncos. My
third choice was Kansas City's Dave Szott, but I went strictly
on grades. Both Wolford and Schlereth have been indispensable on
teams that live by the run.
Center: Dermontti Dawson, Steelers. The quickest off the ball,
the headiest at picking up blitzes. But there are challengers on
the horizon, notably Denver's Tom Nalen and Miami's Tim Ruddy.
Ends: Michael Strahan, Giants, and Bruce Smith, Bills. Strahan
has been impressive all year, against both the run and the pass.
Smith, who is double-teamed more than any end, gets the call
over the Lions' Robert Porcher, who had a terrific season.
Tackles: Ted Washington, Bills, and Dana Stubblefield, 49ers.
The Washington pick was a no-brainer. No one controls the middle
the way he does. Stubblefield's running mate, Bryant Young, is
the most technically sound tackle in the game, but when he got
hurt, Stubblefield stepped up his game and the Niners hardly
missed a beat.
Linebackers: Jessie Armstead, Giants; Levon Kirkland, Steelers;
and Ray Lewis, Ravens. People snickered when I picked Armstead
last season, but he's the best at playing the open side.
Kirkland and Lewis line up inside, but when their teams go to
the nickel, they have outside responsibilities. Kirkland has
held Pittsburgh's front seven together. Lewis is a human
tackling machine, always around the ball.
Cornerbacks: Deion Sanders, Cowboys, and Aeneas Williams,
Cardinals. You tend to forget about Deion because teams refuse
to test him. Williams has faced the top enemy receiver,
man-to-man, every week, and he's had a fine season. So has the
Redskins' Cris Dishman, my No. 3.
Strong safety: LeRoy Butler, Packers. He blitzes, covers, shakes
up the opposing offenses; in short, he does it all. Dallas's
Darren Woodson was having an excellent year until injuries
Free safety: Marcus Robertson, Oilers. A crowded position, with
Green Bay's Eugene Robinson and San Francisco's Merton Hanks
both having typically good years, but the more I watched
Robertson, the more impressed I was with his range and instincts.
Kicker: Pete Stoyanovich, Chiefs. He has missed only one field
goal in 27 attempts, and his 54-yarder to beat the Broncos was
the most dramatic kick of the season.
Punter: Matt Turk, Redskins. Averaged 4.63-second hang time in
the 10 games I saw him, the best of anyone. Boots the ball high
and deep when Washington is backed up, my No. 1 criterion for
Returners: Michael Bates, Panthers, kickoffs; Darrien Gordon,
Broncos, punts. Consistency and average determined the selections.
Wacko: Charlie Williams, Cowboys. This third-year player just
Player of the Year: Barry Sanders. Where would the Lions be
Rookie of the Year: Warrick Dunn, running back, Buccaneers. He
provided the zip that turned the Bucs' offense around.
Coach of the Year, Jim Fassel, Giants: It was a tough call over
Bill Parcells, but the Giants are in the playoffs and the Jets
COLOR PHOTO: JOHN BIEVER Under the gun, Favre is second to none. [Brett Favre in game]