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.