San Francisco's Jerry Rice repeats as Player of the Year. But he was a less clear-cut choice this time, despite a record-shattering year in which he broke the NFL marks for TD catches in a season (22) and in consecutive games (13). Rice got stiff competition from Giants linebacker Carl Banks, who had one of the finest years any defensive player has ever had—and in a losing cause.
My other wideout, Al Toon, was about the only offensive weapon the Jets had. I favored him over St. Louis's J.T. Smith (lots of catches but not big yards) and Philadelphia's Mike Quick. Anthony Carter of Minnesota is a comer. The Vikings just have to figure out a way to get him more into their offense.
Quarterback came down to the 49ers' Joe Montana, Cleveland's Bernie Kosar and Denver's John Elway, in that order. How could they have left Kosar out of the Pro Bowl? No one is better at blitz control. He gets the ball off so quickly, and at such weird angles, and he always finds the hot receiver. Elway and Joe Namath are the best I've seen at bringing a team back in a hurry, but for overall consistency Montana gets the nod.
I'll take heat for leaving the Rams' Charles White and the Colts' Eric Dickerson out of my backfield. Yes, they had the numbers, but Herschel Walker, the league's combined rushing-and-receiving-yardage leader, saved the Cowboys' season from total oblivion, and no runner is as good as Seattle's Curt Warner at borrowing yards when the bank is closed. For instant action how about Miami rookie Troy Stradford? He reminds me of the late Joe Delaney of the Chiefs.
Minnesota tackle Gary Zimmerman is a smooth-as-silk pass protector. The selection of Pittsburgh tackle Tunch Ilkin will raise some eyebrows, but he hasn't been beaten for a sack in two years. Mark Bavaro of the Giants was an easy choice at tight end, even though he played on one leg and wasn't the ferocious blocker he was in '86.
Dennis Harrah, the Rams' six-time Pro Bowler, is the first to admit that Tom Newberry, the club's other guard, had a better year. Newberry is an explosive blocker who has played only two seasons. My other guard is Denver's Keith Bishop, an old-style teeth-gritter who excels at the trap block.
Miami center Dwight Stephenson played in nine of the 12 nonstrike games, and that's my cutoff point—75% of the action. If he had gotten hurt earlier, I would have made a new cutoff, because I wasn't going to leave him off this team. I know the rest of the world is switching to Indy's Ray Donaldson, but he's still not the player Stephenson is.
Philadelphia's Reggie White and Buffalo's Bruce Smith were clearly the two best defensive ends, but it broke my heart to leave off New England's vastly underrated Garin Veris and Cleveland veteran Carl Hairston, who came out of the past and had a magnificent year. Once again, noseguard Tim Krumrie didn't make the Pro Bowl. He does it all for the Bengals—and with very little around him. The 49ers' Michael Carter was impressive, but he just wasn't on the field for enough plays. Like Krumrie. Chicago tackle Steve McMichael held firm while things were crumbling.
Banks picked up the tempo from his great Super Bowl. Despite playing the tight-end side, he still got after the passer. Duane Bickett is the big reason the Colts' defense went from No. 25 in '86 to No. 6 this year. He barely beat out Chicago's Wilber Marshall, San Diego's Billy Ray Smith, New Orleans's Pat Swilling and the Giants' Lawrence Taylor.
It was tough to omit two old standbys, Chicago's Mike Singletary and Denver's Karl Mecklenburg, at inside linebacker, but the Seahawks' Fredd Young, a blitz specialist, and Bills' rookie Shane Conlan simply accomplished more. Keep an eye on the Saints' Vaughan Johnson. He's a sleeper.