Roger Craig was an easy choice for Player of the Year. His slashing, full-throttle style of running set the tone for the 49er operation. John Stephens of the Patriots is Rookie of the Year. When New England switched to the running game midway through the season, Stephens carried the load.
Now here come the arguments. John Sandusky, the Dolphins' offensive line coach, is Coach of the Year. Where is it written that you have to pick a head coach? All Sandusky did was direct a unit that set the NFL record for fewest sacks allowed in a season (seven), and his group did it without center Dwight Stephenson, who missed the season with a knee injury, or any other Pro Bowlers. Some people argue that Dan Marino is nearly impossible to sack because he gets rid of the ball so quickly. Well, he also throws off a deep drop on occasion, which means the offensive line has to hold its blocks an extra couple of seconds, and opponents use all sorts of intricate schemes to put pressure on him. But this beautifully coached offensive line picked up everything the opposition threw at it.
The choice for my All-Pro quarterback came down to Randall Cunningham of the Eagles, Neil Lomax of the Cardinals, Wade Wilson of the Vikings and Boomer Esiason of the Bengals. Then I narrowed it to Cunningham versus the Boomer. I chose Cunningham because he had neither the receivers nor the offensive line that Esiason had.
The Falcons' John Settle, a second-effort type of ballcarrier and an effective pass receiver, joins Craig at running back. The Cowboys' Herschel Walker and the Colts' Eric Dickerson gained more yards than Settle, but they couldn't match his toughness, an almost forgotten quality these days.
The Rams' Henry Ellard, a possession receiver who can also burn deep, was the stick-out wide receiver. I hated to omit Al Toon of the Jets, Anthony Carter of the Vikings, Mark Clayton of Miami and Jerry Rice of the 49ers, who was nagged by an ankle injury. An off year for Rice is still better than a good year for practically anyone else. Cincinnati's Eddie Brown was the best wide receiver in the first half of the season but he tailed off. Ricky Sanders, my second choice, was consistently effective. He was also the only Redskin to pick up decent chunks of yardage.
Where would the Eagles have been without rookie Keith Jackson at tight end? He had more catches than any other tight end. Mickey Shuler of the Jets was my No. 2 at this spot, followed by the Bills' Pete Metzelaars, who's an outstanding blocker but didn't have enough receptions.
Tunch Ilkin of the Steelers repeats at tackle. He says he was shocked that he finally got some Pro Bowl recognition. I like Ilkin because he's old-world—a trapper and a tenacious pass blocker. I saw him throw an old-fashioned reverse body block this year. Most NFL linemen think that's something used in garages. Anthony Munoz of the Bengals is the second tackle, mainly because he has been overpowering as a run blocker. The heart of the Cincinnati offense is its big ground attack. Watch New England's Bruce Armstrong. He's a comer.
Houston's Bruce Matthews has emerged as the NFL's most dominating guard. He's the key to the Oilers' strong-side power offense. It's a shame to leave off Tom Newberry of the Rams, who was one of my choices at guard last season, but he said he had an off year. He still looked pretty effective to me. Seattle's Bryan Millard, a power type who's nimble enough to trap on the off-side, is the second choice at guard, with the Browns' Dan Fike, the Bills' Jim Ritcher and the Bengals' Bruce Reimers close behind.
At center the Jets' Jim Sweeney barely beat out Buffalo's Kent Hull. Sweeney started in the NFL as a guard in 1984, was switched to tackle and finally moved to center, his natural position, this season. The Jets were most successful when their trapping game was working, and Sweeney was the key to it. He constantly improved his play. Hull was very effective in the Bills' run scheme. Randy Cross of the Niners, now 34, also had a superior season.
Sometimes the blindness of the players and coaches who make the Pro Bowl selections is amazing. They didn't pick the Chiefs' Nick Lowery, who missed only three field goal attempts this year—one of them was blocked—and he was three for three from 50 yards and farther. Punter Mike Horan of the Broncos did make the Pro Bowl, as he certainly should have. He had the highest net average in the league, the true measure of a punter's effectiveness.