The 49ers dominated the NFL this year, and they dominate our 11th All-Pro team. Three San Francisco players are on it, including Joe Montana, who is our Player of the Year. George Seifert, the Niners' rookie coach, is our Coach of the Year. There might be more sentimental choices for the latter honor—like Lindy Infante, who brought the Packers back from nowhere, or Marty Schottenheimer, who did an amazing job in his first season with the Chiefs—but if you always go with sentiment, the guys who take their teams to the top get overlooked. Seifert, stepping in for Bill Walsh, never lost a beat as the 49ers maintained their excellence.
Three running backs were serious candidates for the two All-Pro slots. The Lions' Barry Sanders, the leading rusher in the NFC and our Rookie of the Year, is the odd man out. I went with the Bills' Thurman Thomas and the Saints' Dalton Hilliard because they're outstanding pass catchers as well as top runners. Lack of receiving ability also eliminated Kansas City's Christian Okoye, the NFL's top ground-gainer.
What can you say about Montana's year except that no other quarterback has ever had one like it? He broke the single-season record for passer rating points (112.4) and had a 70.2 completion percentage, but those are just numbers. His real gift is the way he brings the 49ers back from apparently hopeless situations.
Our two wideouts, San Francisco's Jerry Rice and Green Bay's Sterling Sharpe, have a knack for turning short gainers into huge scoring plays. If I had a third choice, it would be Buffalo's Andre Reed, another guy who transforms short into long. The Bengals' Rodney Holman had a formidable season at tight end, as did the Eagles' Keith Jackson when he wasn't hurt. But neither blocks like Don Warren of the Redskins. Call this an award for long and meritorious service. Warren is the decade's most underrated player, and in '89 he was the steadiest blocking force in Washington's injury-riddled ground operation.
Chris Hinton of the Colts was the league's premier offensive tackle. Scouts watch him pull to lead Eric Dickerson on sweeps and say, "Wow, what a guard he'd make." But you can find guards. Gifted tackles are scarce these days. Cincinnati's Anthony Munoz may be on the downside of his career, but no one except Hinton was as productive this season.
Bruce Matthews repeats at guard. He was the solid man in the Oilers' offense, a serious run blocker who filled in at center. The one part of the Bears that remained blue-chip was the middle of their offensive line: left guard Mark Bortz, center Jay Hilgenberg and right guard Tom Thayer. They aren't gigantic, hog-type blockers; they're movers and thinkers, with old-style techniques. Bortz makes our team at guard, with Thayer close behind, and Hilgenberg is our center. Two comers at guard are Raider rookie Steve Wisniewski and the Dolphins' Harry Galbreath.
Eddie Murray of the Lions missed only one of 21 field goal attempts to tie the record he already shared with Mark Mosely for best field goal percentage in a season. Mike Lansford of the Rams is a terrific clutch kicker, and Pete Stoyanovich of the Dolphins and Chris Jacke of Green Bay are rookies who bear watching—but, hey, Murray missed only one kick. The Giants' Sean Landeta is the league's best at punting his team out of a hole. He consistently hangs high, spiraling, 4.4-second boots from his end zone. He was also the NFL leader in net yardage.
The defensive choices were tougher. Eagle end Reggie White had fewer sacks than last year, mainly because more folks were blocking him. But White is a complete player—against run, pass, you name it. The comeback player of 1989 is Raider end Howie Long, who missed much of the first six games with an ankle injury and then played like a maniac. Minnesota's Chris Doleman is the best sacker at the position, but he's not as strong against the run as White and Long are.
No doubt our choice at noseguard, Dan Saleaumua of the Chiefs, has you scratching your head. Picked up by Kansas City as a Plan B free agent, Saleaumua played behind Bill Maas for nine games. Maas broke his left forearm, Saleaumua moved in and bodies started flying. At 298 pounds, Saleaumua collapses the middle of the offense, and he also can drop back into coverage. The NFL is loaded with good defensive tackles (we pick four linemen and four linebackers), but the most talented penetrator and pass rusher of them all is Keith Millard of the Vikings.
The Packers' Tim Harris is back at outside linebacker. He would've made the Pro Bowl last season if he had learned to make a noise like an oyster, because offensive guys, who vote for defensive players, don't like to be yelled at. The next choice was agonizing: Lawrence Taylor had a terrific year for the Giants, but a young Lawrence Taylor is emerging in Kansas City, and his name is Derrick Thomas. The resemblance is striking—the burst, the explosion to the ball. Thomas needs to improve his power rush, but that will come.