I think I felt more empathy for Tampa Bay's defensive unit than for any other group in pro football this year. It was like watching a band of heroic fire fighters going down in an inferno. Hugh Green, the Bucs' right outside backer, was worn down during the season. At the end he was playing hurt and punchy, but people still stayed away from his side, and that was after Lee Roy Selmon, in front of him, went down with a groin pull. My other outside linebacker, for the third straight year, is Mad Dog Douglass of the Packers. I'm sorry he doesn't exactly get along with his coach, Bart Starr, who sat him down for a week. I'm sorry none of the other pickers like him. All I can say is, he played like hell every time I saw him. I wish I could have four more picks at this position. Then the Jets' Lance Mehl would make it, and so would Cleveland's Chip Banks, St. Louis' E.J. Junior and the Raiders' Rod Martin.
Jack Lambert still gets his shirt dirty in the middle of the Steelers' meat grinder. We'll keep picking him until someone else demonstrates his superiority. The Giants' Lawrence Taylor was almost as effective in the middle as he was on the outside. Midway through the season he asked Coach Bill Parcells to let him play on special teams. Request granted. Then he asked for a turn on offense, too—at tight end. Request denied. Next thing you know, Taylor will be wanting to cover the games from the press box. Oops, I forgot. He wouldn't talk to sportswriters most of this season. Sorry.
Everson Walls of the Cowboys was an easy pick at one cornerback. "But he's gotten beat deep this year," one scout told me. Hey, so has everyone else. He still has the best break to the ball of any of them. Cincinnati's Ken Riley retired Sunday after 15 years of service. He has never been picked for a Pro Bowl team. Is this fair? No. They leave him in tight coverages. He doesn't chicken out. He clamps on receivers, makes big plays, gets beat occasionally. He's not afraid...an old-style cornerback. Welcome to SI's All-Pro team. Our apologies to the Broncos' Louis Wright, who had an outstanding year. Ditto Raymond Clayborn of the Patriots. Watch the Lions' Bruce McNorton, a name for the future.
They tried to talk me out of my strong-safety pick, Mark Cotney of the Bucs. Who's "they"? Just everybody. Sorry, he's my man. I saw him knocking his brains out too many times in hopeless causes. Granted, Seattle's Kenny Easley has more talent, and the Rams' Nolan Cromwell is more disciplined, but Cotney's my type of player. Ditto the Cards' Lee Nelson, another guy who never gets picked for much of anything. Free safety was easy. Deron Cherry burst onto the Kansas City scene like a rocket, after Gary Barbaro held out and then departed for the USFL. Even the Pro Bowl selectors, who avoid new guys like the plague, recognized that.
Picking kickers this year was almost like rolling dice. Percentages were shockingly high. You could choose any of half a dozen and not be wrong. For me it came down to Baltimore's Raul Allegre (30 of 35) against Giants rookie Ali Haji-Sheikh (35 of 42), a pair of long-range gunners. Allegre gets the nod on the basis of come-through performances in crucial situations; he's responsible for five of his team's seven wins.
New England Punter Rich Camarillo is a repeater. The interesting thing is that both Rohn Stark of the Colts and Camarillo, who finished one-two in gross average, played in bad weather conditions. Camarillo's averages, both gross 44.6 and net 37.1, are amazing in that he seldom gets a chance to boot for the distance—he must position his kicks—whereas Stark is allowed to let 'em fly.
As for Coach of the Year, Gibbs is the obvious choice; the Skins became the first NFC team to win 14 games in a season. But winning the Super Bowl is only half the battle. Keeping up the pace is the real struggle.