Our 1980 All-Pro team features 12 players who have never been in a Pro Bowl, a 30-year-old safety who has never been picked for anything and a left-footed placekicker who tried a 73-yard field goal (a bad hold messed up his shot at the eternal highlight film). We saw every player at least three times this season, either in the flesh or on TV (a video cassette recorder helped). Anyone who missed more than four games, or a quarter of the season, on account of injuries wasn't considered. When two people were dead even, we went with the one who had received less recognition in his career. We picked a 4-3 defense rather than a 3-4, and this needs some explanation, because slightly more than half the NFL teams use a 3-4.
First of all, a 4-3 is easier to pick, because the positions are more clearly defined; for instance, how many people really know who plays the strong-side inside linebacker and who goes on the weak side? And if you pick two middle linebackers, do you just pick the best two or do you pick strong side and weak? And when you choose a middle guard, is he the best pure middle guard or a tackle, a Randy White say, projected to the middle? Besides, many 3-4 teams go into a 4-3 as soon as they smell a pass coming. And I think you'll see a number of 3-4 teams switching back to the 4-3 next season because stopping the run isn't so important anymore, and a heavy, traditional four-man rush is the only way to play pass defense and survive nowadays.
Wide Receivers—John Jefferson, San Diego, and Pat Tilley, St. Louis. Jefferson was one of the easiest picks on the board, but Tilley won by a nose over Green Bay's James Lofton on consistency and attempted blocking. Harold Carmichael of the Eagles was a clear choice after 10 games, but then went into a tail-spin and caught only 11 passes in the last six. The man most feared by cornerbacks was the Patriots' Stanley Morgan. He can burn deep, but he can drop 'em, too.
Tackles—Mike Kenn of Atlanta and Marvin Powell of the New York Jets. Kenn put it all together this year, his Big Ten run-blocking ability, which he always had, plus some nifty pass blocking, which he had to learn. Everyone will be lining up to tell me how much Powell has slipped since 1979. What can I say? The guy looked good when I saw him, and no tackle can so thoroughly dominate an opponent when he's right.
Guards—John Hannah of New England and Herbert Scott of Dallas. Hannah might be the best ever. Scott was an agonizing choice over San Diego's Doug Wilkerson, perhaps the finest puller in the NFL, and keep an eye on San Francisco's Randy Cross.
Center—Rich Saul, Los Angeles. He's the guy, remember, who said he would play only two quarters a game, pick any two. Ah well, midsummer madness. Pittsburgh's Mike Webster did a heroic job, playing with torn cartilage in his knee.
Quarterback—Brian Sipe, Cleveland. The world has finally recognized Sipe, a big-play man with the lowest interception rate in football, an unusual combination. No quarterback, though, had a better game when it counted more than San Diego's Dan Fouts had against the Steelers.
Running Backs—Earl Campbell, Houston, and Walter Payton, Chicago. Campbell makes a picker's job easy. Give us more of these, please. Last year I chose St. Louis' O.J. Anderson over Payton and suffered over it for 12 months. I mean, Walter is just so tough, so dedicated. He simply doesn't miss a start. Sorry, Billy Sims, you'll have to wait a while. I'm not going to go through the same thing again.
Tight End—Kellen Winslow, San Diego. If my life depended on completing a seven-yard pass, though, I'd throw it to Houston's Dave Casper. Winslow is aided by the fact that you have to double-cover everybody in the San Diego offense except Don Macek, the center, and I'm sure Coach Don Coryell will figure out a way to get Macek the ball someday. The anti-Winslow faction claims he really lines up as a wide receiver, and blocks accordingly. Sorry. You can't overlook Winslow's 89 receptions for 1,290 yards.