It would be nice to report that SPORTS ILLUSTRATED's first All-Pro team was selected by a Foundation, Panel, Board, Association or Consensus, but, in truth, it's a one-man choice. All we can say is that we take our team just as seriously as other people do theirs, and we've seen each team at least three times, in the flesh or on the tube. A Betamax and access to network studios helped. When an absolute deadlock arose, we sought advice from assistant coaches and pro personnel directors.
Fourteen of our 24 All-Pros have never played in the Pro Bowl. Eight others have been there only once. You will find some names you don't recognize.
We have tried to right some wrongs. Jon Kolb of the Steelers, for instance, has never been picked for the Pro Bowl in his 10 years. He is one of our tackles. This is not an honor given for long and meritorious service, but in recognition for performance in the 1979 season.
Accusations we will have to answer:
December 24, 1979
How can you pick two guys from the Jets, Chiefs and Cardinals and no one from the Dolphins? (Well, we had Bob Kuechenberg, Bob Baumhower and Tim Foley up high but they got nosed out.)
San Diego has a sensational offense, but there isn't a single Charger on your offensive unit. How come? (Well, a lot of second-and third-and fourth-bests at their positions will do it for you.)
Where's Harvey Martin? (In Dallas.) Where are Jack Youngblood and Jack Lambert? (Probably at practice.)
You gotta be crazy not to pick Dan Fouts. Keith Krepfle over Russ Francis and Dave Casper? You gotta be kidding. How could you leave Walter Payton off? And Kenny Houston? (Hey, it's not easy. But like we said, it's our own team, so address any complaints to the author.)
Wide Receivers—Steve Largent of Seattle and Ahmad Rashad of Minnesota. The runners-up were Harold Carmichael of the Eagles, John Stallworth of the Steelers, Wallace Francis of the Falcons and John Jefferson of the Chargers. We considered: how much each man meant to his offense (and on this basis Carmichael almost made it); where most of the double coverage went; how much help each guy got from the rest of his team's offense (in Rashad's case, not much); and how important the pass game was to his team.
Tackles—Jon Kolb of Pittsburgh and Marvin Powell of the Jets. Stan Walters of the Eagles and Bob Kuechenberg followed close behind. It's incredible that Kolb has never made a Pro Bowl because for a decade he has stuffed the best defensive ends. Powell was a tough choice. I mean, how can you pick a guy who says his idol is William F. Buckley?
Guards—Bob Young of the Cardinals and Herbert Scott of the Cowboys. Bob Pratt of the Colts was a close third. For years Young was a pillar on an offensive line on which Dan Dierdorf and Conrad Dobler got all the ink. Last year, his 13th, they finally gave Young a Pro Bowl spot. Scott is the only Cowboy offensive lineman who goes after people. Basically, Dallas has a finesse unit—misdirection, influence-blocking, etc. Scott's had only one holding penalty in two seasons.
Center—Mike Webster of the Steelers is the clear stickout. He can handle the tough nose guards.
Tight End—Keith Krepfle of the Eagles, and to the countless people who told us he can't go deep, we offer his 18.5 yards-per-catch average, best of any tight end. Russ Francis played hurt a lot. Dave Casper got off slowly. Insiders love Jimmie Giles of the Bucs, the Saints' Henry Childs and Ozzie Newsome of the Browns. Krepfle is one of the toughest third-down receivers in football.
Quarterback—Brian Sipe of the Browns, and now the fun starts. Granted, Fouts had a terrific year, and Terry Bradshaw is one hellacious competitor who has played with more injuries than Evel Knievel. On the NFL rating chart, Sipe doesn't rank in the top 10, but the chart doesn't record the wind whipping off Lake Erie; it doesn't tell you how many games a guy has saved with his arm, or what he's got to work with. Sipe went in undermanned; he didn't have the great receivers Fouts did; and he faced more teams in the NFL's top half defensively (seven) than Fouts did (four).
Running Backs—Earl Campbell of the Oilers was automatic. In an agonizing decision, we gave the second spot to the Cards' sensational rookie, Ottis Anderson, over Walter Payton. Payton played hurt most of the time, and the Bears had no passing attack to take the heat off. Pay-ton had an amazing year, but the people who had to prepare for both of them said Anderson presented more problems.
Ends—Lee Roy Selmon of the Bucs is the best. Plays the run, plays the pass. Art Still of the Chiefs also gives it the two-way shot, and he pursues across the field. Jack Youngblood and the Lions' Bubba Baker are pass-rush specialists, and if I had to pick one man to rush the passer on a crucial third-and-eight I'd take Harvey Martin. But you've still got to play the run, too.
Tackles—In the three games Randy White was hurt, the Cowboys gave up 31, 34 and 30 points. You start every game plan by assigning two men to handle White. The Chargers' gigantic Wilbur Young moved inside for the injured Louie Kelcher and found a home. He became a freewheeling, offense-shattering tackle in the best Leo Nomellini tradition.
Outside Linebackers—Jack Ham of the Steelers and Greg Buttle of the Jets. You tend to lose track of Ham in games because few people bother to test him anymore. Buttle, playing with very little help, has become a dominating force. An over-achiever.
Middle Linebacker—None makes as many big plays as the Giants' Harry Carson does. It was hard not to go with the Patriots' Steve Nelson, but Carson is a little more active. Jack Lambert has tougher pass-coverage responsibilities than any of them, but he gets a lot of help against the run. An emotional choice would have been the Browns' Dick Ambrose.
Cornerbacks—Denver's Louie Wright was automatic. Oakland's Lester Hayes gets it at the other spot over the Patriots' three-time All-Pro Mike Haynes. When in doubt, go with the guy who's never made anything, especially if he plays the tight coverage as tough as Hayes does. Washington's Lemar Parrish is great on the deep stuff, only so-so against the run.
Strong Safety—Houston's free agent from the Canadian League, Vernon Perry. He's made the difference in the Oilers' defense. Gets single coverage against all tight ends.
Free Safety—None of them is as active or as effective as the Browns' Thorn Dar-den. Houston's Mike Reinfeldt will get many votes because of his 12 pass interceptions, but his responsibilities aren't nearly as demanding as Darden's.
Kicker—Houston's Toni Fritsch. We narrowed it down to four—Fritsch, Seattle's Efren Herrera, San Francisco's Ray Wersching and Philadelphia's Tony Franklin—checked out field positions, percentages and distance (Franklin is the top long-range threat) and then settled on Fritsch on the basis of number of games won with his foot (four).
Punter—The Chiefs' Bob Grupp, a rookie, over the Giants' Dave Jennings by a nose. Grupp led in average, also in the statistic that counts—net yardage, which subtracts returns and touchbacks.
Rookie of the Year—Ottis Anderson of the Cardinals.
Coach of the Year—Jack Pardee of the Redskins. He tore down a team, patched it back together and kept it in contention for 16 weeks.