A BIG EASY FOR DR. Z
Steve Young made it easy this year. He saved me hours of lost sleep. He eliminated the usual nail-biting that goes into picking my All-Pro quarterback and my Player of the Year. Young was a lock for both. His achievements for the 49ers have been well documented, but let me note one: Playing under unbelievable pressure (the shadow of Joe Montana's injured right elbow), Young did not have one oil week all season. Few if any quarterbacks have gone through a year like the one he had in 1992.
Rookie of the Year is the Dolphins' Marco Coleman, who made an effective transition from rush specialist to solid, base 3-4 defensive end during the season. With the Miami offense on the decline this year, it was the Dolphins' striking improvement on defense that brought them the AFC East title. And Coleman, plus lightning-fast Bryan Cox, who makes my team as an outside linebacker, were Miami's most dramatic players.
Defense also provides my Coach of the Year, and this pick is from the heart: Seahawk defensive coordinator Tom Catlin, who did the most remarkable job in the NFL. Brilliant rookie coaches abounded—the Steelers' Billy Cowher, the Vikings' Dennis Green, the Packers' Mike Holmgren—and who can say which one was best? But then there's Catlin, a 61-year-old war-horse who got his guys to play like maniacs in a hopeless cause.
The toughest choices were at running back, wide receiver and outside linebacker. Three runners dominated—the Cowboys' Emmitt Smith, the Steelers' Barry Foster and the Bills' Thurman Thomas. Only two could make the team. Which one goes? My tiebreaker is effectiveness as a receiver, so Foster is out.
The OLB spot opposite Cox came down to the Eagles' Seth Joyner, my Player of the Year in 1991, versus the Rams' Kevin Greene. I picked Greene. He had more coverage responsibility than ever before, and he did just fine. He was a consistent pass rusher. Joyner, a strong performer who had his moments this year, played hurt part of the way. Saint linebacker Rickey Jackson made the roster as a pure pass rusher, which is a separate position on my team.
Sterling Sharpe, the biggest factor in the Packers' rise from the ashes, was an easy choice at wideout. The other WR pick came down to 49er Jerry Rice against Cowboy long-ball specialist Michael Irvin. Rice was the selection, on clutch catches and fewer drops.
If my pick of Steeler Adrian Cooper, who played full-time when Eric Green went out, at tight end has you wondering, take a look sometime at Cooper's blocking. He's a throwback to Mark Bavaro, and unless some pass-catching demon emerges at this position, I'll always stick with the top blocker.
Among the other new faces on my team are Bronco middle linebacker Michael Brooks, who was terrific on pass coverage and at stopping the run; the Raiders' Terry McDaniel, who played the best cornerback I saw this year; and young Cowboy Erik Williams, who, along with an old All-Pro of mine, 49er Harris Barton, formed the perfect power-finesse combination at offensive tackle.