This has been a transition year for the National Football League. Los Angeles, Oakland and Pittsburgh won't be in the playoffs. San Francisco, Cincinnati and, possibly, the New York Jets will. And many familiar names will be missing from all-pro teams, to be replaced by some of the game's once and future stars.
Consider a few of the more prominent members of the 1980 consensus NFL team: receiver John Jefferson, tackles Leon Gray and Joe DeLamiellieure, quarterback Brian Sipe, halfback Walter Payton, fullback Earl Campbell, end Lyle Alzado, linebacker Robert Brazile and cornerbacks Lemar Parrish and Lester Hayes.
None is likely to make this season's squad, including Campbell, who was not the dominant runner of past years.
In their place will be players such as tackles Anthony Munoz of Cincinnati and Marvin Powell of the Jets; receivers Alfred Jenkins of Atlanta and Steve Watson of Denver; quarterback Joe Montana of San Francisco; running backs Tony Dorsett of Dallas and Billy Sims of Detroit; defensive ends Joe Klecko and Mark Gastineau of the Jets; rookie linebacker Lawrence Taylor of the Giants, and cornerbacks Ronnie Lott of San Francisco and Everson Walls of Dallas.
Even the players, who rely heavily on reputations when they vote for the Pro Bowl teams, got the transition message. Take, for example, the four receivers chosen for the AFC squad: Watson, veteran Frank Lewis of Buffalo, rookie Cris Collinsworth of Cincinnati and veteran Steve Largent of Seattle. Last year, Jefferson, Jerry Butler, Charlie Joiner and Stanley Morgan were selected.
Player of the year should be Cincinnati's Ken Anderson, who capitalized on an expanded offense and a massive front line to produce statistics that most quarterbacks never could equal.
Coach of the year should be San Francisco's Bill Walsh, who surprised even himself by producing a division champion in his third season with the 49ers.
Rookie of the year? Take your pick from among Taylor, Lott and George Rogers of New Orleans. Walls leads the NFL in interceptions and will hardly get a vote. But whether he wins the honor or not, Taylor has displayed the ability to make him the league's dominant linebacker for years to come.
The loser of today's Baltimore Colt-New England Patriot game gets the No. 1 pick in the 1982 draft. Both teams appear to be leaning toward selecting Kenneth Sims, the Texas defensive tackle and winner of this year's Lombardi Trophy as the outstanding lineman in college football. And both teams reportedly are considering replacing their coaches with Frank Kush . . . Even though quarterback Eric Hipple started for only half a season, his Detroit Lion teammates voted him the team's most valuable player . . . Ditto for the Jets' Richard Todd, a first for him. He credits Joe Walton, the team's offensive coordinator, for the award. His words of praise for Walton ("He's given me more confidence than I had in the past") reflect what Joe Theismann said about Walton in 1979 after Theismann's best pro year.
There is a certain irony involved in the flare-up between the NFL Players Association and San Diego quarterback Dan Fouts, who has refused to pay his dues the past few years. Charger owner Gene Klein supported Fouts, even though the NFLPA contract with the league requires that the dues be paid, even if Fouts doesn't join the union. This is the same Klein who refused to negotiate with either John Jefferson or Fred Dean this season, hiding behind "sanctity of a contract" language . . . Some reports out of Baltimore indicate that the Colt coaching staff has been told, informally, to start looking for other jobs . . . The Patriots are trying to see if other teams would be interested in tight end Russ Francis, who retired before the beginning of this season.
Detroit Coach Monte Clark thought that at least one of his offensive linemen should have made the Pro Bowl. Tackle Keith Dorney was the most likely possibility. Somebody has to be playing well up front for the NFC's No. 3-ranked offense . . . About 220 New York callers liked NBC's one-announcer format during last week's Jets-Browns game. About 130 didn't. Count announcer Dick Enberg among the negative. "I felt like I had gone to the game by myself and had no one to talk to," he said . . . The Chicago Tribune reported that George Halas and Bear General Manager Jim Finks are having a series of meetings to decide whether Finks regains total authority over team operations, or gets a settlement on his contract. The Bears' Neill Armstrong is another coach under fire. Defensive tackle Alan Page, who is retiring, told the Bears they would be making a mistake to dismiss Armstrong.