Claude Humphrey, toward the end of a long and distinguished career with the Atlanta Falcons and Philadelphia Eagles, was quoted in the late 1970s as saying he was speeding up his retirement because he couldn't bring himself to level Doug Williams the way any self-respecting defensive end should. Humphrey reasoned there was no way he could threaten the existence of the only black quarterback in football.
These days, Warren Moon and Randall Cunningham enjoy no such favor. Even with every defensive player in the league trying to run them down, Moon might break the single-season record for passing yardage and Cunningham might become the first quarterback to rush for 1,000 yards in a season. With their performances this season, and the emergence of Rodney Peete as a starter, the novelty Williams lived with finally may have worn off. Stereotypes finally may be put to rest.
This 1990 NFL all-pro team starts with Cunningham and Moon at quarterback. Cunningham is the MVP of the league. More than 800 yards rushing, 27 touchdown passes with two games to go. He has the single greatest run of the season and a 95-yard touchdown pass that ranks among the most breathtaking plays of all time. Still want to call him a "running quarterback?" Cunningham is the highest-rated quarterback in the NFC and the rating system doesn't even take into account his 828 yards rushing in only 110 carries. Without him, the Eagles are the Colts. He's on the verge of becoming the Michael Jordan of football: The only person in the league who can match the feats of Randall is Randall.
Virtually every personnel man in the league said 12 years ago that Moon's arm wasn't strong enough, that he wasn't big enough and smart enough to play the pro game. We all know now -- some of us knew then -- that if Moon were white he would have been drafted in the first three rounds. As is, he had to go to Canada to prove he could play. Now we see that Moon throws the prettiest pass on either side of the border. His arm is a slingshot. He takes a pounding not many at his position could stand up to. And few players in the league, regardless of position, are as smart. Having passed for 4,401 yards (and 32 touchdowns) already, Moon needs only two average weeks (for him) to break Dan Marino's single-season record of 5,004 yards.
By this time, undoubtedly, many are saying, "Anybody who leaves Joe Montana off the all-pro team is a fool." Montana is 13-1, the first 10 won with virtually no running game. He is the greatest quarterback of all time, for ever and ever. You say the run-and-shoot system in Houston is more responsible for the passing yardage than Moon. I say Moon has passed the league silly despite learning a new system and playing for a new coach. Moon will wind up with only a few more passes attempted than Marino in '84. Yes, it would take something extraterrestrial to beat out Montana. Moon's season has been that. So has Cunningham's. He also has had no running game to speak of, a weak offensive line, and started the season with two rookie wide receivers and without his all-pro tight end, Keith Jackson, who held out.
Jim Kelly and Marino also deserve serious consideration, but Cunningham and Moon are the picks here. Obviously, neither lacks any of the necessities. Why is that people who scout football talent for a living -- the same people who picked eight quarterbacks ahead of Peete (13 touchdowns, six interceptions) -- always recognize this talent after, not before, the college draft when the prospect is black? Maybe Moon and Cunningham will have a chance to raise a toast -- at the Pro Bowl.
There shouldn't be as much debate at the other positions. At running back, we'll take Barry Sanders and Thurman Thomas, who is a coin flip over Neal Anderson, who does more than both. (Apologies to Derrick Fenner.) The wide receivers are Jerry Rice and Buffalo's Andre Reed, with apologies to Atlanta's Andre Rison and Gary Clark. The linemen are Jim Lachey and Miami rookie Richmond Webb at tackle, Chicago's Tom Thayer and San Francisco's Guy McIntyre at guard, Chicago's Jay Hilgenberg at center. (For those of you who might note a Bears bias from a Chicagoan, NFL Films's Steve Sabol, who knows more about this stuff than anybody alive, says any of the Bears' offensive linemen deserves the honor.) The tight end, in a coin flip, is Jackson over Jay Novacek of the Cowboys.
The defensive line is composed of four ends: Bruce Smith (Why is there a controversy? Smith is the best defensive player in the league), Reggie White, Richard Dent and the Raiders' Greg Townsend. (Apologies to Miami's Jeff Cross and Fridge Jr. in Cleveland.) White gets double- and triple-teamed anyway, so what difference does it make if he plays inside our outside? Not only that, it's my team.
The linebackers are Charles Haley, Derrick Thomas and Pepper Johnson. (Apologies to Wilber Marshall, Cornelius Bennett, Eugene Lockhart, Kevin Greene and Michael Cofer). No LT and no Mike Singletary is almost sacrilege. They haven't slipped as far as many suggest, but they didn't have all-pro seasons either. The secondary includes cornerbacks Darrell Green and Kansas City's Albert Lewis, safeties Mark Carrier of Chicago and Miami's Louis Oliver.
Sean Landeta (surprise) is the punter, Miami's Pete Stoyanovich is the kicker, and the Giants' Reyna Thompson is the best special teams player in years, beating out Lewis, who blocks a punt about every other week. Coach of the year: the Cowboys' Jimmy Johnson. We can joke about the guy's hair all we want, but if this season is any indication, he may be the premier coach for a decade that's just begun.