"Ask Vic" will publish on Mondays and Thursdays through the offseason.
There's not much in the way of football news these days, so I've decided to go off the grid today. What follows is my all-time team. These are the best players, by position, I covered in the years (1972-2015) I spent covering the NFL.
Center -- Mike Webster, Steelers. He might be the greatest center in football history. His strength and toughness define him, but he also had the mobility to get out in front of a ballcarrier and make blocks downfield. The same could be said of Dermontti Dawson. I picked Webster because he played longer and won four Super Bowls.
Guards -- Josh Sitton, Packers, and Carlton Haselrig, Steelers. They were pure power and they could've played in any era. Sitton would've been even better in the drive-block era, and Haselrig would've been devastating in the Packer sweep. I've covered guards who've played longer, but they weren't nearly as physically dominant as these two.
Tackles -- Tony Boselli, Jaguars, and Leon Searcy, Steelers/Jaguars. I saw Jason Gildon beat Boselli on a twist once, and that's the only time I can remember seeing Boselli beaten on a pass rush. Tom Coughlin once said to me, "It's a luxury each week knowing you don't have to worry about the blindside rush." Boselli was the abbreviated version of Anthony Munoz. Searcy had the best punch in the league. He could knock the wind out of a guy making a swim move. I also considered the Steelers' Jon Kolb, a left tackle who could pass block and run block with equal aplomb and who starred in the Super Bowl against Jim Marshall, Harvey Martin (twice) and Fred Dryer.
Tight end -- Kyle Brady, Jaguars. Eric Green of the Steelers or Jermichael Finley of the Packers -- they're the most talented tight ends I covered -- could've been the guy, but they were shooting stars at a position defined by longevity. Brady was an every-down block-and-catch tight end who played 13 years and quietly accumulated some impressive stats (343 catches, 3,519 yards).
Wide receivers -- Lynn Swann and John Stallworth, Steelers. They did things in the run-the-ball era that would be eye-popping in today's game. Jimmy Smith of the Jaguars was every bit the big-play receiver Swann and Stallworth were, but Swann and Stallworth have the rings and the big plays in multiple Super Bowls that make them my picks. Keenan, you know I love you.
Running backs -- Fred Taylor, Jaguars, and Franco Harris, Steelers. Taylor is the greatest combination of size and speed I ever covered. Had Fred played on the Steelers during the Franco Harris years, Fred would be in the Hall of Fame and he would've been the first to pass Jim Brown. Fred had big-play ability to rival O.J. and Dorsett, and he had the size to pound between the tackles. Franco? I think of his touchdown run in the third quarter of the 1974 AFC title game. He came roaring up the middle, knees up and pads down. Jack Tatum took one look and rolled off his block away from Harris. They didn't call Tatum assassin that day. I can think of another word. Harris was a great big-game running back.
Quarterback -- Aaron Rodgers, Packers. Bradshaw's got the rings and nobody played better when the lights were the brightest, but it's impossible to ignore Rodgers' body of work and the ease with which he moves the football. Rodgers has done things Bradshaw didn't have to do. That's the difference.
Defensive ends -- L.C. Greenwood, Steelers, and Tony Brackens, Jaguars. Greenwood was as good against the run as he was at rushing the passer, and it's important to remember he played left end when right tackle was the dominant position on the offensive line. Greenwood beat the best, including having embarrassed the great Ron Yary in Super Bowl IX. Brackens was the modern-day pass rusher. He had a lightning-quick first step and he was at his best playing in space. He was one of the most athletic players I ever covered and I think he would've been even better cast as a 3-4 rush backer. If a knee injury hadn't cut his career short, he might be in the Hall of Fame.
Defensive tackles -- Joe Greene and Ernie Holmes, Steelers. In their peak years, they might've been the best DT tandem in pro football history. The day George Perles turned Joe sideways is the day the Steelers' Super Bowl run began. Holmes never got his due and that's because Joe stole the spotlight, but in the '75 and '76 seasons, as Joe was nursing a pinched nerve, Holmes was the best defensive tackle in the game.
Linebackers -- Jack Lambert, Jack Ham and LeVon Kirkland, Steelers. And the next three might also be Steelers. Defense did not define the years I spent in Jacksonville and Green Bay. In the '76 season's Pro Bowl, there were eight Steelers in the huddle when Lambert began calling Steelers defensive plays. "You other guys stay out of the way," Lambert said. Ham is the best form tackler I ever covered; he almost never missed a tackle. Kirkland covered more ground, from blitzing the quarterback to covering tight ends deep down the field, than any other hold-the-point defensive player I covered. I thought he was the real star of the "Blitzburgh" defensive front.
Defensive backs -- Mel Blount, Rod Woodson and Donnie Shell, Steelers, and Charles Woodson, Packers. Three in the Hall of Fame and one on the way. I can't imagine assembling a better secondary. Blount defined the bump-and-run era. He changed the game by forcing the league to change the rules. The two Woodsons are the same guy. They were great athletes who could play on both sides of the ball and who transitioned to safety late in their careers. Shell was pure toughness and with 51 interceptions; that's a rare combination. Shell is the only player to hit Earl Campbell head on and get the better of him. Earl's broken ribs were the turning point in the '78 "Luv Ya Blue" classic.
Kicker -- Gary Anderson, Steelers. Mason Crosby, Packers, is a very close second. Dependable describes both.
Punter -- Bryan Barker, Jaguars. The best wind and directional punter I covered.
Kick returner -- (Tie) Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars, and Randall Cobb, Packers. Jones-Drew was rugged and explosive, Cobb ran with his eyes.