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Players chosen for Pro Bowl

Cream rises

Posted: Thursday, January 03, 2002

NEW YORK -- Tom Brady made it to the Pro Bowl. So did three members of the Carolina Panthers, a team with one win. And so did Garrison Hearst, who came back from an ankle injury that sidelined him for two years and seemed to have ended his career.

The Pro Bowl teams, announced Wednesday, were the usual hodgepodge of surprises, sentiment and the same old names, many of whom make it simply because they ARE the same old names.

''It's been a horrible year but it's still an honor,'' said tight end Wesley Walls of Carolina, which can become the first team ever to lose 15 straight games in one season if it loses to New England on Sunday. ''Usually guys ride the crest of a winning team into the Pro Bowl and we certainly haven't had that.''

The other Panthers voted to the team by fans, players and coaches were punter Todd Sauerbrun and kick returner Steve Smith. ''It doesn't make any sense,'' Sauerbrun conceded.

As usual, the selections generated a lot of discussion -- the Pro Bowl is probably the only all-star game in which there's more interest in the selections than in the game, which will be played in Honolulu on Feb. 9, six days after the Super Bowl.

Two of this year's notables are Brady and Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart, who join Rich Gannon as AFC quarterbacks. Stewart has emerged as an MVP candidate after three subpar seasons.

''It's huge, it's huge, I can't say how big it is,'' Stewart said. ''To get the respect from those guys is more important than anything else.''

Brady was a sixth-round draft choice in 2000 and spent last season as the Patriots' fourth-string quarterback behind Drew Bledsoe, John Friesz and Michael Bishop. Brady started this year as a second stringer, becoming a starter when Bledsoe was hurt in the second game.

Since then, the Patriots are 10-3 and need only to win in Carolina Sunday to clinch the AFC East title.

''I think at some point you sit back and evaluate and say, 'Wow, this has been a pretty good year,''' Brady said. ''I don't think it's as much how far I've come. I think it's how far we've come as an offense.''

Brady's selection makes him just the fifth quarterback selected to the Pro Bowl in the season of his first start. The others are Dan Marino in 1983, Brett Favre in 1992, Kurt Warner in 1999 and Daunte Culpepper last season. Warner and Favre are on the NFC team this season, along with Jeff Garcia of San Francisco.

Then there's Hearst, who was a longshot to come back after two years out with an injury. But he's rushed for 1,149 yards, and the 49ers are 11-4 and in the playoffs after going 6-10 last season.

Starters will be announced Jan. 12.

One third of the voting was done by fans, one third by players and one third by coaches.

As usual, many Pro Bowlers are perennials past their prime, such as safety Rod Woodson of Baltimore and linebacker Jessie Armstead of the New York Giants. Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott made it as a fullback even though he regularly lines up at tailback behind fullback Jameel Cook.

Missing out were players such as Cincinnati's Takeo Spikes, who has had an outstanding season but was bypassed as the second inside linebacker in the AFC for Miami's Zach Thomas, another perennial.

''I'm sure that some people look at it as we're the Bengals, but mostly it's just the wins and losses,'' Spikes said. ''That will never change. I hate it. Life goes on..''

And Warner said: ''The Pro Bowl is sometimes a popularity contest. Sometimes people that definitely deserve to be there don't always get in. It takes them a year or two to get the notoriety.''

The Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers led each conference with six players apiece, even though the Bucs are the NFC's final playoff seed and the Ravens still haven't clinched a playoff berth. Atlanta and Cincinnati were the only team without Pro Bowlers.

Some of the St. Louis Rams, who have the NFL's best record at 13-2, were irked they had ''only'' five players selected: Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, cornerback Aeneas Williams, wide receiver Isaac Bruce and tackle Orlando Pace.

''You tell me what it is. I already know what it is,'' said middle linebacker London Fletcher, who didn't make it despite a solid season -- Chicago's Brian Urlacher and Philadelphia's Jeremiah Trotter were the two inside linebackers on the NFC team.

''It's obvious people around the league just don't like the Rams,'' Fletcher said. ''They feel they can snub us with Pro Bowl selections. But hey, we're still going to win the Super Bowl.''



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