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When NFL fans head to the Internet polls, popularity sometimes trumps performance

Pro Bowl vote fails to add up

December 17, 2006|By Alex Marvez | Alex Marvez,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Is a kicker currently out of the NFL worthy of making the Pro Bowl? Enough people felt that way to get Mike Vander jagt ranked fourth among all NFC kickers in the fi nal fan bal lot ing de spite the sea son-long strug gles that led to his re lease last month by the Dallas Cowboys.

The 62,042 votes Vander jagt re ceived are proof that the public shouldn't have a say when it comes to selecting which players will re ceive Pro Bowl honors when teams are an noun ced Tues day. But there are other ex am ples that show how ig norance and blind ad oration of fad ing players with all-star repu ta tions si phon votes from more worthy candidates.

The New England Pat ri ots' Larry Izzo, who has three Pro Bowl ap pear ances, was the AFC leader among special teams players. Izzo, though, is eighth on his team in special teams tackles (six) and hasn't forced or re covered a fumble this season.

Chicago Bears quar ter back Rex Grossman, who en tered last Monday night's game against the St. Louis Rams on the verge of being benched, is the third-ranked NFC quarterback.

Houston Texans rookie De Meco Ryans was unable to crack the top five among AFC in side linebackers de spite be ing credited by the NFL with a league-leading 127 tackles after last weekend's games.

The Cincinnati Bengals' Justin Smith is sec nd among AFC de fen sive ends de spite being tied for 14th in sacks in his conference (seven) while playing on the NFL's 26th-ranked defense.

On 41 kickoff re turns, Justin Miller of the New York Jets has a better av erage (29.0 yards to 22.7) and more touchdowns (two to zero) than the Kansas City Chiefs' Dante Hall. But Hall, a shell of the game-chan ging returner he once was, still edged Miller for the AFC's top spot.

The NFL is well aware that fan Pro Bowl vot ing is a popu lar ity contest, which is why those bal lots only count one-third in the three-tier se lec tion process. But the vot ing among coaches and players also has flaws be yond the fact that bal lots are cast with roughly 20 percent of the sea son re main ing.

Most players, some of whom have Pro Bowl-re lated in centives in their contracts, have only limited knowledge of the teams they don't face during the sea son.

Players also fre quently vote in packs rather than in di vi du ally. Mi ami Dolphins de fen sive end Ke vin Carter said the team's of fen sive and de fen sive units met separa tely to make their selections. Carter said de fen sive po si tion groups would ask others for feedback, like linemen quiz zing cor nerbacks about the league's best wide re ceivers.

Carter, who is the Dolphins' NFL Players As so cia tion representative, then compiled the re sults and submitted the leaders at each po si tion as part of a col lec tive bal lot.

Ideally, the NFL should abol ish the Pro Bowl in its current form be cause of the ridiculousness of having players - some of whom haven't tak en the field in six weeks - risk in jury in a meani ngless contest. But if the league in sists upon having a game rather than a black-tie awards cer emony or skills chal lenge, a combi na tion of votes from coaches, general managers and me dia would provide a much bet ter gauge of who is tru ly worthy.

Because as it stands right now, even some players have lost faith in the current sys tem.

"You can't put too much stock in it," said Dolphins right guard L.J. Shel ton, an eight-year NFL vet eran. "Pro Bowls are going to come if you play on a winning team and that pushes you over. There's a little bit of pol it ics in vol ved. You learn this is how the sys tem works and they're not going to change it."

That's a shame for de serving players who won't be re ceiving a free trip to Ho no lulu in February.

Alex Marvez writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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