Pro Bowl voting has been completed, and as usual there are howls across America about worthy players being left off the teams. This year, several primal screams are totally justified.
The Arizona Cardinals have every right to moan about the exclusion of defensive end Simeon Rice from the NFC team. Playing on an injury-depleted unit for most of the season, Rice leads the NFC with 14 1/2 sacks and has forced six fumbles, but was a victim of the fan portion of the voting.
The teams are selected by fans, players and coaches, each with a one-third input. While players and coaches had Rice graded high enough to make it, he finished sixth in fan balloting and missed out on a roster spot.
"This is terrible," said Andre Wadsworth, Rice's teammate and fellow defensive end. "I always looked at the Pro Bowl as something prestigious, something that's not about names. To me, this takes something away from the Pro Bowl."
Other significant Pro Bowl omissions include New York Jets running back Curtis Martin, who has rushed for 1,306 yards; Jets safety Victor Green, who leads AFC safeties in tackles and interceptions; Indianapolis Colts tackle Tarik Glenn, who is one of the reasons rookie running back Edgerrin James has had such a sweet season; Green Bay Packers safety Leroy Butler, who still is the glue that holds the Packers' defense together; Chicago Bears wide receiver Marcus Robinson, who missed out despite 77 catches and nine touchdowns; and Minnesota Vikings quarterback Jeff George, who has 22 touchdown passes and a 95.5 quarterback rating.
The Packers do not have a Pro Bowl selection for the first time since 1991. The Pittsburgh Steelers do not have a pick for the first time in 30 years, but five former Steelers were named to the two squads--Jacksonville tackle Leon Searcy and safety Carnell Lake, Baltimore safety Rod Woodson, Seattle linebacker Chad Brown and Tampa Bay linebacker Hardy Nickerson.
Tampa Bay's Mike Alstott made the team as the NFC's fullback, even though the 250-pounder plays as a featured runner in a one-back set and is not an especially good blocker. He also has fumbled six times this season, and Dec. 19 against Oakland he ran for six yards on seven carries and committed a key turnover in the Buccaneers' 45-0 loss.
San Diego linebacker Junior Seau, who has been plagued by injuries, failed to make the AFC team for the first time after eight straight appearances. Said Seau: "It's something I will never get used to and I'm not going to accept. It's going to be a different approach next year."
Anyone who thinks Washington Redskins wide receiver Michael Westbrook should have made the NFC team has not been paying attention. When Westbrook consistently starts running proper patterns, stops dropping passes and ceases his inappropriate comments on opponents and officials, then and only then should he be considered.
Flag of '87 Landed With Impact
The flag-throwing incident that sent Cleveland Browns tackle Orlando Brown to the hospital last week and led to his indefinite suspension for pushing referee Ben Triplette by no means was an NFL first.
Former Redskins tackle Joe Jacoby said he recalled a similar flag that was directed at the face of his teammate, guard R.C. Thielemann, in a game against the Falcons in Atlanta in 1987.
"I remember looking around and the flag was sticking out of his face mask," Jacoby said. "I pulled it out. R.C. got a black eye out of it, but that was about it. Oh yeah, he was pretty upset. He didn't get physical with the [official], but he definitely got verbal."
Collins Loses Paycheck
The Miami Dolphins announced last week that troubled running back Cecil Collins no longer will be paid this season. He was arrested Dec. 16 on two counts of burglary of an occupied dwelling stemming from an early-morning break-in at a South Florida apartment.
Collins will be extradited to Louisiana, where he is on probation for breaking into an apartment and could face five years in jail. Dolphins Coach Jimmy Johnson said last week he will continue to take chances on players with off-field problems. Johnson also had troubled Dimitrius Underwood on the squad before releasing him last week, and signed free agent wide receiver Tony Martin during the offseason, even though Martin had been indicted for money-laundering. Martin was acquitted of the charges this fall.
"I don't think you can have a hard line and say we're not going to take a chance on anybody who has ever had problems before," Johnson said. "When you do that, you bypass the Randy Mosses and Warren Sapps and on and on. And you bypass people that are completely innocent, like Tony Martin."
Johnson, it must be noted, once had former Redskins defensive end Dexter Manley on his teams at Oklahoma State. Manley stayed eligible for three years with Johnson as head coach, and has since said he did not know how to read at the time.
Now Starting, No. 60
The New Orleans Saints' Jake Delhomme became the 60th quarterback to start an NFL game this year as injuries at perhaps the sport's most dangerous position continued to mount. Seventeen of the league's 31 teams have used backup quarterbacks because of injury or ineffectiveness.
Quarterbacks have missed a combined 97 starts because of injury this season, including games missed by potential Hall of Famers Dan Marino, Troy Aikman and Steve Young.
The total of 60 is two short of last year's record of 62 starting quarterbacks. The total keeps going up almost every year, with 53 in 1994, 50 in '95, 54 in '96 and 58 in '97.
League Calls Y2K Audible
Because of concerns about Y2K glitches, the NFL has ordered visiting teams to leave for game sites on Friday in case of travel delays. . . .
Field goals are up this season, accounting for 22.3 percent of points scored, compared with 20.8 percent last year. . . . The Chicago Bears became the second team in league history with three 1,000-yard passers in Shane Matthews, Cade McNown and Jim Miller. The only other team to do so was the 1993 Dolphins, with Marino, Steve DeBerg and Scott Mitchell. . . .
The St. Louis Rams' Dick Vermeil, 62, and the Colts' Jim Mora, 63, are the two oldest coaches in the league, and they just might face each other in Super Bowl XXXIV next month in Atlanta. They are longtime friends who served on John Ralston's staff at Stanford in the mid-1960s. When Vermeil became head coach at UCLA in 1974, he hired Mora as linebackers coach.