That nine Dallas Cowboys made the Pro Bowl is hardly a surprise. Just whom was left out is.
Four Cowboys will start, including cornerback Deion Sanders, but stars Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin and Leon Lett won’t be headed to Honolulu for the Feb. 2 game.
Lett was given a one-year suspension earlier this month under the NFL substance abuse program and couldn’t have played even if voted to the team by players, coaches and fans. Irvin missed five games at the beginning of the season, also because of a drug-related suspension, but has been outstanding since he returned.
Still, the biggest stunner is not seeing Smith on the NFC roster for the first time in his seven-year career. Smith was beaten out by starters Barry Sanders of Detroit, Terry Allen of Washington and reserve Ricky Watters of Philadelphia.
“I’m just not one of the best backs this year, I guess,” Smith said. “I’m not that surprised. I kind of expected it. That’s the way it goes. I’m glad some of my linemen did make it. For me, it means I’ve got to work a lot harder in the off-season.”
Two of those linemen, tackle Erik Williams and guard Larry Allen, are starters. So is defensive end Tony Tolbert, while the backups from Dallas are quarterback Troy Aikman, guard Nate Newton, center Ray Donaldson and safety Darren Woodson. Jim Schwantz made it as a special teams player.
The Carolina Panthers, in the playoffs in just their second year of existence, landed seven players on the NFC squad. That includes all three starting linebackers: Kevin Greene, Sam Mills and Lamar Lathon. Other Panthers were tight end Wesley Walls, kicker John Kasay, kick returner Michael Bates and backup cornerback Eric Davis.
Jerry Rice and Reggie White were selected for a record-tying 11th time each. White, the star defensive end of the Green Bay Packers, and Rice, the San Francisco 49ers’ eminent wide receiver, tied the record of 11 Pro Bowls set by tackle Anthony Munoz.
The other NFC offensive starters were Detroit wide receiver Herman Moore, New Orleans tackle William Roaf, Minnesota guard Randall McDaniel, Detroit center Kevin Glover, Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre and Arizona fullback Larry Centers.
On defense, the other starters were Minnesota tackle John Randle, San Francisco tackle Bryant Young, Arizona cornerback Aeneas Williams, Green Bay safety LeRoy Butler and San Francisco safety Merton Hanks.
The punter was Matt Turk of Washington.
The Denver Broncos led the AFC with seven players: quarterback John Elway, tight end Shannon Sharpe, tackle Gary Zimmerman and running back Terrell Davis as offensive starters, plus end Alfred Williams and free safety Steve Atwater as defensive starters. The backup Bronco was defensive tackle Michael Dean Perry. For the AFC offense, other starters were Cincinnati wide receiver Carl Pickens, San Diego WR Tony Martin, New England tackle Bruce Armstrong, Houston guard Bruce Matthews, Kansas City guard Will Shields, Pittsburgh center Dermontti Dawson, Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and Kansas City fullback Kimble Anders.
The AFC starting defense also had end Bruce Smith of Buffalo; tackles Cortez Kennedy of Seattle and Chester McGlockton of Oakland; linebackers Junior Seau of San Diego, Chad Brown of Pittsburgh and Derrick Thomas of Kansas City; cornerbacks Ashley Ambrose of Cincinnati and Dale Carter of Kansas City; and strong safety Carnell Lake of Pittsburgh.
AFC specialists included kicker Cary Blanchard and punter Chris Gardocki of Indianapolis, kick returner David Meggett of New England and special-teamer Henry Mills of Houston.
Something to prove
Drew Bledsoe is one of the NFL’s best quarterbacks for one of the league’s best teams, the Patriots. Yet both still have something to prove in their next game.
Bledsoe will try to overcome the Cowboys’ outstanding cornerbacks, Deion Sanders and Kevin Smith. And his team hopes to defeat one of its toughest opponents of the season on Sunday.
The Patriots are 10-4, have clinched a playoff berth and have won 10 of their last 12 games.
But those two losses came at home against two of the toughest teams in the league. Washington was 4-1 and Denver 9-1 going into those games.
“I don’t feel like we have stepped up and played our best football in some of our biggest games,” Bledsoe said Wednesday. Against Washington and Denver, “we didn’t play at our top level, so we have to prove that we can do that in a big game.
“We can play for some pride, prove that we’re a good enough team to go down against the defending world champions and beat them.”
Quarterback Boomer Esiason returned to the Arizona Cardinals, saying he agreed to pay a fine for skipping one practice the day before and another during his locker-front news conference. He said he has taken back his request to be released and will finish the season, even if if means being a backup.
The walkout took place less than 24 hours after coach Vince Tobin told Esiason on Tuesday morning that he was being replaced by Kent Graham, who was starting until he sprained a knee on Nov. 3.
Reggie White, who signed a five-year, $19 million contract extension with the Packers one week before his 35th birthday, says he could have made more money in free agency. But the man who has the most sacks (162-1/2) since the NFL began charting that statistic said he didn’t want to pull up roots in an area where he has become an icon. “I wanted to be a Packer, retire as a Packer, go into the Hall of Fame as a Packer,” White said.
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