'The Pro Bowl is a joke'

Jeff Ulbrich was the only 49er to receive an honor Wednesday – and it wasn't a Pro Bowl berth.

But the fiery fifth-year linebacker had a few choice words for the way the Pro Bowl squad is selected – not to mention some of the players picked to represent the NFC this year at his position – after he was honored by his teammates as the winner of the 2004 Matt Hazeltine Award.

Ulbrich, having his best season since joining the Niners in 2000, was humbled by the honor, which is given annually to the team's most courageous and inspirational defensive player.

But when the conversation turned to the NFC Pro Bowl team, which also was announced Wednesday, Ulbrich spoke up with a vengeance. The 49ers had no player selected to the NFC team for the first time in 24 years.

After already setting a career high with a team-leading 144 tackles this season with two games still remaining, Ulbrich was asked if – given his rise to prominence this year – he had a set year in mind for making the Pro Bowl himself.

"I could give a sh-- about the Pro Bowl, especially looking at who (made) it today," Ulbrich said. "I mean, Jeremiah Trotter and Dan Morgan? You have to be f------ kidding me. In the NFC, it's a f------ joke. It's whoever is on SportsCenter and whoever the media wants to pump up. That's who makes it. It's absolutely ridiculous."

Ulbrich was chagrined that those two players in particular – neither of whom is having a spectacular individual season – were chosen at middle linebacker over players such as the Niners' Derek Smith, who has 137 tackles this year despite missing two games.

Morgan, who has 81 tackles this year, has missed four games this season and hasn't played more than 11 games in any of his first four NFL seasons. Trotter has just 66 tackles so far this year.

"Derek Smith has started more games than Trotter and Morgan combined and plays better than both of them," Ulbrich said. "It's just unbelievable. I don't understand it. The Pro Bowl is a joke. It really is a joke. Morgan and Jeremiah Trotter? I mean, you have to be sh---ing me."

Pro Bowl rosters are selected by fans and NFL coaches and players, with each counting for a third of the vote. Ulbrich said it is difficult for players – who can't vote for their own teammates – to evaluate who really deserves to be selected each year, since they only face a handful of the top candidates in their conference each year and might not see some of the top players all year long – even on film.

"As players, when we vote for the other guys, we're week to week," Ulbrich said. "We evaluate a running back one week, then we forget and move on. Then we sit down to vote two or three guys in. We'll just go by the stat sheet or think about who we saw on SportsCenter. That's no way to evaluate who the best is out there.

"(But) players are giving a more educated vote than fans are, absolutely. Fans are just SportsCenter watchers or headline readers. Whoever captures your headlines or is in your SportsCenter clip, that's who is going to get voted in, unfortunately. It's the guy who has the best dance or the best celebration after his dance. I just know that the way it works now, the guys who get voted in are a joke."

But Ulbrich's selection for the Hazeltine Iron Man Award is no joke. He deserves it.

Because of injuries to others, Ulbrich has started at all three linebacker positions this season and has become one of the team's defensive leaders. He already has surpassed his previous career best of 138 tackles last year. One of San Francisco's steadiest performers this year in a down season for several of the team's top veterans, Ulbrich also has a sack and one of the team's eight interceptions.

"He's been like that ever since I've been here," Niners coach Dennis Erickson said. "He's tough, he's competitive, he doesn't miss practice, he doesn't miss games. He's a true defensive linebacker-type player. He's as tough a guy as I've been around. So he's well-deserving of that award."

Ulbrich acknowledged that the award was special to him, especially considering the list of distinguished 49ers who have won it before him.

"I'm in great company," Ulbrich said. "It's exciting. Unfortunately, it didn't come in a better season, a season where the team was having more success. But still, it's a great honor."


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