No big surprise: No Niners named to Pro Bowl

Surprise, surprise. No 49ers were selected to the NFC Pro Bowl team announced Wednesday, the latest exclamation point stamped on San Francisco's dismal season. For those counting, it has been 24 years since the last time the Niners didn't send at least two players to the NFL's annual All-Star game.

But this is a season not typical of any the 49ers have had since the second of their back-to-back 2-14 seasons in 1979. San Francisco had no Pro Bowlers either season. The next year, 1980, was the last time the Niners were blanked on the NFC team.

Until now.

The latest snub is just another product of a 2-12 season that has the Niners pointed toward finishing with the NFL's worst record of 2004 and matching the 1978-79 San Francisco teams for the worst record in franchise history.

Coach Dennis Erickson told it like it is when asked if he was disappointed none of his players had been named to the NFC squad. The Niners had three players named last year in Erickson's first season with the team, and six players each named in the two years before he arrived on the scene.

"Sure I was (disappointed)," Erickson said. "We felt we had a couple of players that deserved it. But when you're 2-12, you're not going to get anybody. That's just how it is."

The 49ers don't really have many legitimate Pro Bowl candidates this year, but they definitely have some.

The most obvious is fourth-year tight end Eric Johnson, who leads all NFC tight ends with 77 receptions – a total that leaves him tied for seventh in the conference with former 49er Terrell Owens.

Johnson was named a NFC first alternate behind the two tight ends who made the squad – Atlanta's Alge Crumpler and Dallas' Jason Witten. Niners fullback Fred Beasley, who made the Pro Bowl last year for the first time, also was named a first alternate.

"I knew it would be close today," said Johnson, who already has broken franchise single-season records for receptions and receiving yardage by a tight end. "Being first alternate is obviously a great honor. To get respect from fans and other players and coaches from around the league, I'm very thankful for that. But also, at the same time, I can't help but feel a little bit disappointed not being on that first team. But it gives me incentive for next year."

When asked if his dip to third in the final balloting behind two players he had more catches than was a reflection of the team's record, Johnson said, "It definitely doesn't help. When you look at the Eagles, there is a reason that they're winning. They have a ton of great players. But it helps when you win to get you in the Pro Bowl. It's disappointing that we didn't have one guy on the first team. Definitely, the record can influence that a little bit."

Philadelphia had nine players selected to the NFC squad, easily the most from any team in the conference.

The only other San Francisco players to receive Pro Bowl recognition are defensive tackle Bryant Young, a four-time Pro Bowler who is having one of his best seasons, and second-year kick returner Arnaz Battle. Both players were named third alternates on the NFC team.

"The guys who made it definitely deserve it," said Young, who was selected in both 2000 and 2001 – but might be having a better season this year than either of those years. "My expectations weren't too high."

Not with the kind of season the Niners have had in 2004.

"Bryant Young had his greatest year," Erickson said. "Fred Beasley always deserves it. He's probably the best fullback in football. Eric had a lot of catches. But when you're 2-12, it's just not going to happen. All the individual awards are dependent on how you play as a team, and generally that's how it should be."

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