Fullback Mike Alstott, linebacker Derrick Brooks, safety John Lynch, defensive end Simeon Rice and defensive tackle Warren Sapp are the five Bucs players headed to Honolulu, Hawaii exactly one week after Super Bowl XXXII is played in San Diego.
Alstott, Brooks and Sapp will each make their sixth straight trip to the Pro Bowl, which tied former Buc Hall of Famer Lee Roy Selmon for the most Pro Bowl selections by a Tampa Bay Buccaneer.
While the team had five of its players selected to the Pro Bowl to represent the Bucs on the NFC squad, they felt three of their teammates were inexcusably forgotten.
Buccaneers starting quarterback Brad Johnson, who has tossed a club-record 22 touchdowns and just six interceptions this season, ranks second in the NFC and fifth in the NFL with a 92.9 quarterback rating. But he was passed over by Pro Bowl voters for Brett Favre (Green Bay), Jeff Garcia (San Francisco) and Michael Vick (Atlanta).
Tampa Bay has the No. 1 rated defense in the league and they're ranked No. 1 against the pass. Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber has recorded 80 tackles, two interceptions and 21 passes defensed. His partner in crime, CB Brian Kelly, is tied for the league-lead in interceptions with six and he's added 72 tackles and 21 passes defensed to that statistic this season. Despite their exceptional play, neither Barber nor Kelly was voted to the Pro Bowl. Instead, Philadelphia cornerbacks Troy Vincent and Bobby Taylor and Washington CB Champ Bailey were voted in.
Needless to say, this baffled the majority of Tampa Bay's locker room.
"Brian Kelly needs to be there," said Rice, who felt at least three of his teammates were mistakenly left off of the Pro Bowl list. "He is leading the league in interceptions. Ronde Barber, he should be on that list. You have guys that aren't on that list that should be, and that's unfortunate. I've been there so many times, but you need to get it when you can. I'm happy for myself, but overall it's not right. I hope in time they can figure out a way to correct (the Pro Bowl) selection for the guys that should be going. I think Brad Johnson is our team's MVP. He is one of the catalysts making this team go. Brian Kelly is having a phenomenal year, but he gets no press. Ronde Barber is having a great year. Things hopefully will change."
"You know, I think you always feel that way about your teammates, but particularly this year I felt like there were some guys on our team who've had Pro Bowl years who were left off," Lynch said on Thursday. "I've always said it's not an exact science, it never will be, but there were some guys in particular, Ronde Barber, Brad Johnson, Brian Kelly, that really had Pro Bowl years and unfortunately won't be going."
Tampa Bay has had 39 Pro Bowl selections over the last seven seasons. The team had six Pro Bowlers last season and despite the fact that the team is off to its best start in franchise history, (11-3), this season's total is the fewest the team has had since it sent five players to Hawaii in 1998.
"Well, if I was voting I would have voted for some of these guys," said Bucs head coach Jon Gruden. "I don't know how the process works, I really don't. I really care to not comment on it any further than that. I congratulate the men that did make it and I do believe we had some worthy candidates that were overlooked. But I'm not one to sit here and dwell about the damn Pro Bowl."
Alstott was the only player on Tampa Bay's offense to be selected as a Pro Bowler, which came as quite a surprise.
"Of course (I'm surprised)," said Alstott. "There are some guys that, offensively and defensively, that should have been rewarded also. It's sad, but at the same time, we'll look at the reward as a team achievement."
While the Bucs feel like they should have more than five players representing their team in Hawaii, Brooks said the majority of teams in the NFL probably feel the same way about their teammates.
"Yeah, you obviously feel that way," Brooks said of some of his deserving teammates not being recognized as Pro Bowlers. "At the same time, there are probably a lot of other guys who feel that way about their teammates, too. Like I said, hopefully, we can go to the Super Bowl and make that consolation for everybody on the football team, so we feel like we did something together, so the ones that didn't make it feel like they got something bigger with the Super Bowl Championship."
PewterReport.com has listed Tampa Bay's five Pro Bowl players and each of their 2002 accomplishments along with their reactions below.
MIKE ALSTOTT - FULLBACK:
Alstott, who actually sees more action as a tailback than a fullback in Jon Gruden's offense, ranks second on the team in rushing with 478 yards on 129 carries (3.7 avg.). He's also hauled in 33 passes for 234 yards. The "A-Train" has scored a total of seven touchdowns this season (five rushing, two receiving). This marks the sixth consecutive season Alstott has been voted to the Pro Bowl.
"Obviously, I'm very excited," Alstott said. "As far as individual achievements, you always want to be selected by your peers, the coaches, and the fans. It's a great award, but at the same time, I would like to play a week before that. It feels good, though. I just try to go out there and play hard. It's great to be rewarded."
DERRICK BROOKS - LINEBACKER:
Tampa Bay's weakside linebacker is regarded as one of the best in the league. He ranks second on the team in tackles with 145 and he's also headed to his sixth consecutive Pro Bowl. Brooks has also recorded one fumble and 13 passes defensed this season.
Brooks, who was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Month for October, became the only linebacker in team history to return three interceptions for touchdowns in a season in 2002. His four touchdowns on four turnovers this season are tied for second most in a single season in league history.
"It means a lot," Brooks said. "It just shows consistency in your play, and I thank God for it. Being able to stay at the top of your game for six years is huge. We all take it as a special achievement, but obviously we want to win that Super Bowl ring."
JOHN LYNCH – SAFETY
Tampa Bay's starting strong safety is headed to the Pro Bowl for the fourth consecutive time and fifth in his career. The 10th-year pro has recorded 78 tackles, three interceptions and 12 passes defensed this season. Lynch's stellar play is one of the main reasons why Tampa Bay's defense is ranked No. 1 overall, No. 6 against the run and No. 1 against the pass this season.
"It's always a great honor," Lynch said of being selected to the Pro Bowl. "I think the biggest thing it means to me is that the fans are involved and you appreciate that, and the coaches, but to be recognized by your own peers as the top at your position is a tremendous honor.
"I think what I like most of all, like I said earlier, is the fact that you are being recognized by your peers as the top player at your position. I think we've got bigger fish to fry this year. It's nice to make it (to the Pro Bowl), but there's obviously other things that are much more important to this team. But it's always nice."
SIMEON RICE – DEFENSIVE END
Tampa Bay's starting right defensive end will make his first Pro Bowl appearance as a Buccaneer and second of his career. Rice has had a phenomenal year, using his unique speed and athleticism to record 14.5 sacks, which ranks first in the NFC and second in the NFL. Rice set a single-season record by notching two or more sacks in five straight games this season. Rice has also forced six fumbles this season. Rice was named NFC Defensive Player of the Month for November and he has recorded 66 tackles and 10 passes defensed this season.
"I appreciate the fact that my play has been recognized," Rice said. "It's unfortunate the other guys on the team have not gotten the praises and the just due that they need, in terms of the Brian Kelly's, the Brad Johnson's, the Ronde Barber's. I think in the upcoming games we can hopefully address these issues and continue to win out."
WARREN SAPP – DEFENSIVE TACKLE
Tampa Bay's starting under tackle will head to the Pro Bowl for the sixth consecutive season. Sapp leads NFC interior linemen with 7.5 sacks this season. He's also recorded 68 tackles, two interceptions, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and three passes defensed.
"It's a big accomplishment," Sapp said. "It really is. If you go over the laundry list of players that have done it for that number of years, the list dwindles when you talk about over five, six, seven years in a row where you're considered one of the best at what you do. It's really a hat off to each one of the guys that make it and each one of the guys that played well enough to make it and didn't make it. Ronde (Barber) and Brian (Kelly) had excellent years, and so did Brad Johnson at quarterback."
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