Aloha! Flanagan's all-star season

In the second of a series this week on Green Bay Packers participating this Sunday's AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, we take a look at Mike Flanagan. The center has truly reached the pinnacle of his career after a career-threatening injury early in his rookie season.<p>

The fact that Flanagan, an eighth-year pro, has played in 79 consecutive games (86 counting playoffs) is remarkable. The Los Angeles native broke both bones in his lower right leg while blocking on a kickoff during a preseason game in 1996. The injury led to muscle and nerve damage in his leg and it took the better part of two seasons before he was able to return to practice. Flanagan made the team in 1998 but only played near the end of the season when veteran Frank Winters suffered a leg injury. He served mainly as Winters' backup until 2001 when he earned the starting spot, but not before he recovered from a broken thumb that he suffered early in training camp.

Many felt Flanagan played well enough this season to be awarded a spot on the Pro Bowl team. But Chicago's Olin Kreutz and Minnesota's Matt Birk landed the two center spots on the squad, which is formed by a combination of fan and player voting. Flanagan was a first alternate, despite the fact that he did not miss a start, and was part of the Packers' best rushing offense in Packers history.

"I wasn't really surprised when I didn't make the Pro Bowl outright," Flanagan told packers.com. "There are only two spots for NFC centers and Kreutz and Matt Birk are elite players in this league. I feel like I had a good season, but that doesn't mean that I deserved to bump those guys out of the top spots."

When Kreutz recently withdrew because of a residual ankle sprain and bruised knee, Flanagan was the first to be asked if he would like to play in the all-star game. Naturally, he accepted the invite, though, the sting of losing to the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs has yet to wear off.

"For me, going to the Pro Bowl doesn't validate my season," Flanagan told packers.com. "The only true prize in this league is a Super Bowl championship. We had a great chance to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay this year and we let it slip through our fingers.

"But it's still an honor to be going. To be honest, I felt it was an honor just to be first-alternate.

I'm hoping that by playing in this game, maybe I'll be recognized a little bit more and might get the chance to go again in the future, but I'm not going to take this trip for granted." Flanagan is the first center to be named to the NFC squad since Frank Winters replaced the Dallas Cowboys' injured Ray Donaldson in the 1996 all-star game.

Flanagan joins running back Ahman Green, tight end Bubba Franks and right guard Marco Rivera in the all-star event. Quarterback Brett Favre was voted to the NFC all-star team, but will not attend the game due to injury.

If he can continue to play as well as he has in recent seasons, including 2002 when he displayed his versatility by starting seven games at left tackle for the injured Chad Clifton, Flanagan will be headed to many more Pro Bowls.

Note: Todd Korth is managing editor of Packer Report. Contact him at packrepted@aol.com.


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