Pro Bowl voting leaves Steelers fuming

<b>PITTSBURGH -</b> Bill Cowher stood in the middle of his Pittsburgh Steelers and ticked off the six names of the just-released Pro Bowl class.

Each of them received three synchronized claps from the rest of the team as if they were being introduced for a girls' volleyball match.

Joey Porter.

Clap, clap, clap.

Troy Polamalu. James Farrior.

Clap, clap, clap.

Alan Faneca. Hines Ward. Jeff Hartings.

Clap, clap, clap.

The Steelers have more Pro Bowlers than any team but the Philadelphia Eagles, who have nine, but there could've been more. Several players were upset that Aaron Smith didn't make it.

"I would trade mine to let Aaron go because I thought he played better than I did," said Porter. "I mean, Aaron really had a good year. It's just one of those situations where he's always getting the short end of the stick."

"It's bull----," said Kimo von Oelhoffen. "I'm not disappointed, I'm discouraged. Aaron Smith is the best defensive end in the NFL."

Smith was named an alternate, as were Ben Roethlisberger, Antwaan Randle El, Marvel Smith, Chris Gardocki and Dan Kreider. That didn't salve von Oelhoffen's anger.

"He's not an alternate. He's number one," von Oelhoffen said. "You name one person better than him. Jason Taylor? Three yards outside the tackle and rush the quarterback. Come on."

Von Oelhoffen is also a 3-4 defensive end, and he led the team with eight sacks last year, just as Smith is doing this year.

"I'm a good, solid player who does his job but Aaron's the best I've seen in years.Years," von Oelhoffen said. "Not just this year, but the last three years he's been among the best. You (reporters) need to say something about classifying him as a tackle. Richard Seymour is a tackle. Gary Walker, who made it two years ago, is a tackle. We play the same exact position. Forty percent of the time we play a 4-3. It's an under defense. We're only in the true 3-4 about 50-60 percent of the time. The rest of the time we're in a reduced front. We're either head up on a tackle or on the guard. That's it. We never go outside. So he should be considered a tackle. He's the best defensive end in the NFL I've seen in probably the last five or six years."

Smith showered and left early, but Farrior, his next-door neighbor in the locker room, continued von Oelhoffen's argument.

"To be an interior lineman in our defense, and have the numbers he has, he definitely deserves to make it," said Farrior. "I think he's in a bad situation in how they position the guys to go to the Pro Bowl. He plays a totally different position. He's not on the edge rushing. He's inside in the trenches and he got eight sacks off of that. That says a lot about the guy and he did deserve it."

Farrior's outstanding numbers - 108 tackles, 5 forced fumbles, 3 recovered fumbles, 4 interceptions, 4 sacks -- helped him make his first Pro Bowl. Hartings is another first-timer.

"It probably means maybe a little bit more because I've been an alternate three or four or five times," Hartings said. "On top of that, this year I feel like I have played really well, so I don't feel like I don't deserve it."

For the man to the left of Hartings on the line, making the Pro Bowl has become routine. In fact, Alan Faneca accepted his fourth consecutive berth and was asked if it's becoming old.

"No," he said with a laugh. "Everybody asks that every year. I don't know what to say other than no, it doesn't get old."

Faneca is considered by experts to be the best offensive lineman in the game today.

"That's nice to hear," he said. "I'm my own worst critic so I'm always more down on myself than anybody could ever write or talk about me. To me, I still see mistakes I make and things I could do better. I think I'm out there doing a good job but I can always improve."

Ward will also make his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl appearance. He has 75 catches for 972 yards and 4 touchdowns.

"Being on a predominantly running team, to go to my fourth consecutive Pro Bowl is a huge accomplishment for me," Ward said. "I'm just very blessed and fortunate to maintain my level of play.

"My stats aren't as high as other guys but I'd like to think I'm still playing at a Pro Bowl caliber throughout the whole year. It's just a credit to my teammates. Ben's having a tremendous year. I wish he had a shot to go out there to Hawaii with me."

Roethlisberger was asked if his failure to make the Pro Bowl meant anything to him.

"No," he said. "It didn't mean anything. A Super Bowl would mean something."


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