Pro Bowl berths reflect Steelers' record

PITTSBURGH – The Steelers have four more losses than they did a year ago and it's reflected in the contingent they'll send to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl on Feb. 12. Last year, the 15-1 Steelers sent nine players to the Pro Bowl. This year they're sending four: Alan Faneca, Jeff Hartings, Troy Polamalu and Joey Porter.

Each of them has been there before: Faneca will play guard for the fifth time; Porter will play outside linebacker for the third time; Hartings will play center and Polamalu will play strong safety for the second time each. The starters will be announced during the NFL wild card playoff games on January 7.

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During the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2003 training camp, Jeff Hartings traveled to Birmingham, Ala., to have the meniscus cartilage removed from one knee. He said then that he has one, maybe two seasons left. But three seasons and two Pro Bowl selections later, Hartings is still ticking.

"The knee still hurts obviously," he said. "When you take the meniscus out it's painful. But the fact I've learned how to rehab it, how to keep it feeling good, how to practice smart, and then be able to play the games, I've had a lot of fun the last two years. Right now there's no reason to believe I wouldn't play next year."

Was Hartings surprised by his selection?

"No. I know that I'm one of the top centers in the AFC," he said. "It comes down to what teams are doing well. I kind of expected it to come down to Tom Nehlen since the Broncos are doing well, the Colts' center (Jeff Saturday), and me. I'm sure it was a close vote."

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Joey Porter couldn't get it through Larry Foote's head that, yes, he was invited to ride along with him to Honolulu, but no he couldn't bring his girlfriend AND sit in first class.

"I take all my guys," Porter said. "That's something that comes with the deal because I couldn't have done none of this without them. The least I could do is fly the whole defense out there to have fun with us."

The whole defense? Isn't that expensive?

"Half of them won't go," Porter said. "You invite everybody and only about seven or eight will show up."

Does that extend to your buddies in the media, too?

"No," Porter laughed, "because you all WILL show up."

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Alan Faneca is approaching the kind of numbers put up by his former linemate Dermontti Dawson, who went to seven Pro Bowls. Is Faneca beginning to view his resume with any historical perspective?

"I look at it in terms of year to year," he said. "Every year it's a struggle. New guys come in every year and every year you've got to get back to this level. As soon as the Pro Bowl's over with, I'm no longer a Pro Bowler in my mind. I've got to start a whole year over and work again for the next year. To look long term like that, I don't think you want to forget the short-term and all of the sudden slip up."

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Troy Polamalu, you've made the Pro Bowl for the second time in your three-year career, how do you feel?

"Mixed emotions," he said. "I feel bad because I wish more of my teammates would've made it. I think that the three-game losing streak probably affected how many players went."

Polamalu credited his teammates, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his faith in God.

"Not that faith is about getting Pro Bowls," he said.

But doesn't faith allow a person to fulfill his potential?

"Oh, I don't think we'll ever fulfill our potential. Faith is a constant battle."

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Then there are those who didn't make it. Hines Ward, Casey Hampton, James Farrior, Aaron Smith, Jerome Bettis, Marvel Smith are former Pro Bowlers. They could still make it as alternates, as three Steelers did last season. Hampton, for instance, is a first alternate this year.

"I don't know another nose guard as good as him," Porter said. "I feel he's the best in the game."

Bill Cowher agreed. "The defensive line, it is probably the best year that we have had," he said. "Aaron Smith, Kimo von Oelhoffen and Casey Hampton, those three guys are really special."

Porter also made a strong case for Clark Haggans, who leads the team with eight sacks.

"If it was between me and Clark," Porter said, "they probably said Joey because of the name."

Cowher felt Ward and Ben Roethlisberger should've been selected. Ward said Tuesday he expected to miss for the first time in five years because of his lowered receptions total. Roethlisberger said much of the same Wednesday.

"I'm not disappointed," Roethlisberger said. "I know when I deserve to be there and I don't feel like I deserve it yet. In this offense you don't put up big numbers."

NOTES – OT Marvel Smith (ankle) was upgraded to probable and is expected to play Saturday at Cleveland. CB Chidi Iwuoma (ankle/probable) and QB Tommy Maddox (illness/probable) were added to the injury list after missing Wednesday's practice. Also missing practice were LB Andre Frazier (hamstring/doubtful) and LB Clint Kriewaldt (ankle/probable). … Missing the Browns' practice Wednesday were CB Ray Mickens (groin/questionable) and DE Orpheus Roye (knee/questionable). … Porter has 7.5 sacks after an official scoring change split his sack Sunday with von Oelhoffen. Also, the fumble recovery initially credited to Tyrone Carter was given instead to Iwuoma.


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