In many ways, the Pro Bowl is a popularity contest. Players with big names, especially at positions like offensive line, are selected to the Pro Bowl on reputation more than dominance.
But, as the NFL all-stars prepare for Sunday's official season finale, a pair of Vikings head to the game filled with the power of redemption.
Darren Sharper will start for the NFC at safety, less than a year after being released by the Packers. The Packers front office said the move, along with getting rid of both starting offensive guards, was due to salary cap restrictions that faced the team in 2005. But the truth is, there was a strong undercurrent among the Packers -- at least as it was expressed in the Green Bay media -- that Sharper had seen his best days and that he was no longer the player that made the spectacular plays of years past. In short, the Packers weren't going to pay Sharper All-Pro money when it was believed that he was closer to being an injury-plagued has-been.
Sharper proved all of them wrong in 2005 -- leading the Vikings to a sweep of Green Bay and re-establishing himself as one of the top interceptors in the NFL. While most of the Packers are sitting at home Sunday, Sharper will be in Hawaii showing NFL fans what the Packers missed out on.
Sharper is joined by teammate Koren Robinson, whose story was even more pronounced. Labeled a malcontent by coach Mike Holmgren, Robinson was released last summer and, as training camp opened, Robinson was in a rehab facility for treatment of a drinking problem.
While in treatment, Mike Tice made the first call to express an interest in his joining the team -- some have speculated that Tice's potential tampering with a Vikings player after signing on with the Jags last month was with Robinson. Even so, his trip to the Pro Bowl was far but assured.
A buzz went through the press box prior to the home opener when Robinson was unceremoniously listed on the changes to the depth chart as "removed from the roster" with no further immediate explanation. In fact, in order to cover their own administrative butts, the Vikings released Robinson three separate times -- the last of which could have been costly. It came after the Packers had lost wide receiver Javon Walker for the season and were willing to pay K-Rob more than he was getting from the Vikings. Instead, Robinson showed his loyalty to Tice and the Vikings and re-signed -- for less money and no guarantees.
While Sunday's game will feature many of the media darlings that we see do advertisements for most of the major NFL sponsors, you won't see commercials with Sharper or Robinson airing during the game. Their reward hasn't come as corporate spokesmen, their reward has been through the power of redemption and the reclamation of their stellar careers when others were more than willing to give up on them.
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