Bennett Joins Rare Company Today

Michael Bennett should see significant playing time in today's Pro Bowl, which is a rare feat for Vikings running backs.

When the Vikings drafted Michael Bennett, the hope was that he would develop into a Pro Bowl type of running back. However, even the most hopeful projections figured it would take three or four years before that wish was realized.

Think again. Today, Bennett makes his first Pro Bowl appearance and, while it is the result of Green Bay's Ahman Green and Tiki Barber of the Giants passing on the all-star competition, Bennett is joining rarified company.

Bennett will be one of three running backs on the NFC roster, joining Marshall Faulk of St. Louis and Deuce McAllister of New Orleans as the guys carrying the mail on the ground for the NFC. Considering that both Faulk and McAllister were hobbled at the end of the regular season, there is every indication that Bennett may see extended playing time.

The Vikings have been well-represented over the years in the Pro Bowl, but running back hasn't been a regular position of strength for the Vikings in Hawaii. Following an era where Emmitt Smith and Barry Sanders were annual selections, the Vikings running corps has been represented quite infrequently.

Robert Smith was elected to the Pro Bowl twice — in 1998 and 2000. Due to an injury that prompted him to abruptly retire after the 2000 season, he didn't play that year — making his only Pro Bowl appearance in 1998. Beyond that, it's been a long stretch of inactivity for the Vikings running game on the national stage.

Prior to Smith, the last Vikings RB to play in the Pro Bowl was Chuck Foreman in 1977. That year was the last of five straight Pro Bowl selections for Foreman. Aside from Foreman, Dave Osborn was selected in 1970, Bill Brown was voted on in 1964-65 and 1967-68, Tommy Mason made the team from 1962 to 1964 and veteran Hugh McElhenny was placed on the squad in 1961.

So, it's easy to see why today will be a big day for Bennett and the Vikings. In the last quarter-century, the Pro Bowl has seen a Vikings running back represent the NFC just once. Considering that, it shouldn't matter that Bennett was the fifth choice instead of one of the top three. The fact that he's playing at all is an accomplishment Vikings fans have seen just once in many of our lifetimes — or at least our recollections.

* There is little question Bennett's success this season works hand in hand with head coach Mike Tice's philosophy of running the ball to set up the passing game. In fact, Tice said he was disappointed Oakland didn't run against Tampa Bay's undersized defensive line in the Super Bowl. Incidentally, Tice picked Oakland to win. No wonder he was disappointed.
* Bennett is hardly the only newcomer to the Pro Bowl this year. The AFC team features 12 first-timers, and the NFC team has 13 Pro Bowl rookies.

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