Pro Bowl honors vs. Super Bowl aspirations

The Vikings have dominated the fan voting for the Pro Bowl, but even those hoping to become Pro Bowl players for the first time wouldn't mind being forced to decline the invitation. The team goal is more important to them.

A year ago when the first results of the fan voting for the Pro Bowl came out, there was a combination of shock and disgust around the league. Thanks to a strong core of Redskins fans getting out the vote, all of the NFC fans voting was lopsided in favor of the Redskins, who had 20 players leading throughout the process – yet only two actually got selected.

Thanks perhaps in part to the dismal season the Redskins are having and the apathy that has engendered with its fan base, the Vikings have become the hot ticket. In the first release of the fan voting results, the Vikings had 10 players in first place at their respective positions – position players Brett Favre, Adrian Peterson, Steve Hutchinson, Bryant McKinnie, John Sullivan, Pat Williams, Jared Allen, Ryan Longwell, returner Percy Harvin and special teamer Heath Farwell – and several others in the top two or three at their positions in the fan voting.

McKinnie was one of the vocal opponents of the fan voting results last year. A player who has played near a Pro Bowl level during his career, he has never received an invitation to Hawaii for the all-star game. That might change this year and McKinnie said the Vikings being voted highly at so many positions isn't a repeat of the ballot box-stuffing Redskins fans did in 2008.

"I think it's more that we're playing at a high level," McKinnie said. "Last year, (Washington) wasn't doing much, but they were all ahead. I think because of how we're playing, more fans are excited about us and going out and voting for us."

Farwell was denied from getting the recognition of being a top special-teams performer in 2008 because of a knee injury. His name was being mentioned prominently coming into training camp last year as being someone who has been noticed around the league for being a special teams ace and his time to get a Pro Bowl nod was coming. But a season-ending injury dashed those hopes. Currently first in the fan voting, Farwell said that being a Pro Bowler has been a goal he has set for himself, but it has taken a backseat to the team success the Vikings are enjoying.

"It's been a goal of mine, but it's a reflection of us winning and being a good special teams unit in general," Farwell said. "We're more focused on winning right now. Being picked to the Pro Bowl has been a goal of mine, but I'd give it up in a second as long as we keep winning."

The Vikings aren't getting their hopes up that the final selections will mirror the fan voting. Although the fan vote counts for one-third of the criteria for selection, only two Redskins actually were selected last year despite having almost the entire team winning at their individual positions in the fan vote. Linebacker Chad Greenway, who is near the top in the outside linebacker voting, said that the best part of the process has been to see how energized fans are about the Vikings.

"It's nice to see how many fans are out there supporting us," Greenway said. "But with how many Washington guys won the fan vote and how few of them got picked to the Pro Bowl, it makes you wonder how important those votes are."

Harvin is actually in the running for selection at two spots. He leads as the return specialist and was fifth in the voting at wide receiver. Also a front-runner for Offensive Rookie of the Year, Harvin said the acknowledgement is nice, but not what he and his teammates are playing for.

"It was be a nice achievement to get, but, like I said when people asked me about what I thought of maybe being the Rookie of the Year, I'm not worried about whether I get that or not," Harvin said. "Nobody would be satisfied with individual awards if we didn't win the grand prize as a team."

Seeing his name at the top of the list was a shock for Ryan Longwell, whose only experience with the Pro Bowl was to watch it on TV. He finished second to Martin Gramatica twice, so being in the early lead doesn't have his hopes too high.

"I've never been to a Pro Bowl and I've never won a fan vote, so I'm not expecting it," Longwell said. "Whoever has figured out the Pythagorean Theorum to get the votes going our way, it's working out."

In a team sport like football, individual achievements don't seem to carry the weight they do in other sports. A team could have the best defensive end in the league and be 4-12. But, it is a goal many players have set for themselves and getting the recognition from the fans, the coaches and their peers does have merit.

"I think anybody who plays this game wants to be a Pro Bowl player," Greenway said. "But, honestly, I think those come well behind the team goals that everyone has in their minds. Usually one helps bring along the other. You play to win as a team, not get individual honors, but they are nice to get."

The biggest problem a player like McKinnie will face was the decision the NFL made to add interest to the Pro Bowl by moving it from the week after the Super Bowl, where it has been an annual anti-climax to the season, to moving it to Miami (the site of this year's Super Bowl) the Sunday before the big game. As a result, the teams playing in the Super Bowl won't have players in the Pro Bowl, which is something friends of McKinnie have been kidding him about – working so hard to get there and then not be able to play.

"That's what a lot of people have been saying that – you finally get to a Pro Bowl and you won't be able to play in it," McKinnie said. "Hopefully, it will happen that way."

That seems to be the sentiment throughout the locker room. Being named one of the league's elite at your position is an honor, but for those teams with Super Bowl aspirations, the best news they could get is that they can't play in the game even if they're selected.

"This year you don't want to go," Longwell said. "There's nothing more we'd like than to have a ton of guys selected to play and not be able to. That would be my luck – finally get voted in and not play. But, the flip side of that coin is much better – it would mean we're playing in the Super Bowl in Miami the next Sunday. We would all take that."

John Holler has been writing about the Vikings for more than a decade for Viking Update. Follow Viking Update on Twitter and discuss this story on our subscriber message board.

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