Thursday, December 23, 2004

Ed Bouchette: Six Steelers Selected to Pro Bowl


[We care about who gets picked to play but we don't give a crap about watching the game. - jtf]

Lei it on the line

Six Steelers receive spots on the Pro Bowl team -- best in the AFC -- and a trip to Hawaii

Thursday, December 23, 2004
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The importance of the offensive line to the Steelers' success this season was reflected in the Pro Bowl team announced yesterday.

For only the third time in 22 seasons, two offensive linemen are among six Steelers on the American Football Conference Pro Bowl team.

The line that was such a mess last season, cleaned up in 2004 and guard Alan Faneca and center Jeff Hartings earned a trip to Hawaii for it. Even left tackle Marvel Smith was named an alternate to the Pro Bowl and could make it a third lineman in Honolulu for the Feb. 13 Pro Bowl if another tackle backs out.

No Steelers team had more than two offensive linemen in the Pro Bowl, which began play in 1951.

Pro Bowl linebackers are nothing new for the Steelers, but when James Farrior and Joey Porter made it yesterday, they became the first linebackers in two years to do so. Wide receiver Hines Ward and strong safety Troy Polamalu also are on the team.

The six Steelers in the Pro Bowl are more than any other AFC team and second in the NFL only to Philadelphia, which placed nine.

Hartings, Farrior and Polamalu made it for the first time. Faneca and Ward were selected for the fourth consecutive year. Porter earned a second trip.

Last season, the Steelers slipped to 6-10 and injuries, other health problems and some poor play in the line contributed to constant jumbling that forced Faneca to play left tackle for half the season. But after right guard Kendall Simmons was lost for the season with a knee injury in the summer, the line has been the rock of a rock-and-roll season.

The starting line of Smith, Faneca, Hartings, guard Keydrick Vincent and right tackle Oliver Ross not only started all 14 games but they've each played every snap in every game except for the two snaps Ross missed in two different games when he lost a shoe.

"Knock on wood, these guys have stayed pretty much together," coach Bill Cowher said. "We lost Kendall, but from the first game on, these guys have played together and been so consistent week in and week out."

Faneca was pleased with his selection but joined other teammates upset that defensive end Aaron Smith was not selected. Smith is a first alternate.

"I don't know how Aaron Smith didn't make it," Faneca said. "He definitely should have been in there; that's a travesty."

Said Porter, "I would trade mine in to let Aaron go because I feel he played better than I did. Aaron really had a good year. He's always getting the short end of the stick."

Rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who received the 10th-most votes of any NFL player in the fan balloting, did not make the team, but he is the first alternate. If any of the three AFC Pro Bowl quarterbacks -- Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning -- back out, Roethlisberger would be next in line.

Roethlisberger said the Pro Bowl team meant nothing to him.

"A Super Bowl would mean something to me."

Making the Pro Bowl did mean something to Faneca and Ward. They are the first Steelers to make at least four Pro Bowls since Dermontti Dawson earned his seventh after the 1998 season. Jerome Bettis earned his fifth in 2001 but his first two were with the Rams.

"Why would it get old to be recognized as one of the better players at your position?" asked Faneca, who has made more Pro Bowls than any previous Steelers guard.

Ward's fourth consecutive Pro Bowl gives him more than any Steelers wide receiver and one more than Hall of Famers Lynn Swann and John Stallworth.

"It's a great accomplishment, making it to four straight Pro Bowls on a predominantly running team," Ward said. "We're always known to be a power run team and a great defense, making it to a fourth Pro Bowl is a huge accomplish for me and an honor."

Porter followed his first Pro Bowl selection after the 2002 season by being shot as an innocent bystander while leaving a restaurant in downtown Denver one week before the 2003 season opened. He missed the first two games, but the muscle damage to his thigh weakened his quickness last season.

Porter has seven sacks, three forced fumbles and leads the team with 25 hits or pressures on the quarterback.

"You look at what this guy's done week in and week out," Cowher said, "it's been well recognized by people around this league what type of impact player he is. He's had a very solid season.
"I'm happy for him. A year ago he goes through the incident of the gunshot wound and to come back to where he is now, it's really a reflection of the hard work he put into it."

Porter and Farrior said they will pay for the rest of the linebackers, defensive linemen and their coaches to make the trip to Honolulu with them. He said Polamalu can take care of the secondary.

"We're taking everybody, whoever wants to go," Farrior said. "I'm happy for Joey, that he made it and we have two linebackers on this defense that made it. We have a couple more guys I think should have been over there."

(Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3878.)

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