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Archive for Sunday, February 8, 2004

Pro Bowl boasts notable newcomers

February 8, 2004

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— When Anquan Boldin discovered he had been chosen for the same number of Pro Bowls as Steve McNair, the Arizona receiver almost demanded a recount.

"Steve McNair has never made the Pro Bowl?" asked Boldin, the only rookie selected for tonight's game. "That's crazy. That's not right. He's the MVP, the best. How could three better quarterbacks get elected every year? It's way overdue."

A huge wave of seasoned talents and emerging young standouts finally washed up in Hawaii this season, and McNair is right on the crest.

The Tennessee quarterback is one of 41 first-timers -- nearly half of the 86 players in uniform -- participating in the 54th annual Pro Bowl. The newcomers include four quarterbacks, three running backs, two veteran kickers and a wealth of defensive talent.

McNair, the league's co-MVP along with AFC teammate Peyton Manning, has had a cracked bone spur in his left ankle for nearly two months. The injury hobbled him during the playoffs and might still require surgery, according to McNair -- but it couldn't stop him from finally making it to Honolulu.

"It's definitely something you want to have on your resume, and the vacation aspect of it is great, too," McNair said. "I know a lot of guys skip this game sometimes, but it's my first time. Maybe next year, if I make it, I'll consider skipping it. Not this year."

McNair joined prolific Kansas City quarterback Trent Green on the AFC roster, which doesn't include Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady of New England. In fact, the Patriots have just three players on the squad -- the fewest from a champion since 1987.

Green's wife, Julie, videotaped nearly every snap her husband took during the AFC practice Friday. Green and St. Louis kicker Jeff Wilkins waited longer than anyone in Hawaii for their first Pro Bowl trips: 10 seasons apiece.

"I think it's just the natural evolution of the game," Green said. "There are a lot of new stars out there. Some of these guys in their first Pro Bowls are going to be out here every year. Some of the older ones, like me, are just glad to get this experience once."

Thanks to injury dropouts Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb, the NFC also has two Pro Bowl rookie quarterbacks: Seattle's Matt Hasselbeck and St. Louis' Marc Bulger. Hasselbeck, Favre's former backup, has tried to cram as much fun as possible into the week of practices and meetings.

"This is where you get to sit down with a lot of guys you don't know that well in the league," Hasselbeck said. "The game is fun, but it's really about the friendships. That sounds pretty corny, but it's true."

Baltimore running back Jamal Lewis, the NFL rushing champion with 2,066 yards, also is a first-time Pro Bowler this season. Seattle's Shawn Alexander and Denver's Clinton Portis also made their first trips.

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