- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 22, 2008

In 1957, the Cincinnati Enquirer distributed pre-marked ballots with its Sunday editions, making it easy for Reds fans to vote early and often in choosing the National League team for baseball’s All-Star game.

The result? Seven of the eight NL starters were Reds. Commissioner Ford Frick jumped in, benched two of the seven and ended fan balloting. It wasn’t restored until 1970.

The Washington Redskins are this century’s Reds.

Washington players currently lead fan voting at 16 of the conference’s 19 Pro Bowl positions after the team orchestrated a get-out-the-vote campaign that prompted the NFL to urge other teams to do the same. Makes you wonder how the Redskins have lost four of their 10 games, although then again, those ‘57 Reds were only slightly better than average: fourth in an eight-team NL, just six games over .500.

In truth, Pro Bowl voting always has been a farce, even before the NFL got fans involved in the last decade or so.

When only players voted, many would skew the process deliberately. Because no one can vote for teammates, many would vote for guys who had no chance, giving their own guys a better shots. Others would vote for college teammates or friends on opposing teams.

It’s more than just recognition. It’s also money _ any agent who wants to keep his job will include a Pro Bowl clause in his client’s contract.

Funny about the Pro Bowl, the voting is a bigger event than the game. Once it’s over, many of those voted in try to get out of playing through injury or feigned ailments, especially those who have been to Hawaii multiple times for the game. They cede their spots to alternates, who then get the coveted “Pro Bowler” tag and the bonuses that go with it.

And, as with the Supreme Court, some spots are lifetime appointments, especially on the offensive line.

Back around 1990, for example, Lomas Brown, then a developing young tackle for the Lions, asked a reporter why he had never made it. “You’ve got Barry Sanders now, you’ll make it soon,” was the reply.

Brown made it that year and then almost every year after that.

“You were right,” he said a decade later after leaving Detroit as a free agent for the Cardinals and then signing with the Giants. “One year in Arizona, I was out injured half the season, the team stunk and I still made the Pro Bowl.”

This year, the NFL caught up with the Skins early, giving other teams 2 1/2 weeks to push their players.

“As it stands right now, the Redskins are leading the NFC ballots in 16 of 19 positions,” George Scott, who supervises the voting for NFL.com, said in an e-mail this week to the 31 other teams. “This would be a great weekend to promote Pro Bowl voting to your fans. Let me know if you need any ideas or support from the league (or the Redskins) in this important initiative.”

Push your players? Push 16 Redskins? Or 43 Lions or Chiefs or Raiders?

In an ideal world, fans would vote for the best player regardless of team. Many are certainly informed enough _ fantasy geeks research everyone, and ESPN and the NFL Network are on the air 24/7 discussing the merits, or lack thereof of, hundreds of players.

But instead of urging fans to vote for the most deserving players, the league seems to be suggesting that fans vote for everyone on their favorite team. Although to be fair, the NFL also points out that player and coach voting, two-thirds of the total, often trump fan voting.

Last year, for example, Houston’s DeMeco Ryans did not make the top five in fan voting, yet made it at inside linebacker over Tedy Bruschi of the Patriots, who led the fan voting. In the NFC, safety Ken Hamlin of Dallas made it without being in the top five, while Green Bay cornerback Charles Woodson, who led the fan voting, didn’t make it at all.

But the whole process makes you wonder.

Why does Ryan Plackemeier, Washington’s punter, lead the NFC voting at his position even though he is 18th in the league in gross yardage. “I think having a big marketing thing can make a big difference,” Plackenmeier concedes.

Last season, Dallas was the team of choice with a record 13 Pro Bowlers, although at least it was 13-3, best in the NFC.

How many deserved it? Certainly not all 13. And it served as incentive for the Giants, with one Pro Bowler, when they went to Texas for a second-round playoff game.

“We’re the All-Joes against the All-Pros,” linebacker Antonio Pierce said before the game, which New York won 21-17, then and went on to upset the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

This year, it’s the Giants who probably are deserving of a bunch of Pro Bowlers. Many of them are second _ by wide margins _ to the Redskins, probably because some fans vote on merit and New York has the NFC’s best record at 9-1.

On the other hand, they are a true team of complementary parts. Their offensive line has no individual stars, but is the game’s best and most cohesive unit, for example.

From an objective standpoint, the Giants should get about six in the Pro Bowl. DE Justin Tuck is one of three non-Redskins leading the voting and QB Eli Manning is second to New Orleans’ Drew Brees in balloting for that position.

The Redskins?

Their legitimate candidates include RB Clinton Portis, LB London Fletcher, TE Chris Cooley, OT Chris Samuels (the OL factor), and rookie Chris Horton, a seventh-round draft pick who is leading the voting at strong safety. Still, Horton is a good example of skewed balloting: Horton is having a wonderful season, but he hardly should be leading Arizona’s Adrian Wilson, who is running second.

Does it really matter? Probably not, although Hall of Fame voters annually get biographies of candidates that include the number of times each made the Pro Bowl. While some, including this one, downplay that as a factor, others do not. So a skewed Pro Bowl vote might turn out down the road to be a skewed Hall of Fame vote.

All silliness that doesn’t need to happen.


DIRTY DOZEN: The top six and bottom six teams based on current level of play:

1. New York Giants (9-1). Even with one loss, a more balanced team than the Titans.

1a. Tennessee (10-0). You can argue that the unbeaten team should be first.

3. Carolina (8-2). Not playing very well, but as Bill Parcells says: “You are what your record says you are.”

4 Pittsburgh (7-3). That last TD against San Diego should have been allowed, but the first 11-10 game ever makes it more fun.

5. Arizona (7-3). Not quite elite, but might be with a win over the Giants.

6. New York Jets (7-3). DT Kris Jenkins is as important to the turnaround as Brett Favre.

27 Seattle (2-8). Injuries hurt, but there’s less talent than there was thought to be.

28. Cincinnati (1-8-1). Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick presumably knew there could be ties.

29. Kansas City (1-9). At least the Chiefs might have found their QB in Tyler Thigpen.

30. St. Louis (2-8). From hopeless to hopeful to hopeless again.

31. Oakland (2-8). Nine offensive TDs this year. Green Bay has seven on defense.

32. Detroit (0-10). Try to find a game the Lions can win.

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