Thursday, January 03, 2002

QB Brady leads list of Pro Bowl bunch

The Associated Press

        NEW YORK — Tom Brady made it to the Pro Bowl. So did three members of the Carolina Panthers, a team with one win. And so did Garrison Hearst, who came back from an ankle injury that sidelined him for two years.

        The Pro Bowl teams, announced Wednesday, were the usual hodgepodge of surprises, sentiment and the same old names, many of whom make it simply because they are the same old names.

        “It's been a horrible year, but it's still an honor,” said tight end Wesley Walls of Carolina. “Usually guys ride the crest of a winning team into the Pro Bowl, and we certainly haven't had that.”

        The other Panthers voted to the team by fans, players and coaches were punter Todd Sauerbrun and kick returner Steve Smith.

        “It doesn't make any sense,” Sauerbrun said.

        The game will be played in Honolulu on Feb.9.

        Two of this year's notables are Brady and Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart, who join Rich Gannon as AFC quarterbacks. Stewart has emerged as an MVP candidate after three subpar seasons.

        “It's huge, it's huge, I can't say how big it is,” Stewart said. “To get the respect from those guys is more important than anything else.”

        Brady was a sixth-round draft choice in 2000 and spent last season as the Patriots' fourth-string quarterback. Brady started this season as a second-stringer, becoming a starter when Drew Bledsoe was hurt in the second game.

        Since then, the Patriots are 10-3 and need only to win in Carolina Sunday to clinch the AFC East title.

        “I think at some point you sit back and evaluate and say, "Wow, this has been a pretty good year,'” Brady said. “I don't think it's as much how far I've come. I think it's how far we've come as an offense.”

        Brady's selection makes him just the fifth quarterback selected to the Pro Bowl in the season of his first start. The others are Dan Marino in 1983, Brett Favre in 1992, Kurt Warner in 1999 and Daunte Culpepper last season. Warner and Favre are on the NFC team this season, along with Jeff Garcia of San Francisco.

        Then there's Hearst, who was a longshot to come back after two years out with an injury. But he's rushed for 1,149 yards, and the 49ers are 11-4 and in the playoffs after going 6-10 last season.

        Starters will be announced Jan.12.

        One-third of the voting was done by fans, one-third by players and one-third by coaches.

        The Ravens and Tampa Bay Buccaneers led each conference with six players apiece.
Atlanta and Cincinnati were the only teams without Pro Bowlers.

        Some of the St. Louis Rams, who have the NFL's best record at 13-2, were irked they had “only” five players selected: Warner, running back Marshall Faulk, cornerback Aeneas Williams, wide receiver Isaac Bruce and tackle Orlando Pace.

        “You tell me what it is. I already know what it is,” said middle linebacker London Fletcher, who didn't make it despite a solid season — Chicago's Brian Urlacher and Philadelphia's Jeremiah Trotter were the two inside linebackers on the NFC team.

        “It's obvious people around the league just don't like the Rams,” Fletcher said. “They feel they can snub us with Pro Bowl selections. But hey, we're still going to win the Super Bowl.”


Oakland defensive tackle Darrell Russell cleaned out his locker Wednesday and began serving a one-year drug suspension after the NFL turned down his appeal.

        Russell, who tested positive for the drug Ecstasy, won't be eligible to play again until Jan.2, 2003, following commissioner Paul Tagliabue's decision on the appeal.

        The Raiders' first-round pick in the 1997 draft also sat out the first four games this season for violating the league's substance-abuse policy.

        Also, Jerry Rice left the team Wednesday to be with his ill father in Mississippi and might miss the team's game against the New York Jets on Sunday.

        “That's the place for him to be, because family is most important,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “We've got to plan for him not being here. If there's any way for him to be here, he will.”

        BILLS: The team intends to re-sign veteran backup quarterback Alex Van Pelt. But injured starter Rob Johnson's future is less certain.

        Johnson's tendency to get hurt and the $11.2 million he's scheduled to make in the final season of his contract are two major concerns, Bills president and general manager Tom Donahoe said.

        Van Pelt's status is more secure, after filling in impressively for Johnson, who has missed the last half of the season with a broken collarbone.

        “We definitely want Alex to be here and he's expressed to us that he wants to be here,” Donahoe said “We hope that he's found a permanent home here in Buffalo. And we're going to do whatever we can to try to keep him here.”


Don't look to injured Edgerrin James for comment on recent trade talk. The NFL's two-time rushing champ has given only one interview in the 11 weeks since he injured his left knee. That hasn't stopped others from speaking on his behalf.

        The most recent report, in Wednesday's Miami Herald, cites unidentified sources as saying the Indianapolis Colts running back “would not object” if he were traded to the Miami Dolphins.

        The Herald report said James doesn't like living in Indianapolis, and he has maintained a home in south Florida since the Colts made him the fourth overall pick in the 1999 NFL draft.

        James has been doing his rehabilitation work in Miami since having surgery for a torn anterior cruciate ligament in late November.

        Back at the Colts complex in Indianapolis, Colts coach Jim Mora and James' teammates said James intends to return to the Colts next season.

        Although Mora said he hadn't talked to James since the Colts' Dec.10 game in Miami, he said James “couldn't have been more positive about being here and he was upset he was hurt.”

        PACKERS: The team placed defensive end John Thierry on the injured list and signed free agent defensive end Jared Tomich.

        Thierry, who had 3 1/2 sacks, 29 tackles and two fumble recoveries, strained a ligament in his right knee against Jacksonville Dec.3.


Defensive end Courtney Brown, bothered by injuries since the preseason, was put on injured reserve and will miss Cleveland's final game of the season. He is the 17th player placed on injured reserve by the Browns.

        Brown, the No.1 overall selection in the 2000 draft, missed 11 games this season with injuries to his knee and ankle.


In a bid for a victory that could get it into the playoffs, Seattle will go with Trent Dilfer at quarterback in the regular-season finale. Coach Mike Holmgren said Wednesday that Dilfer would be his starter against Kansas City on Sunday.


Atlanta released veteran wide receiver Tony Martin and signed rookie Shawn Mills off the practice squad.

        Martin, 36, a 13-year veteran who in 1998 helped the Falcons make their only trip to the Super Bowl, re-signed with the team in June after spending two seasons with Miami. He leads Atlanta with 548 yards receiving, despite missing four games because of a broken collarbone.


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