Offensive Line Hopes To End Pro Bowl Drought


Like kids on Christmas Eve, there are several Packers players who will go to bed Wednesday night with visions of a possibly awaiting gift dancing in their heads.

A gift that for some will come Thursday evening, when the NFL will announces the 43-man squads that will make up the NFC and AFC Pro Bowl teams.

There are more than a handful of Packers players who have realistic shots of crossing the Pacific to Hawaii, the site of the annual event.

Chief among them, of course, is quarterback Brett Favre, who dominated the fan balloting with 930,270 votes -- 182,973 more than Kansas City Chiefs running back Priest Holmes, who was the NFL's second-leading vote-getter.

Tight end Bubba Franks also had strong support from the fans, garnering 603,753 votes, the ninth-most in the league. And safety Darren Sharper was seventh among NFL defenders with 224,572 votes.

But fan balloting counts for only a third of the vote, as the NFL is the only professional sports league to combine the voting of fans, coaches and players in selecting its all-star teams.

Thus, more than half of the results have yet to be released.

When they are, Packers fans would be pleased to see familiar names like Favre, Franks, Sharper or Ahman Green reappear on Pro Bowl rosters, but it might be altogether sweeter if the list included Mike Flanagan, Marco Rivera or Mike Wahle.

Because not only does that trio of starters on the ballot represent an often under-appreciated group on this year's team, they also are members of a fraternity that has been ignored in the Pro Bowl voting for almost two decades.

While center Frank Winters made the Pro Bowl an alternate in 1996, the Packers haven't had an offensive lineman voted into the all-star event since Larry McCarren in 1983.

For a team that has been one of the best in football since the early '90s, that's a mighty long time.

"There has been a drought around here for quite a while," Wahle said. "But we've got some guys we feel like have had some good years, and hopefully that will show up (in the balloting)."

Certainly it deserves to.

Despite a pair of season-ending injuries on the offensive line to Mark Tauscher and Chad Clifton, plus various injuries in the backfield to Green, Najeh Davenport and William Henderson, the Packers' offensive line has been paving the way for one of the best rushing seasons in recent team history.

At 121.4 yards per game, the Packers are averaging more yards on the ground than they have in 17 years, since the 1985 team finished the season at 138.0-yards per game.

Paramount in bolstering the injury-plagued line has been Flanagan, who started the season with a broken hand and made three starts at his natural position of center before being shifted to left tackle for two starts, followed by three more at center and then back to left tackle for the last three.

Fans recognized that versatility by giving him more Pro Bowl votes than any other offensive lineman, 180,230.

"I sure hope he has a chance to make it because of what he's brought to our football team," Packers GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman said. "He's playing left tackle as well as he played center. There's no drop-off in him."

There's a chance, however, that Flanagan's position flopping will hinder his chances to make the team as a center.

"Jack of all trades, master of none," Flanagan said in assessing his chances. "If you want to make a category, sure, but it doesn't exist."

So while Sherman was investing some of his hopes in Flanagan, the 29-year-old lineman was looking elsewhere, to Rivera and Wahle.

"If at least one of them doesn't go, it's criminal," Flanagan said. "I'm going to raise hell if they don't."

All Rivera and Wahle have done this season has been to battle through injuries to start in all 14 games. The only other Packers offensive players to do that this season are Donald Driver, Favre and Franks.

Yet in the face of that consistency, making a name for oneself as an offensive lineman can be a difficult task.

They don't carry the ball, don't score, don't earn stats and only get a close-up on TV after a penalty or missed block.

"There are a lot of flaws in the system," Flangan said. "Especially with offensive linemen, the names aren't as recognizable ... Outside of defensive linemen, who knows four good guards in the league?"

Packers fans certainly know of two, and both Rivera and Wahle said they would be honored to be selected to the Pro Bowl. But just like the offensive line has succeeded as a unit this year, none of the Packers lineman would exchange team goals for individual good fortune.

"It's a nice recognition, but ultimately I'm sure every guy in this locker room would rather be playing at San Diego than in Hawaii," Flanagan said.

Seconded Rivera, "We're looking at the Super Bowl ... It's not every year that you get in a position where you could be a contender."

True, but it's been 19 years since a Packers offensive lineman has been recognized for his efforts to make the team just that.

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