BY GEOFF HOBSON
Willie Anderson and Takeo Spikes were delighted when they heard Corey Dillon had been named to the Pro Bowl Thursday.
But it was a sweet-and-sour day. Anderson, the right tackle and offensive captain, and Spikes, the right outside linebacker and defensive captain, thought they had a shot at making their first one.
Maybe, they figured, if they had played on a winning team.
It was the kind of day that had Anderson wondering about that long-term deal he just signed.
If anyone knows how low the Bengals are perceived nationally, it's the players. Many of them spend their free time in the players' lounge playing in a dog-eat-dog NFL video game league.
But no one uses the video version of the Bengals because the computer goes off how well that team did the previous season.
"I could sit and talk about that all day, but I'm not going to," Spikes said of how losing might have hurt him in the Pro Bowl vote.
Anderson gave it a shot. He feels he's one of the top three or four tackles in the NFL. In fact, he signed a six-year, $30.6 million contract extension back in June that made him the highest paid lineman in the game at the time.
But after helping put Dillon on a 1,500-yard pace that pushed the Bengals to the top of the NFL rushing stats, Anderson didn't make it while Jacksonville's Tony Boselli, Baltimore's Jonathan Ogden, and Tennessee's Brad Hopkins did. Their teams are a combined 28-14. The Bengals are 3-11.
"It kind of makes me think about my decision about coming back," said Anderson, who could have been a free agent after this season.
"I want to be seen as one of the top guys in the league, but it's the team I'm playing for. I still feel blessed and happy and I think there's a good future here. But it just makes you wonder."
Indeed, Dillon is the only AFC offensive player from a team that didn't win at least six games. He and Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez are the only offensive players from losing teams. On defense, Chargers outside linebacker Junior Seau, one of three players picked at Spikes' spot, is the only player from a losing team.
"Most of the people who make it to the Pro Bowl are on a team that's very successful," Dillon said. "I'm just fortunate to be picked given our record isn't that great."
Since the Bengals made Anderson the 10th pick in the 1996 NFL Draft, they have the fifth most rushing yards in the NFL during that span.
Coincidence? Anderson shrugged.
"We didn't even know that until someone told us about it yesterday," Anderson said. "If we don't know it, how do other teams know it?"
The fans, players and coaches share a third of the voting and while Anderson knows Cincinnati has a small fan base ("Who sees us play in Seattle?"), he doesn't think adding the fan vote has hurt him because the players and coaches haven't put him over the top, either.
But he also thinks, "the majority of fans vote for who they see on TV, or teams they know who are winning."
"No one is going to pay attention to Cincinnati," says Clark Judge, the NFL writer for FOXSports.com. "Players don't notice. Not as long as the team hasn't done anything. Look at San Diego. Junior makes it all the time and one of the reasons is he does a great job marketing himself. Not that he isn't a great player. He is. But they don't win and not many (media) people cover the ballclub and it's the same thing in Cincinnati."
Paul Zimmerman made Anderson a star when he put him on Dr. Z's All-Pro team in "Sports Illustrated," last year. Zimmerman said Thursday he doubts Anderson will make it again this year. In the two Bengals' games he's watched this year, he doesn't think Anderson was as active as he was last year.
But the Titans' coaches told Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander after Sunday's game they thought Anderson was an MVP-type player.
" I know . . .
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I' m a good ballplayer," Anderson said. "Not to be recognized. . .The are three or four things you want to do. Play in the Super Bowl, get the chance to go to the Super Bowl in the playoffs, play in the Pro Bowl. I see myself as one of the three or four top tackles in the league. I can't vote for myself. Other people don't feel the same way."
Spikes doesn't have the sack (one) or interception (two) numbers of a true outside backer because he plays more of an inside role even though he's listed as outside. But he thinks the competition would have been heavy even at inside, where playoff-bound Ray Lewis of Baltimore is the starter and Sam Cowart of .500 Buffalo is the backup.
"And a guy like (Greg) Biekert for Oakland didn't get picked and his team is winning," Spikes said. "They're all winning."
Except for Seau's 1-13 Chargers. Mo Lewis, the other outside backer, is 9-5 with the Jets and backup Jason Gildon's Steelers are .500.
Spikes wonders what might have been if middle linebacker Brian Simmons wasn't lost for the season in the opener with an injured knee and the Bengals weren't forced to have Adrian Ross and Armegis Spearman learn on the job.
"It would have helped out a lot," Spikes said. "With Brian there, it would have enabled me to do more things. . .Whenever I was blitzing, I usually came up the middle and Brian came off the end. That plays into our hands. Brian probably would have had more sacks, and I probably would have had more interceptions, or vice versa."
ROSTER MOVES: The Bengals put tight end Tony McGee (broken left ankle) on injured reserve Thursday and signed center Craig Heimburger to the active 53-man roster.
The 6-2, 312-pound Heimburger played in two games for Green Bay last season after the Packers took him in the fifth round out of Missouri. But the Packers kept him on the practice squad all this season when he returned this summer from playing in NFL Europe.
The Bengals have never been excited about sending players to Europe. But with the NFL mandating each team must spend six players, the Bengals are sending the guys they have recently signed to the practice squad or activated to the 53-man roster.
Headed to the Old World are rookies free safety Gary Thompkins, tight end/long snapper Kirk McMullen, fullback Ricky Brown, defensive tackle Keith Jackson, guard-center Roger Roesler and second-year linebacker JoJuan Armour.