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Pro Bowl snubs

Leon Hall

Count us in on the Joey Votto outrage and it got us to thinking about the biggest Pro Bowl snubs in Bengals history and why the NFL doesn't allow a post-vote ballot to make up for any whiffs.

There is still a shot the Reds first baseman is going to make baseball's All-Star Game since he made the short ballot. But if he doesn't, here's hoping Votto is leading the National League in homers when things commence in Anaheim next Tuesday to underscore the travesty.

(Hey, if the MLB powers are supposedly so sensitive to tradition they ought to give Votto a historical exemption. It was 43 years ago that a Reds first baseman decided an All-Star Game in Anaheim when Tony Perez went yard to break up a 1-1 game in the 15th as dawn broke on the East Coast.)

And let's not forget that one of the greatest Bengals fans of all, Red Sox first baseman Kevin Youkilis, also got big-time jobbed. With more broken bones than fractured accents in Beantown, Youk and Big Papi (not to mention John "Cy" Lester) have kept the Red Sox within nine innings of the Yankees.

Still, at least the Reds and Bosox have other All-Stars. The Bengals are coming off their biggest group snub of all-time when the 2009 club became the first division winner since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger not to have a player named to the Pro Bowl team. And it was the first time in their history the Bengals didn't have a single representative after they had a winning season in a vote of fans, players and coaches.

Wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, as several of his teammates, was voted an alternate and he ended up playing in his sixth Pro Bowl because of injuries. But the injustice is that no one on the NFL's fourth-best defense got a nod, particularly at least one of the starting cornerbacks, Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall.

Tough to quibble with the Jets' Darrelle Revis, the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha, and the Broncos' Champ Bailey getting the call as the three AFC corners. But Tennessee's Cortland Finnegan as the No. 1 alternate who ended up going? The Titans went 8-8 and finished 28th in defense, and next-to-last against the pass. Plus, Hall and Joseph finished tied for second in the NFL with six picks, along with five others. Finnegan had five interceptions.

We only wish NFL fans would have the same right to vote the insanity out with a short list like MLB offers in the wake of the managerial additions.

But that's not the biggest individual snub in Bengals Pro Bowl history. On offense, we give it to a rookie running back named Ickey Woods getting bumped off the 1988 AFC team by New England's John Stephens. On defense, the absence of cornerback Ken Riley in 1976 in place of someone named J.T. Thomas may be even more puzzling.

And, wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh has to get an honorable mention for what he did in 2006 without a Pro Bowl berth. His 90 catches and league-leading third-down receptions were a huge factor keeping the Bengals in the playoff race until kicker Shayne Graham's misfire in the season's last eight seconds.

Ochocinco led the NFL in yards receiving and Houston's Andre Johnson led the league with 103 catches while the Colts tandem of Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne finished 2-4 in yards. So you can understand why Houshmandzadeh was a third alternate, yet it was one of the greatest seasons in club history not rewarded by a postseason honor.

But if you can't figure out how Joseph or Hall failed to make it ahead of Finnegan, how about Riley in '76 and Woods in '88?

The fact that Riley is the fifth-leading interceptor of all-time with 65 and never made a Pro Bowl in 15 seasons tells you something about any kind of all-anything process. For much of his career the steady, heady Riley was overshadowed by his more flamboyant teammate on the left corner, Lemar Parrish.

Parrish, a big-play corner and outstanding punt returner who deserves as much Hall of Fame discussion as Riley, scored none of his 13 career TDs in '76. He also didn't finish in the top 10 in punt returns. And even though he had only two picks, he was named to his fifth Pro Bowl as a Bengal (he would go to six) while Riley led the AFC with nine interceptions and didn't go. Like in '09, it is hard to argue the selections of future Hall of Fame cornerbacks Mike Haynes and Mel Blount, but J.T. Thomas?

That's not to say Thomas wasn't a good player. A first-round pick in 1973 that played nine NFL seasons, he started 14 games for that '76 Pittsburgh team that tied the Bengals at 10-4 but won the AFC Central by sweeping Cincinnati. Yet it was the only Pro Bowl Thomas made in a season he had just two interceptions, none for touchdowns. Riley had a 53-yard interception return for a TD among his nine picks, one more than Haynes.

With the advent of the "Ickey Shuffle," it's hard to say that Woods was overshadowed by running mate James Brooks. A dozen years after Parrish made the Pro Bowl over Riley, the spare-speaking Brooks earned one of his four Pro Bowl spots in resounding fashion by averaging 5.1 yards per carry for 931 yards while adding six touchdown receptions for the AFC champs.

Woods had to work his way into the lineup, but by the time he did he racked up 1,066 yards on an NFL-leading 5.3 yards per carry with an AFC-leading 15 TDs. He was tied with Colts running back Eric Dickerson, the league's rushing leader and a Pro Bowl no-brainer. So was Brooks with his 14 TDs. But Stephens as the third back?

Stephens was also a rookie and he rushed for 1,168 yards. But on 3.9 per carry and he only had four touchdowns for a 9-7 Patriots team that missed the playoffs. It was his only Pro Bowl in a career that ended just five years later in Green Bay.

Curious. And the NFL doesn't even have MLB's ridiculous rule that every team must be represented.

In the wake of last year's vote, quarterback Carson Palmer chalked up the snub to the small-market blues with words that Votto might be able to understand.

"It's just one of the negatives of playing here; it's a smaller market," Palmer said. "There's a negative outlook on us, and you just don't get those nationally-televised games year-in and year-out like some of the bigger market teams. But that's just how it is. It's not going to change. You know that when you come here, you know that when you're a free agent, you know that when you're a drafted player here. It's a small market, just like Buffalo and some of the other smaller markets. It's just part of the deal."

So in honor of Riley and Woods, we salute Votto and Youklis with our post-vote votes.

Maybe the NFL can do the same.

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