1-29-02, 4:30 p.m.
BY GEOFF HOBSON
NEW ORLEANS_ Now it looks like Bengals running back Corey Dillon is going back to the Pro Bowl for a third straight year.
Steelers coach Bill Cowher told The Pittsburgh Post Gazette Tuesday that running back Jerome Bettis won't play in next weekend's game in Hawaii after missing all but one game the last two months of the season with a groin injury.
The Bengals had been informed last month that Dillon is the first alternate in a field of AFC running backs that includes Bettis, the Jets' Curtis Martin, and the Chiefs' Priest Holmes, and expect him to go if Bettis doesn't. But they are waiting for official word.
"I think he deserves to go," said Bengals President Mike Brown Tuesday "In my book, this was his best year in a lot of ways. He was a marked guy whenever we played and
he contributed beyond the running game. He just had a more complete year than ever before Elections to some degree are popularity contests. Look at Bettis. Early in the year he was tremendous. But he only played half the year and I don't think it's fair that he get the award when a guy like Corey played every game."
Dillon led the AFC with a career-best 340 carries for 1,315 yards, fourth in the conference behind Holmes, Martin and Seattle's Shaun Alexander. Dillon also finished with a career-high 34 catches and scored 78 of the Bengals' 226 points on a career-best 13 touchdowns. Bettis finished eighth in the AFC with 1,072 yards and caught 48 balls.
Dillon has passed his end-of-season and Pro Bowl physical and plans to get what has been described as "housekeeping," arthroscopic surgery on his knee to relieve some fluid buildup. He'll get the procedure done after the Pro Bowl if he gets the call.