The story of the 2011 Pro Bowl comes down to the quarterbacks selected to head each team, and in that it reads like something out of a feel-good Hollywood blockbuster: a fallen and tarnished star grabs his last chance at redemption and becomes the Comeback Kid who wins the chance to face off against the spiffy-clean face of the league, the consummate Golden Boy who can do no wrong.
And so it will be when Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Michael Vick leads the NFC against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the AFC when the two conferences meet on the field in Honolulu on January 30, reports ESPN.
By now, the particulars of Vick's story are well known. After coming out of Virginia Tech and becoming the face of the Atlanta Falcons, he fell from grace after a federal investigation uncovered his involvement in a dogfighting ring. He found himself suspended by the NFL and thrown in jail. But he grabbed a back-up job with the Eagles upon his release and was thrust into the starting job early in the 2010 season after Kevin Kolb went down.
The rest, as they say, is history. Since taking over in Philly, Vick has produced one of his best statistical seasons, throwing for 3,018 yards, 21 touchdowns and only six interceptions. He's also rushed for almost 700 yards and another nine touchdowns. He's authored two of the more memorable performances in recent history with his almost singled-handed decimation of the Washington Redskins on Monday Night Football in Week 10 and his under-the-gun fourth quarter comeback against the New York Giants in Week 15 that may have put the nail in Big Blue's playoff coffin. Vick led the fan voting and will head to his fourth Pro Bow along with four other Eagles.
On the other side of the ledger is Tom Brady, the cool field commander who runs arguably the league's best team with icy precision. Brady leads the league in touchdown passes with 34 and has only thrown four interceptions all year. He has the league's best passer rating at 109.8, and is sixth in passing yards with 3,701. By most accounts he'll pick up the league's MVP award and has the 13-2 Pats ready for a deep run in the playoffs. He will make his sixth trip to the Pro Bowl and leads five other teammates to Hawaii.
Atlanta, which leads the NFC with a 12-3 record, had the most Pro Bowlers with seven, including quarterback Matt Ryan, receiver Roddy White and defensive end John Abraham.
Baltimore, Green Bay and Dallas also had five players voted in Tuesday.
Four rookies were chosen, with DT Ndamukong Suh of Detroit a starter for the NFC. Cornerback Devin McCourty of New England, kick returner Marc Mariani of Tennessee and center Maurkice Pouncey of Pittsburgh made the AFC squad.
“It’s a tremendous honor, obviously being a rookie and getting my feet wet in the NFL,” Suh said. “I can’t expect anything more … it’s only going to make me want to work harder to get back there again.”
Altogether, there were seven first-timers on the NFC squad, 14 newcomers for the AFC.
The only teams not represented were Buffalo, Cincinnati, Seattle and Tampa Bay.
Also chosen from the Eagles were receiver DeSean Jackson, tackle Jason Peters, cornerback Asante Samuel and placekicker David Akers. Philadelphia lost to Minnesota on Tuesday night 24-14 in a game that was rescheduled due to the blizzard that sacked the East Coast over the weekend.
The other Falcons were tight end Tony Gonzalez, fullback Ovie Mughelli, running back Michael Turner and special teamer Eric Weems.
Joining Brady in Honolulu from the Patriots will be McCourty; guard Logan Mankins, who missed a portion of the season in a contract dispute; linebacker Jerod Mayo; safety Brandon Merriweather and nose tackle Vince Wilfork.
Starting for the NFC with Vick will be White and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson at wide receiver, Dallas TE Jason Witten, Atlanta’s Turner and Mughelli in the backfield, Peters and Carolina’s Jordan Gross at tackle, the Giants’ Chris Snee and Saints’ Jahri Evans at guard, and Dallas center Andre Gurode.
On defense for the NFC will be ends Julius Peppers of Chicago and Abraham, tackles Suh and Jay Ratliff of Dallas, linebackers Clay Matthews of Green Bay, DeMarcus Ware of Dallas and Patrick Willis of San Francisco, cornerbacks Samuel and Charles Woodson of Green Bay, and safeties Nick Collins of Green Bay and Adrian Wilson of Arizona.
The NFC punter is Dallas’ Mat McBriar, while Chicago’s Devin Hester is the kick returner.
Backup quarterbacks for the NFC are Ryan and Drew Brees.
“First off, it’s truly an honor just to be in the conversation of being a Pro Bowl player, but to make it two years in a row, I’m real fortunate and appreciative for the opportunity,” Matthews said. “Hopefully we’ll be busy at the time.”
Joining Brady on the AFC’s starting offense will be WRs Reggie Wayne of Indianapolis and Andre Johnson of Houston, TE Antonio Gates of San Diego, Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew and Houston fullback Vonta Leach, tackles Joe Thomas of Cleveland and Jake Long of Miami, guards Mankins and Kris Dielman of San Diego, and Jets center Nick Mangold.
The AFC starting defense features Indianapolis ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Wilfork and Baltimore tackle Haloti Ngata, linebackers Ray Lewis of Baltimore, James Harris of Pittsburgh and Cameron Wake of Miami, cornerbacks Darrelle Revis of the Jets and Oakland’s Nnamdi Asomugha, and safeties Troy Polamalu of Pittsburgh and Ed Reed of Baltimore.
Baltimore’s Billy Cundiff is the placekicker, Oakland’s Shane Lechler the punter, Mariani the kick returner and Montell Owens of Jacksonville the special teamer.
Colts QB Peyton Manning made his 11th Pro Bowl as a backup to Brady. He joined Brett Favre as the only quarterbacks selected to at least 11 games.
San Diego’s Philip Rivers is the other AFC quarterback.
“Wow, No. 12 feels like No. 1,” Lewis said. “I tell my teammates that I am going to train to be a Pro Bowl player that season, and my focus paid off again this season. This never gets old.”