x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Yanda among newcomers in all-star game

Seven of Baltimore Ravens teammates make up AFC side with as many Green Bay Packers set to represent NFC at Pro Bowl.

Carlos Rogers, right, is one of eight San Francisco players in the NFC Pro Bowl line-up.
Carlos Rogers, right, is one of eight San Francisco players in the NFC Pro Bowl line-up.

The usual names – Tom Brady, Ray Lewis, Troy Polamalu, Tony Gonzalez – are headed for the NFL Pro Bowl. Joining them in Hawaii will be the not-quite-so familiar, from Rob Gronkowski to Jimmy Graham, from Marshal Yanda to Earl Thomas.

The thrill of making the NFL's all-star game is equal, whether it is an eight-time invitee such as Ed Reed of the Baltimore Ravens, or a newcomer like his teammate, Yanda.

"I am ecstatic," said Yanda, who was selected as a back-up at guard to New England's Logan Mankins and Brian Water. "This is such a great honour, something that I never really expected.

"When I made it to the NFL, I was so happy to be on a team and playing in the league, and now, to be a part of a Pro Bowl team is something very special."

Or as old hand Reed put it: "It is definitely an honour and blessing. To come back after an injury last year and to be voted by my peers and fans is special."

There are seven Ravens on the AFC squad, matching the number of Green Bay Packers for the NFC.

But those teams did not lead their conferences in voting by players, coaches and fans. Brady is one of eight New England Patriots and Patrick Willis one of eight San Francisco 49ers to make the January 29 game.

"It's awesome," said 49ers punter Andy Lee. "I think everybody is deserving. I think some guys are deserving who aren't going. Hopefully we won't be there, hopefully we'll be in the Super Bowl."

Players who make the Super Bowl will be replaced on the Pro Bowl rosters. For those not in the championship game, it is a sunny, balmy consolation prize to journey to Honolulu.

"It's a nice honour," said Arian Foster, the Houston Texans running back. "It's the highest compliment you can get in this league when you're voted in by people who know the game. It's just fun."

Brady is one of seven starters from New England. The others are receiver Wes Welker, tight end Gronkowski, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, defensive end Andre Carter, Waters and Logan Mankins. Special-teamer Matthew Slater is the other New England representative.

Linebacker Willis, defensive end Justin Smith, cornerback Carlos Rogers and tackle Joe Staley will start for the NFC from the 49ers, who had only Smith and Willis make the Pro Bowl last year.

Green Bay's Rodgers is the starting NFC quarterback, backed by record-setting Drew Brees of New Orleans. "It does have special significance, because when I was voted in 2009, I was the third guy and I was very thankful to be voted in," Rodgers said.

Four of the NFL's biggest headline makers this season did not make it: Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, Carolina Panthers rookie quarterback Cam Newton, and Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow.