When the Pro Bowl rosters were finished being revealed Tuesday night, a league-high eight Vikings had learned they were invited to participate in the Miami festivities, which are scheduled this year to be held the week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl.
Among the selectees were such stars as Brett Favre, Jared Allen, Kevin Williams, Adrian Peterson and Steve Hutchinson, all guys who’ve made it multiple times. Then there was first-time selection Heath Farwell, chosen as the NFC’s special teams player, and first-timer Sidney Rice, chosen for a break-out 1,000+ yard season at receiver.
And then there was the Vikings’ eighth selection, another first-timer: left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who was chosen to start alongside teammate Hutchinson. Yes, the same Bryant McKinnie who was pulled from a recent game because the coach got sick of watching him get torched. The same Bryant McKinnie who, since he joined the Vikings as a high first-round draft pick in 2002, has been consistent only in his maddening underachievement and propensity for getting in trouble.
I think most Viking fans would join me in labeling McKinnie’s selection laughable. Of course, everybody knows this selection has nothing to do with McKinnie’s performance relative to the other players at his position, and everything to do with the guys he lines up alongside.
First there’s Steve Hutchinson, whose arrival on the Vikings a few years ago had the inexplicable effect of making people talk about McKinnie like he was Walter Jones, the guy Hutch teamed with in Seattle to help make Shaun Alexander a superstar. The idea, I guess, was that having Hutch alongside him would suddenly inspire McKinnie to improve his footwork, focus on every play and no longer transform into a giant immobile turd every time he lined up against a decent pass rushing end.
In fact, though Hutch continued to play at a high level (until this year when injuries began hampering him), McKinnie showed little noticeable improvement. He remained pretty good as a run blocker, intermittently horrific as a pass blocker.
But Hutch’s rub-off effect alone wasn’t enough to trick people into thinking McKinnie deserved to be on the Pro Bowl team. For that to happen, two more important elements would need to enter the mix: a superstar running back and a mega-superstar quarterback.
Adrian Peterson took care of the superstar running back bit. After the way he annihilated defenses his rookie season, it was inevitable that the guys who blocked for him would be raised in the esteem of Pro Bowl voters. That’s just the way Pro Bowl voters work, you know. Actually evaluating each individual guy is too much strain on the brain. It’s much easier to look at the stats of one player and draw all sorts of possibly invalid conclusions.
AD ran over a few teams in his first year, therefore Bryant McKinnie is a good tackle.
Never mind the fact that, after defenses figured out the Vikings had no passing game and they could just stack the line all day, Peterson’s spectacular performances went away like your crappy friends after the waiter brings the check.
And then, of course, Brett Favre arrived on the scene, and the McKinnie Pro Bowl cauldron went from simmery to downright boily.
Favre’s ability to get throws off in rhythm and pick up blitzes before they get in his face had the natural effect of making it appear the offensive line was pass blocking a lot better for him than for Tarvaris Jackson, Gus Frerotte and the rest of those guys. Even so, there were games where McKinnie and the rest of the so-so line reverted to its old form, notably the Cardinals game, and even more notably the Carolina game, where Julius Peppers practically reduced McKinnie to tears.
But by the time those two awful performances rolled around, the league had already made up its mind that McKinnie deserved to be elevated from borderline to definite Pro Bowler. And not just as a reserve either. As a starter.
Brad Childress isn’t the only one who owes Brett Favre a gigantic debt of gratitude.
I will give the clueless Pro Bowl voters this at least: they have found a way to make me watch the game. I haven’t seen a Pro Bowl in ten years but I will be riveted to my screen this year, to see how bad McKinnie gets undressed by the AFC defensive ends. And I will laugh when the coach yanks him from the game. Because that’s what you do when you see or hear a joke. You laugh.