5 49ers Off To Pro Bowl
January 5th, 2002
By Bryan Hersh of 49ers Paradise
It’s been an exciting season for the 49ers and their fans. Coming off of two consecutive losing seasons, during which time they amounted a total of only ten victories in thirty-two games, the team finally turned it all around and put together a season similar to those 49ers fans had grown used to during the ‘Glory Years’. The season now has only one week remaining before the 49ers enter their first post-season game in two years. And as the season winds down, the individual achievements begin to shine through.
A Cinderella story if there ever was one is starting quarterback of the 49ers, Jeff Garcia. It’s not often that a team is blessed with one Hall Of Fame quarterback like Joe Montana, it’s even less likely for a team to have two such quarterbacks in a row - as the 49ers did with Steve Young. And with Jeff Garcia now in his third season with the team - it may still be a little premature, but it sure looks like the 49ers could have their third such quarterback. Garcia has earned his second consecutive trip to Hawaii in as many starting seasons for the quarterback that traveled through the CFL before finally getting a chance to backup Steve Young in San Francisco. As the season ends, Garcia’s accomplishments with the 49ers have truly been amazing, leading the team to key comeback victories in both overtime and regulation. The small but tough competitor could not be more deserving of his Pro Bowl trip.
As is often the case in the NFL, quarterbacks who have great seasons usually reward the offensive linemen that protect them. If ever there was a case for such, it should be Jeff Garcia rewarding offensive lineman Ray Brown. The sixteen-year veteran has finally earned the respect of the league and is on his way to his first Pro Bowl ever. Brown has been an awesome force along the 49ers offensive line for many years now, and he most deservingly receives this honor in what could be his final season before retirement. Along with Brown, center Jeremy Newberry is a first alternate for the Pro Bowl in the event that a player drops out due to injury.
Of course along with pass blocking, the offensive line opens holes for running backs. And that most certainly happened this season as Garrison Hearst - the man who had countless surgeries to one leg and missed two season’s of play returned to the lineup. Splitting carries with Kevan Barlow, Hearst recorded his third consecutive 1000+-yard season. Hearst’s trip to this years Pro-Bowl is nothing short of a modern-day medical miracle. After suffering his second ‘career ending’ injury Hearst is truly all the way back to form - and is a practical lock for the NFL’s Comeback Player Of The Year Award. A truly incredible accomplishment for a man who many thought would never see the field again. Of course Hearst's season is also thanks in large part to Fred Beasley who is also a first alternate for the Pro Bowl.
Terrell Owens is an offensive threat whenever he steps on the field, wherever he steps on the field. It’s no surprise that this super star - who had a mid-season rift with his coach, has made it to the pro Bowl. Owens leads the 49ers in every receiving category this season and has helped ease the departure of Jerry Rice. Although everyone still misses Jerry, there’s nobody better to take his place then Owens.
There is little question that the 49ers defense this season saw dramatic improvements. Jumping from the bottom of the league standings to about the middle of the pack, the growth of this defense has been nothing short of remarkable. Although there were several players who warranted the trip to Hawaii - like Ahmed Plummer who has already recorded seven interceptions (though he is the second alternate for the game) - or Zack Bronson and Lance Schulters the two safeties who have been such a great tandem in the 49ers defensive backfield, only one player received the honor. Veteran defensive tackle Bryant Young one of the best to ever play his position has earned a spot on the NFC Roster. Although Young doesn’t have the double digit sacks that he has put up in many of the past years, he has been instrumental in leading the squad and stopping the run - while still getting to the quarterback on occasion. There is little doubt that the titanium rod in Young’s leg is little bother to him.
All in all the 49ers are sending five players to the Pro Bowl and three alternates. A fair number by every standard and a true accomplishment for a group of players that has come a very long way from last season. The team will try and feed off of these and other players as it begins its first post-season run in two seasons.