Reporting David Elfin
San Francisco’s come-from-behind victory in this past Sunday’s NFC Championship Game was also a triumph for Washington. That’s because 49ers linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith had to decline their invitations for Sunday’s Pro Bowl in Honolulu to get ready for Super Bowl XLVII, leaving their spots to alternates London Fletcher and Ryan Kerrigan of the Redskins.
The additions of Fletcher and Kerrigan to quarterback Robert Griffin III (who won’t play after undergoing knee surgery on Jan. 9), offensive tackle Trent Williams and special teams ace Lorenzo Alexander — who were chosen for the NFC squad in December — give Washington five Pro Bowl players for the first time since 1996. Back then, running back Terry Allen, quarterback Gus Frerotte, outside linebacker Ken Harvey, cornerback Darrell Green and punter Matt Turk represented the Redskins.
Oddly, the 1996 team was also the last one before this year’s to win seven straight games, a feat that the 1999 NFC East champions and the wild card teams of 2005 and 2007 couldn’t match.
Fletcher is the 11th Redskin to be named to at least four straight Pro Bowls joining Hall of Famers Chris Hanburger (1966-69 and 1972-76) and Charley Taylor (1964-67 and 1972-75) as well as Canton enshrinees Russ Grimm (1983-86) and Ken Houston (1973-79).
Harvey (1994-97), cornerback Champ Bailey (2000-03), running back Larry Brown (1969-72), linebacker Chuck Drazenovich (1955-58), center Len Hauss (1967-72), offensive tackle Joe Jacoby (1983-86) were similarly acclaimed.
“I’m honored to be joining such esteem company for this storied franchise,” Fletcher said in an email. “There have been a lot of great players to wear the burgundy and gold, therefore I’m extremely humbled by this.”
Indeed, Hall of Famers Green and Sonny Jurgensen, offensive tackle Chris Samuels, defensive ends Gene Brito and Charles Mann and receiver Gary Clark were also picked for at least four Pro Bowls for Washington but not in consecutive seasons.
Redskins legends Art Monk and John Riggins are enshrined in Canton despite being chosen for just four Pro Bowls between them. Fellow Hall of Famer Bobby Mitchell was picked four times, but the first was when he was with Cleveland. Cliff Battles, Sammy Baugh, Bill Dudley, Turk Edwards and Wayne Millner are also in Canton but played all or most of their careers before the Pro Bowl was created in 1950.
Fletcher, who hasn’t announced if he’s going to return for a 16th season in 2013, also enhanced his Hall of Fame resume with his fourth Pro Bowl selection, the first of which came when he was already 34, past retirement age for many players. Hall of Famer Ray Nitschke was picked for just one Pro Bowl while fellow enshrined linebackers Sam Huff and Andre Tippett were five-time All-Stars.
While Kerrigan and Williams, both 24 and Washington’s first-round draft picks in 2011 and 2010, respectively, might have plenty of Pro Bowls in their future along with 22-year-old rookie Griffin, the second overall choice in this year’s draft, being so recognized felt like a long time coming for Alexander.
The 29-year-old Cal graduate arrived in Washington in October 2006 as a 300-pound undrafted, practice squad defensive lineman who had been cut by two teams during the previous month.
Six years, eight positions and plenty of ups and downs later, the co-captain is one of just seven players remaining who suited up for Hall of Fame coach Joe Gibbs and is the NFC’s special teams player.
“I was just trying to scratch to make the team,” said Alexander, who began adding to his plethora of positions as a guard during spring workouts in 2007 and first earned notoriety by making a tackle after his helmet had come off in a preseason game with Tennessee that summer. “I always found a way to be useful and keep my spot. I’ve just kind of adapted and evolved over the years. It was a lot of hard work. A lot of that is great coaching and great players I’ve had a chance to play with. And now six years later, you find yourself in a leadership role.”
Alexander was a starting outside linebacker in 2010 but has otherwise excelled on special teams while also filling reserve roles at defensive end, defensive tackle, inside linebacker, tight end, tackle, guard and fullback.
“You put a lot of hard work in being a dominant player,” said the 29-year-old Alexander, who led the NFL this season with 21 special teams tackles, several of the bone-jarring variety. “To be recognized by the fans, the coaches and the players is a pretty cool experience. I thought I should’ve went [to the Pro Bowl] the last couple years. It didn’t happen for me, but it’s a testament to keep grinding, keep working hard, keep trying it improve your game and eventually things will turn out great.”
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin