FB Mike Alstott, the Bucs' leading touchdown producer
in 1999, displayed his scoring touch in the Pro Bowl
Gone are the days that Buccaneer fans watched an entire Pro Bowl just to see a quick glimpse of their hometown heroes. Tampa Bay has been heavily represented in the last three AFC-NFC Pro Bowls, with 19 invitations from 1997 to 1999, but has never before made an impression quite like the one it made on Sunday.
Six Buccaneers played in this year's NFL all-star game, conducted Sunday afternoon in Honolulu, Hawaii. All six were featured prominently in the NFC's dominant 51-31 victory, with FB Mike Alstott and LB Derrick Brooks drawing the most attention.
The NFC's starting fullback, Alstott celebrated his third straight Pro Bowl with a three-touchdown performance, scoring three of his team's first four TDs. NFC Head Coach Tony Dungy favored his familiar 240-pound battering ram when his potent offense got near the goal line, particularly in the second quarter when Alstott's 27-yard breakaway run got the NFC down to the three. In all, Alstott managed a game-best 67 rushing yards on 13 carries and also provided a key block on Michael Bates' 66-yard kickoff return that set up an NFC field goal in the final seconds of the first half.
As the lone fullback for the NFC in each of the last three Februarys, Alstott has seen plenty of Pro Bowl action. However, he had never played as prominent of a role in his team's scoring efforts. In fact, few players ever have.
Not only did Alstott's outing tie the Pro Bowl record for most touchdowns in a game, it equaled the most Pro Bowl TDs in any player's career. Green Bay RB John Brockington is the only other player ever to reach the end zone three times in a Pro Bowl, running in two touchdowns and catching another for the NFC in 1973. Alstott is the first to score three times on the ground. His three career touchdowns put him in Pro Bowl company with such legendary NFL names as Earl Campbell, Chuck Muncie, Marcus Allen and Cris Carter.
Though reserve C Tony Mayberry was the only other Buccaneer to line up on the offensive side, Tampa Bay was actually responsible for four TDs on Sunday. That's because Brooks scored the NFC's fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter when he intercepted a pass by AFC QB Mark Brunell over the middle and returned it 20 yards to the end zone.
Brooks was recognized during the Pro Bowl broadcast repeatedly as he contributed his usual sideline-to-sideline performance. He was particularly adept in pass coverage, leaping for another notable pass breakup in the first quarter before his game-sealing pick in the final period. While giving a nod to this year's NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Buccaneer DT Warren Sapp, broadcaster Boomer Esiason called Brooks 'the odds-on favorite to be next year's defensive MVP.'
With a total of four of the NFC's 11 Pro Bowl starters on defense – S John Lynch and LB Hardy Nickerson joined Brooks and Sapp – the Buccaneers do have a host of players capable of earning that award next year. For the time being, however, they combined their efforts with the rest of the conference's representatives to produce the first NFC win since 1997 (following the 1996 season). That just added to the fun for viewers in Tampa Bay, who had plenty to be proud of on Sunday.