Buccaneer opponents found RB Warrick Dunn very difficult to slow down in the season's final two months
As Warrick Dunn's remarkable final six weeks of the 2000 season unfolded, the simplest reaction was, 'Better late than never.' Turns out, for Dunn, the same thought applies to the Pro Bowl.
On Thursday, the National Football League announced that Dunn has been added to this year's Pro Bowl roster, replacing injured Dallas Cowboy Emmitt Smith. It will be Dunn's second Pro Bowl appearance; he was also voted in as a rookie in 1997.
"I'm happy and excited," said Dunn after learning of the news on Thursday afternoon. After two years without a trip to Hawaii, he is gratified to be returning to the showcase game of the league's best players.
"I never thought that would be my last (Pro Bowl)," said Dunn. "I always felt that if I had another opportunity to showcase my skills, those skills would be represented. I was fortunate to have some big games at the end."
Ten games and 11 weeks into the 2000 NFL season, Dunn had 498 rushing yards, respectable numbers but only the 25th best total in the league. Even given Dunn's natural explosiveness and his previous Pro Bowl credentials, it would have been difficult to predict what would come next, after backfield mate Mike Alstott suffered a severe knee injury in Chicago on November 19.
Over the final six weeks of the season, as the sole focal point in the Bucs' rushing attack, Dunn was one of the NFL's most impactful players, gaining 635 rushing yards, catching 21 passes for 216 yards and scoring seven touchdowns. Only four players in the NFL gained more rushing yards in that span – Denver's Mike Anderson (821), Jacksonville's Fred Taylor (818), Tennessee's Eddie George (644) and Green Bay's Ahman Green (636). Only Green, who topped Dunn by one yard, had more rushing yards in the NFC.
By the end of the season, Dunn had a career-best 1,133 rushing yards, the third-highest combined rushing and receiving yardage total in team history (1,555) and the best yards-per-carry mark (4.6) for any Buc with over 500 yards in a single season. He also turned in 12 plays that gained over 20 yards in those last six contests and made a serious late run at team Most Valuable Player honors.
And now, for the second time, he will give Tampa Bay an entire backfield in the Pro Bowl, as he joins the NFC's starter at fullback, Mike Alstott. As he was in 1997, Dunn is in the Pro Bowl as a reserve.
The Bucs also now have an NFL-best nine representatives in the league's all-star game, topping the Tennessee Titans' contingent by one. It also bests by one the Buccaneers' previous high of eight Pro Bowlers, set in 1997.
Six Buccaneers – Alstott, LB Derrick Brooks, C Jeff Christy, S John Lynch, G Randall McDaniel and DT Warren Sapp – were selected as starters, giving Tampa Bay the most starters in the NFL and the most-ever in team history, surpassing its four starters in 1999. Dunn joins CB Donnie Abraham and K Martin Gramatica as the Buccaneer reserves bound for Honolulu. The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, February 4, one week after Super Bowl XXXV.
Dunn reached the 1,000-yard plateau for the second time in his career and became the third Buccaneer (also James Wilder and Errict Rhett) to reach 1,000 rushing yards twice in a career. He also ranked first on the team with eight rushing touchdowns and finished third on the team with 44 receptions for 422 yards in 2000.