Dave Pear and Donald Penn share more than first and last initials and four-letter surnames that sound like ordinary objects. They are also bookends of a sort when it comes to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' history in the Pro Bowl.
Pear was the first Buccaneer ever selected for the NFL's all-star game, getting the nod in 1978, the team's third season of existence. Since then, another 31 individuals have gone to the Pro Bowl for the franchise, Penn being the most recent. The fifth-year lineman is currently in Hawaii preparing for his all-star debut on Sunday evening.
Penn is the first Buccaneer offensive tackle ever chosen for the Pro Bowl. Pear, obviously, was the Bucs' first defensive tackle in the game. Penn, in essence, is finishing what Pear started; offensive tackle was the last position at which the Bucs still needed a Pro Bowl representative, excluding the "special teams" position that was added in the mid-'80s.
Pear was the lone Pro Bowl representative in '78 for a team brimming with young stars-in-the-making, a franchise about to embark on its first era of extended success. Penn is Tampa Bay's only Pro Bowler in 2010, a veteran selected off a squad mostly comprised of very young players, and one that also looks like it's on the verge of some very good times.
If the Buccaneers fortunes continue to trend upward in the coming seasons, there could be many more first-time Pro Bowlers wearing Buccaneer helmets. Already, second-year quarterback Josh Freeman was chosen as an alternate to this year's game, after ranking third in the NFC in passer rating (95.9) and producing the ninth-best single-season touchdown/interception ratio (25/6) in league history (minimum 20 TD passes). Tampa Bay tight end Kellen Winslow was also selected as an alternate and may eventually make his first all-star appearance as a Buccaneer, though he has previously made the Pro Bowl as a member of the Cleveland Browns.
In other words, Penn may be on the leading edge of another era of Pro Bowl Buccaneer performers, such as the one that produced a group of repeat all-stars (Derrick Brooks, Mike Alstott, Warren Sapp, Ronde Barber, etc.) beginning in 1997. For the moment, however, he's the last entry in the team's current all-star history ledger. Let's take a look at some other significant Pro Bowl moments and milestones for the Buccaneers:
Spectators First. Before the Buccaneers had a player in the Pro Bowl, they had the entire game on their home field.
This Sunday's Pro Bowl will be played at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii for the 31st time in the last 32 years. Prior to 1980, however, it had never been conducted in a city that did not have its own NFL team.
The NFL held a five-year run of All-Star Games from 1938-42 in a variety of cities. The first "Pro Bowl" was played in 1950 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which remained the home for the game through 1972. However, flagging interest in the game in L.A. prompted the league to start moving the site around, in the same way it does the Super Bowl. It visited Dallas, Kansas City, Miami and New Orleans, to name a few spots. When the Buccaneers and the Seattle Seahawks came into the league as expansion teams in 1976, they rewarded with one Pro Bowl each; it was played at the Kingdome in Seattle after the 1976 season and in Tampa Stadium after the 1977 campaign.
The varying-site plan didn't work much better for the NFL; the games were rarely played in front of capacity crowds. So, after one season back at the Coliseum in 1978 (played in January of 1979), the NFL moved its all-star game to Hawaii, where it found a very willing home, and a popular destination for the league's honored players. Last year, the NFL experimented with a game back in the contiguous states, playing it in the Super Bowl host city of Miami, but it went back to Hawaii this year and will be played at Aloha Stadium next year as well.
All of which means Dave Pear's timing was pretty bad. One year earlier, and he would have been playing the Pro Bowl in front of an adoring home crowd. One year later, and he would have been part of the first group to get a free trip to Hawaii.
MVP! MVP! Two Buccaneer players have won game MVP honors in a Pro Bowl: defensive end Lee Roy Selmon in 1982 (following the 1981 season) and linebacker Derrick Brooks in 2006 (following the 2005 season).
Selmon received the award in his fourth trip to the all-star game, and he did it an a somewhat unusual fashion. Actually, the Buccaneer pass-rusher shared the MVP honors with San Diego Chargers tight end Kellen Winslow, the father of the aforementioned tight end currently on the Bucs' roster. What was unusual about Selmon's recognition is that he got it despite being on the losing team. It had been six years since the last MVP came from the losing squad, as kick returner Billy Johnson of the Houston Oilers got it after the AFC's 23-20 loss in 1976.
The AFC won the 1982 Pro Bowl, 16-13, though several Buccaneers did their best to keep the NFC in it. Tampa Bay Head Coach John McKay was the NFC's coach, and his team scored the only points of the first half when San Francisco quarterback Joe Montana hit Bucs tight end Jimmie Giles with a four-yard touchdown pass. Meanwhile, Selmon was rampaging through the AFC backfield with four sacks.
Speaking of Pear's bad Pro Bowl timing, you could say the same, in a way, about Selmon. If you check the NFL's official Pro Bowl record book, you'll find that Mark Gastineau of the New York Jets (1985) and Reggie White of the Philadelphia Eagles (1987) are tied for the single-game mark for sacks. Their shared record: four. So why isn't Selmon listed right there with Gastineau and White? The NFL didn't officially start compiling sacks in the Pro Bowl until 1983.
Brooks became the second Tampa Bay player to take home Pro Bowl MVP honors in 2006, when he helped the NFC hold on to a 23-17 victory. His award was a bit of a streak-breaker, too. No defensive player had taken MVP honors in the Pro Bowl since 1990, when L.A. Rams cornerback Jerry Gray pulled the trick.
The selection of Brooks was fitting, though, because the 2006 Pro Bowl snapped a long run of very offensive-minded all-star games. In fact, in the previous six Pro Bowls, the two teams had combined for an average of 74 points per game. The 2004 game was the peak of the scoring craziness, as the NFC won, 55-52.
There were only 40 points scored in the '06 Pro Bowl, and six of those belonged to Brooks. In the third quarter, he broke a 10-10 tie by picking off Kansas City quarterback Trent Green and returning it for a touchdown. Brooks was playing in his ninth Pro Bowl at the time, and thus had seen a lot of scoreboard-rolling afternoons. This particular NFC win, however, knotted the all-time Pro Bowl series at 18-18 between the two conferences.
That also wasn't the first time Brooks returned an interception for a touchdown in a Pro Bowl. He pulled off the same feat in the 2000 game, helping the NFC blow out its rivals, 51-31. Speaking of that 2000 scorefest…
The A-Train, Doing What He Did Best. Selmon may not be in the Pro Bowl record book, but Buccaneer fullback Mike Alstott is. He is one of four players who shares the career record for rushing touchdowns in the Pro Bowl, along with Houston's Earl Campbell, Chuck Muncie of New Orleans and San Diego and current Minnesota Viking Adrian Peterson.
The record is three, and though Alstott played in six Pro Bowls, he did all of his scoring damage on one afternoon.
Randy Moss, the Vikings wideout, caught nine passes for 212 yards and won the game's MVP award. It easily could have gone to Alstott, however, as NFC Head Coach Tony Dungy kept feeding the Bucs' short-yardage bruiser at the goal line. Alstott and Jacksonville wide receiver Jimmy Smith scored three times each, but it was the Bucs' side that won the game. At the time, Alstott helped produce the highest-scoring game in Pro Bowl history.
Breakthrough! For just over a decade, from 1986 through 1996, the Buccaneers were an afterthought on Pro Bowl Sunday. In those 11 years, Tampa Bay had just four Pro Bowlers, who made a total of five appearances: Jimmie Giles in '86, Mark Carrier in 1989, Wayne Haddix in 1990 and Hardy Nickerson in 1993 and 1996.
Then the Buccaneers' overall fortunes turned around, and so did the Pro Bowl voting.
In 1997, Tampa Bay snapped a string of 14 consecutive seasons with losing records, going 10-6 and earning a Wild Card berth for its first postseason appearance since 1982. That was the second season of the Tony Dungy era and the team was, much as it is now, a very young squad built largely through the draft and just starting to come into its own.
The Buccaneers placed eight players in the 1998 Pro Bowl (following the 1997 season), seven more than the year before and just one fewer than its total of Pro Bowl appearances from 1983-96.
That was also the most of any team in the NFL in the '98 all-star game, one more than San Francisco and two more than Green Bay, Pittsburgh and Kansas City. That marked the first time in franchise history that the Buccaneers had been the dominant team in the Pro Bowl voting.
Tampa Bay's eight-man group was evenly split between four players from offense and four from defense. The defensive group – Nickerson, Warren Sapp, Derrick Brooks and John Lynch – were just getting started. They would make a total of 28 Pro Bowl appearances as Buccaneers between them (as mentioned, two of Nickerson's came before 1997), with Brooks topping out at 11 and Sapp getting seven.
On offense, the Buccaneers had two players begin Pro Bowl runs: Mike Alstott would make it for a string of six consecutive years beginning in '97 and Tony Mayberry would go to three in a row. Warrick Dunn was the only rookie to play in that year's Pro Bowl, and he would make it again in 2000. Trent Dilfer made his one and only Pro Bowl as a Buccaneer in 1997, but it was still a groundbreaking selection. Dilfer was the first Tampa Bay quarterback ever to be invited to the all-star game.
Amazingly, the Buccaneers would top themselves three years later. In 1999, the Buccaneers won their first division title in 20 years and advanced to the NFC Championship Game, barely missing their first Super Bowl trip with an 11-6 loss to the eventual-champion Rams in St. Louis. Tampa Bay got a nice six-man contingent into the Pro Bowl following that season (the same group as in 1997, minus Dilfer and Dunn), but as often happens with all-star voting, the real recognition was delayed by a season.
The Buccaneers made the playoffs again in 2000, but it wasn't quite as successful a season as in 1999. Tampa Bay made it in as a Wild Card team; the Bucs would have won the division had they won in the season finale at Green Bay, but ended up falling 17-14 in overtime. They then lost in the opening round of the playoffs at Philadelphia.
However, Pro Bowl voters still favored the Buccaneers, this time putting a franchise-record 10 players into the game. While Alstott, Brooks, Lynch and Sapp repeated from the previous season, there was also a lot of new blood. Dunn made his second appearance, and two offensive linemen with good Pro Bowl pedigrees made it in their first season as Buccaneers. Center Jeff Christy followed 1998 and 1999 selections with the Vikings with a third straight trip while guard Randall McDaniel made it for the 12th consecutive season, also after a run of 10 with the Vikes.
Martin Gramatica became the first and so far only Buccaneer kicker selected for the Pro Bowl that year. Cornerback Donnie Abraham made his only Pro Bowl appearance that season, though he had been a standout for the team for years.
Coincidentally, the opposing squad was led by soon-to-be Buccaneers coach Jon Gruden, then the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. Gramatica provided one of the Bucs' highlights with a 48-yard field goal, but the AFC took the decision, 38-17.
A Team of Pro Bowlers. As mentioned above, Donald Penn is the first offensive tackle the Buccaneers have ever sent to the Pro Bowl. Penn's selection almost fills out what one might call the Bucs' all-time Pro Bowl squad. That is, using only players who have been chosen for the Pro Bowl, you can form almost an entire 22-man starting lineup for Tampa Bay's franchise, not to mention a special teams trio of kicker, punter and kick returner.
And, with a little poetic license, you can essentially make that a complete 25-man team. Here's one possible configuration (at some positions, other options are available):
WR: Mark Carrier (89)
LT: Donald Penn (10)
LG: Randall McDaniel (00)
C: Tony Mayberry (97, 98, 99)
RG: Davin Joseph (08)
RT: Jeff Christy (00) *
TE: Jimmie Giles (80, 81, 82, 85)
WR: Keenan McCardell (03)
QB: Brad Johnson (02)
RB: Warrick Dunn (97, 00)
FB: Mike Alstott (97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02)
DE: Lee Roy Selmon (79, 80, 81, 82, 83, 84)
DT: Warren Sapp (97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03)
DT: Dave Pear (78)
DE: Simeon Rice (02, 03)
OLB: Derrick Brooks (97, 98, 99, 00, 01, 02, 03, 04, 05, 06, 08)
MLB: Hardy Nickerson (93, 96, 97, 98, 99)
OLB: Hugh Green (82, 83)
CB: Ronde Barber (04, 05, 06, 08)
CB: Donnie Abraham (00)
SS: John Lynch (97, 99, 00, 01, 02)
FS: Wayne Haddix (90) **
K: Martin Gramatica (00)
P: Josh Bidwell (05)
KR: Clifton Smith (08)
- Jeff Christy played center and made the Pro Bowl for the Buccaneers at that position in 2000. He may not be any more suited to moving to tackle than any other Tampa Bay lineman, but as the fifth of five OL in team history to make the game, he is the only option.
** Wayne Haddix made the Pro Bowl as a cornerback in 1990. Since John Lynch is the only Buc safety ever chosen for the all-star game, Haddix gets pressed into service at a different position.