Despite posting a losing record for the third straight year, the Ravens had five players named to the AFC Pro Bowl team yesterday, including middle linebacker Ray Lewis and offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who will make their second straight appearances.
Defensive end Michael McCrary, special teams player Bennie Thompson and punt returner Jermaine Lewis also were named to the team. Second-year outside linebacker Peter Boulware was selected as an alternate.
Denver (13-1) and Minnesota (13-1) placed conference-high nine players on their respective teams. The Buffalo Bills (9-5) will send six to the game and the New York Jets (10-4) four. Green Bay (9-5), Atlanta (12-2) and Dallas (8-6) each will send five players to represent the NFC. All of these teams except the Ravens are in the playoffs or in contention.
The last losing team to have five representatives was Atlanta (6-10) in 1993 under Jerry Glanville. He was replaced by June Jones the next season.
Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' vice president of player personnel, said the selections would have no impact on coach Ted Marchibroda. Newsome, though, agreed it was unusual to have such a high number on a losing team.
"This is a tribute to the players," Newsome said in a prepared statement. "This is a great tribute to four young players who already have earned respect around the league and maybe even a greater tribute to a warrior like Bennie Thompson.
"It is the history of the Pro Bowl to have more selections off playoff teams and teams that appear on national television. That's when their peers get a chance to see them. A lot of guys who deserve it don't make it because of the lack of exposure. Hopefully, as it was for me, it will become more important for our players to get into the playoffs and to the Super Bowl than the Pro Bowl."
After hearing of the number of Ravens selected, owner Art Modell reconfirmed that he expected more from his team this season.
"We'll go back to the drawing board and continue to rebuild and restructure," Modell said. "We have a hard core of players that will be around for a long time. I had every expectation of going to the postseason, but it didn't work out. We're going to work harder to get the right forces in play to get the job done."
Thompson, Jermaine Lewis and Ray Lewis were somewhat surprise selections even though Ray Lewis played in the Pro Bowl last season. Ogden was considered a definite because he and Jacksonville's Tony Boselli are generally regarded as the two best tackles in the NFL.
"The first time will always be the first time," Ogden said. "It's nice that the other players think I'm good enough to go back. I didn't play as well as I wanted to play, but I'm never happy with how I play. I think I've played good enough football this year."
McCrary is the Ravens' second-leading tackler with 89, behind Lewis, who has 128. But McCrary has been among the league leaders in sacks all season and is second in the AFC with 14 1/2 .
Marchibroda played a joke on McCrary yesterday before announcing the selections to the team. Marchibroda had announced the first four players and then started walking toward the door as if he was finished. Then he turned and said McCrary's name.
"He got me real good," said McCrary, who also got the satisfaction of being named ahead of former Seattle teammate and defensive end Michael Sinclair. "Who would think he would pull a trick like that? For a while there, I thought I was just going to have to play harder next year to make the team.
"But it's a good feeling to be selected by peers and coaches. It's nice to get some recognition for your work ethic on the field."
Fans also voted in selecting the teams.
Ray Lewis missed nearly three games this season with a dislocated elbow, but he still managed to beat out Pittsburgh's Levon Kirkland, who made the team last year but was left off this season.
Lewis, who went as a "need player" last year, has quickly emerged as the Ravens' top defensive player and recently signed a $26 million contract extension that included a $7 million signing bonus.
Jermaine Lewis also has had that kind of special season. He signed a four-year contract extension earlier this season worth $16 million and is tied for tops in the AFC with two punt returns for touchdowns, of 69 and 87 yards.
Lewis is going to the Pro Bowl as a punt returner, but he also has had impact as a receiver. Lewis has scored on receptions of 64, 58, 56, 73 and 46 yards. He is appreciative of his first Pro Bowl appearance, but now wants to go as a receiver.
"I wasn't surprised, but I thought it would be close," said Lewis, who's from Lanham and was a standout at Maryland. "There has been motivation for me because there were people who said I was too small and that I would only make it in the league as a specialist. But I'm getting better as a receiver, too. This has been a really special year for me."
Thompson, 35, was a second alternate to the Pro Bowl last season and was named to the NFC squad as a special teams player in 1991 when he was with the New Orleans Saints. Thompson also made it as the AFC alternate with the Cleveland Browns in 1994.
The selection also serves as redemption for Thompson, who has 19 special teams tackles, after the Ravens insulted him with an early contract offer of a $25,000 signing bonus during the early part of negotiations in the off-season.
"It's all about respect," Thompson said. "I've always said that when it takes only one person to block me, I might as well retire. When we played Minnesota, one of their coaches told me he wanted to put five people on me. But I'm happy for all the people who were selected and this definitely shows we have the talent around here."
Next for Ravens
Opponent: Chicago Bears
Site: Soldier Field, Chicago
When: Sunday, 1: 01 p.m.
TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WJFK (1300 AM), WLIF (101.9 FM)
Line: Pick 'em
Pub Date: 12/17/98