20 Redskins in the Pro Bowl? Savvy campaign has fans stuffing the ballot box

Updated: November 20, 2008, 2:00 AM ET
Associated Press

ASHBURN, Va. -- Randy Thomas stared in puzzled silence at the numbers for the longest time, then finally starting laughing. If the Pro Bowl voting were to end right now, the veteran right guard would be on his way to Hawaii - along with 19 of his Washington Redskins teammates.

"You've got to be kidding me," Thomas said. "Wow."

So far, it's the Redskins in a burgundy state landslide. Fans have responded in droves to an aggressive get-out-the-vote campaign conducted by one of the most market-savvy teams in the NFL, putting virtually everyone in the lineup -- even those who haven't played much or have played well below Pro Bowl caliber -- ahead of the pack in the NFC.

"It's a surprise," said Khary Campbell -- that's right, Khary Campbell -- who has a lead of more than 2-to-1 over his nearest competitor in voting for special teams specialist. "But I'm happy to see our fans showing the overwhelming support they do have for us."

The Redskins' campaign has been so effective that the NFL felt the need to raise the issue in an e-mail sent last week to the digital media departments of all 32 teams by George Scott, the league's general manager, club sites, at NFL Digital Media.

"As it stands right now, the Redskins are leading the NFC ballots in 16 of 19 positions," said the e-mail, a copy of which was provided to The Associated Press. "It's no surprise, given that they have been promoting this all season long. ... This would be a great weekend to promote Pro Bowl voting to your fans. Let me know if you need any ideas or support from the league [or the Redskins] in this important initiative."

Right now, eight of the 11 NFC starters on both offense and defense would be Redskins, plus all four special teams players. Shawn Springs, who has missed six games with injuries, is the leading vote-getter at cornerback. Mike Sellers has one-third of the votes for fullback, giving him a huge margin over his nearest competitor, Madison Hedgecock of the New York Giants. The Giants are 9-1, but their only vote leader is defensive end Justin Tuck.

That's not to say all 20 Redskins are shoo-ins. Fan voting on nfl.com continues through Dec. 9, and it counts for only one-third of the total. Then the coaches and players are polled separately, each counting for one-third.

But some of the leads - including Sellers' - are so large they could be tough to surmount under the complex formula the NFL uses for apportioning votes. The situation is somewhat reminiscent of last season, when the ever-popular Dallas Cowboys sent 13 players to Hawaii.

At least those Cowboys were a 13-3 team. The Redskins' decent but not spectacular record of 6-4 makes the overload of Pro Bowl love almost embarrassing, especially for a candid veteran such as Thomas, who frankly admitted he didn't think he was playing at an all-star level.

"I guess I'm critical of myself," Thomas said, "but I can always play better than what I'm been doing."

The showering of votes represents another coup for Redskins owner Dan Snyder, whose marketing ploys have been far more successful than his football moves. In the spirit of the national presidential campaign, the team launched "Vote the Redskins Ticket" in October, featuring Hall of Fame legends Sonny Jurgensen and Sam Huff. They were the first two faces greeting anyone who visited the team's Web site, and they graced the cover of the program at a recent home game.

"We encouraged our fans to vote for the Pro Bowl, and they responded in record numbers," team spokesman Zack Bolno said. "Our fans are always enthusiastic and supportive of the Redskins and they demonstrated their passion by voting for their favorite players."

The general concept was hardly a new one. Teams from all the major sports have been encouraging their fans to stuff all-star ballot boxes for decades, resulting in some absurd selections.

While flattered by the support from their fans, many Redskins agreed the votes from the coaches and players carry more credence. Ryan Plackemeier, the leading vote-getter among punters despite ranking 18th in average yards per kick, knows there's a good chance he's not going to stay at the top.

"I think having a big marketing thing can make a big difference if you're second or third and they [the fans] get you into first," Plackemeier said. "I don't know if you're in the middle-of-the-pack kind of thing they can bump you all the way up to first, but we'll see."

Besides, now that word is out the Redskins are dominating the voting, jealous fans across the country will take notice.

"Once other teams catch on," Plackemeier said, "they'll get some more votes for their guys."


Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press