GREEN BAY, Wis. — Jeff Saturday has had a very good NFL career. This season, however, the 14-year veteran center struggled to the point that he was replaced in the Packers’ starting lineup two games before the playoffs.
But that didn’t stop fans, players and coaches from voting Saturday into the Pro Bowl.
While the NFL’s annual Pro Bowl game frequently rewards the more recognizable names around the league, the selection of Saturday for the sixth time in his career was certainly puzzling.
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“I will say this for Jeff Saturday – You don’t ever apologize for anything in this league,” coach Mike McCarthy said Thursday. “Everything is earned. He was voted in by the fans, his peers and coaches, so that’s the process.”
Sure, the fans did vote for Saturday more than any other NFC center, but those votes only account for one-third of the final ruling. It’s the votes from the coaches and players — totaling the other two-thirds — that gave Saturday the nod for this year’s Pro Bowl roster.
“Obviously, it’s always an honor,” Saturday said in a statement released by the team. “Anytime you get to go to the Pro Bowl, it is an honor and you appreciate everyone, the players, coaches and fans that voted for you. As an offensive lineman, it is nice to get the award.”
Quarterback Aaron Rodgers and outside linebacker Clay Matthews also won the fan vote and made it onto this year’s Pro Bowl team, but it’s difficult to argue against the two of them being shoo-ins. Whereas kick returner Randall Cobb, safety Charles Woodson and fullback John Kuhn also won the fan vote at their position, but did not receive enough votes from coaches and players to get in.
Saturday even seemed to recognize his unlikely spot on the Pro Bowl team by suggesting that, in an ideal situation, he could pass it along to a more deserving teammate.
“I am disappointed for Josh Sitton; I think he should be there,” Saturday said. “It is disappointing for me, for him. I would love to be able to pass it to him. He is a tough player and has played very well all season. I respect the heck out of the way he has played and it has been fun to play next to him.”
According to ProFootballFocus.com, Saturday has been the NFL’s 30th-best center this season. Minnesota Vikings center John Sullivan, who did not make the Pro Bowl and is largely considered one of the biggest snubs this year, is rated as the league’s best center.
The Packers only had three players voted into this year’s Pro Bowl, despite an 11-4 record and an NFC North championship. That is the lowest amount of players that Green Bay has had representing the team since 2008. Without Saturday’s inclusion, it would have been only two. Other Packers players were deserving, though, and did not make it, including wide receiver James Jones (leads NFL in touchdown receptions) and cornerback Casey Hayward (fifth in the NFL in interceptions).
The Pro Bowl, in general, has come under fire from players and coaches over the past year, especially in Green Bay. It started when Rodgers took shots at the effort level of the players in last year’s game, but it has since become a more widely discussed topic.
“They have to do something about it,” McCarthy said this week. “I think everyone is in agreement about that. I had the opportunity to coach it last year, and coaching it after the ‘07 season, there’s clearly a drop-off in the game-day performance. It’s definitely an issue and there’s something that needs to be done.
“I don’t know what the answer is. I don’t even know what the options are, but there’s no comparison in coaching last year then compared to ‘08 after the ‘07 season.”