logoby Dan Snapp

They can’t call the Patriots a “team without stars” anymore. With eight men chosen for the Pro Bowl yesterday – seven of them starting – they’re manufacturing stars at a Dallas Cowboys rate.

Wait, scratch that; the Cowboys have 11 players going. America’s Team, Leading the League in Smiles.

Pro Bowls are always mixed blessings. You like the honor but you hate the game.

When you’re a kid, and you think every player on your team should go, it obviously means the most. For some years, it was the sole consolation, seeing probably one Patriot get honored in an otherwise cruddy year. You wait for that moment in the third quarter when your guy gets in, watch him run on a couple snaps, and that’s that. How sad the days we sat waiting for Rich Camarillo to punt.

Any awe the game once beheld has long since worn away. Yeah, it’s still nice to see the recognition, and you have to be happy for the Patriots first-timers Logan Mankins, Dan Koppen, Vince Wilfork, Mike Vrabel and Asante Samuel. It’s too bad the game never lives up to the honor.

There are other shortcomings, too. For the team, a Pro Bowl honor might be the first step out the door for that player. No longer is he your little secret, your diamond in the rough. And the way the voting always seems to work, for some players once you’re in, you’re in every year. Matt Light earned his second straight trip, and it’s easy to imagine Mankins and Wilfork earning multiple honors. So what’s Wilfork’s asking price now when it comes to renegotiation time?

The game itself, we could all do without. Face it, it’s the least enjoyable of any of the all-star games, league-decreed vanilla rules make it the least competitive, and you mostly spend your time hoping nobody get hurt in the meaningless affair.

The league needs to rethink this, from the marketing suicide of playing it a week after the season’s denouement all the way down to the garish Hawaiian shirts they’ve got the coaches wearing. Bill Belichick in a Hawaiian shirt makes one appreciate the hoodie.

Can’t we just have the honor and say screw having the game? Still send them to Hawaii, have an event, sign a few autographs, drink a few mai tais and come home. I suppose they could still have some sort of competition. Anything but beach volleyball.

Backgammon perhaps?

I suppose the thing to hope for is the day when your team’s players tire of the trip. They say how honored they are by it, but they need time to heal. The honor then goes to some alternate from some doormat team, whose young fans can now wait eagerly for that big third quarter series when their guy finally gets a few snaps.