Five or six years ago, Seattle fullback Mack Strong would have felt validated by a Pro Bowl appearance.
Not anymore. While the 12-year veteran would love to make the trip to Hawaii, he won't feel shortchanged if it never happens. Funny thing is, he's closer now than at any point earlier in his lengthy career.
"I used to feel like if I went, it would mean my time in the NFL wasn't in vain. I don't feel that way now," said Strong, who will lead Seattle in tomorrow's playoff game against St. Louis.
"No matter what, this has been a great ride for me. There's been a lot of successes and I've learned a lot. I wouldn't change it for anything."
That's not sour grapes from someone who came up short.
Strong is a Pro Bowl alternate this season, the best result he's ever had in the voting. But he probably won't make the trip because William Henderson of Green Bay, who got the nod, is making his first appearance and unlikely to beg out. No biggie.
The way the 33-year-old Strong sees it, he has accomplished plenty just by making the Seattle roster as an undrafted free agent back in 1993, then surviving every training camp since then.
He has played on special teams, even this season, recording 80 tackles over the years. He even returned kickoffs until establishing himself as the starting fullback by the late 1990s.
"When I first got here, I was happy just to make the taxi squad," Strong said.
He's endured his share of injuries, as well as two coaching changes that left him wondering if he'd fit with the new regimes. "Mack is the best fullback in the NFL, period," tailback Shaun Alexander said. "He's a great man to watch and learn from, and that goes for him off the field, too."
Rams on offense -- The Rams' season almost went under last month when quarterback Marc Bulger missed nearly three full games with a bruised throwing shoulder. But Bulger showed he's ready for the playoffs by passing for a season-high 450 yards and three TDs last weekend against the Jets. A healthy Bulger only makes speedy wideouts Torry Holt (94 catches, 1,372 yards, 10 TDs) and Isaac Bruce (89-1, 292-6) tougher to contain.
Seahawks on offense --
Rams on defense -- Stopping the run was a major problem for St. Louis. The Rams ranked next to last in the NFC by allowing 136.2 yards per game, with opponents, good or bad, gouging out 4.5 yards per carry (see Packer Najeh Davenport's 178 yards on 19 carries Nov. 29). Despite a secondary riddled with injuries for most of the season, St. Louis kept it together against the pass, ranking fifth in the conference at 198.4 yards allowed per game.
Seahawks on defense -- There are ballhawks flying all over the field for Seattle. Start at cornerback, where Ken Lucas and Marcus Trufant combined for 11 interceptions. Safeties Ken Hamlin and rookie Michael Boulware combined for another nine. If only the Seahawks didn't allow opposing quarterbacks to complete over 60 percent of their passes. Chike Okeafor had 8 1/2 of the team's 36 sacks to help make up for the season-ending injury to Grant Wistrom. Another casualty, linebacker Anthony Simmons, has been sorely missed against the run as the Seahawks have served up 126.9 yards per game on the ground.
Special teams -- Even with nine games on turf, the Rams were uncharacteristically terrible in the return game, which made for plenty of unenviable field position. It's a wonder Jeff Wilkins attempted just 24 field goals, hitting 19.
Miscellany -- The Seahawks can still feel the sting of their Oct. 10 home loss to the Rams -- it's hard to forget opening up a 27-10 fourth-quarter lead, only to lose, 33-27, in overtime.