Former Tennessee footballers have a big role in the NFL spotlight for the upcoming Super Bowl and Pro Bowl showcases over the next two weekends.
Six former Vols were selected for this Sunday’s Pro Bowl (Fox, 7 p.m. Eastern time) in Honolulu and five are playing. The six players participating with UT ties -- Kansas City rookie Eric Berry, Houston’s Arian Foster, Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning, New England’s Jerod Mayo and Dallas’ Jason Witten -- are second only to the nine former Miami Hurricanes in this year’s all-star classic.
Foster led the NFL in rushing this season with 1,616 yards, becoming the first former Vol to claim the rushing title since Jamal Lewis carried for 2,066 yards in 2003. Mayo was the tackle leader with a career-best 175, and Manning was second in passing yards with 4,700 (Philip Rivers 4,710).
Witten topped the 1,000-yard receiving mark for the third time in the last four years and had a career-high nine touchdowns. And Berry’s debut season in Kansas City saw him compile 92 tackles for the AFC West champions along with four interceptions, one of which he returned 54 yards for a touchdown against the Tennessee Titans.
Another former UT star, Green Bay’s Chad Clifton, would have been in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl but instead joins his teammates at Super Bowl XLV in Arlington, Texas. Clifton and fellow UT alum Scott Wells are two of the Packers’ starting five offensive linemen and played key roles in Green Bay’s 21-14 win at Chicago for the NFC Championship. Defensive tackle Justin Harrell is an injured reserve member of the team as well.
The Packers are meeting Pittsburgh, which features yet another former Vol and offensive line starter in Ramon Foster. The right guard made eight starts in the regular season and has started both of the Steelers’ playoff victories, including Sunday’s 24-19 win over New York for the AFC Championship. Chris Scott is a reserve offensive tackle for the Steelers.
This year’s game marks the 19th Super Bowl in the last 20 featuring at least one former Tennessee player. In addition, the five former Vols on this year’s rosters are tied with LSU and Texas for most among any collegiate program.