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

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."