In the previous two years, Darryl Talley was disappointed over not being selected to the Pro Bowl.
Wednesday, he was devastated.
"What else can I do?" the Buffalo Bills linebacker said, fighting back tears after his team's first full-scale practice for its game against Miami Sunday. "The only other thing I can do is turn into God. And I can't do that because I can't walk on water."
Talley's failure to make the NFL's Feb. 3 all-star game at Honolulu momentarily dampened the excitement over Sunday's clash of AFC titans. It also detracted from the exuberance felt by the eight Bills players -- the highest number for any team -- who learned Wednesday they were picked for the Pro Bowl.
Many spoke of the injustice dealt to Talley, whose Pro Bowl drought now extends to eight NFL seasons.
"Darryl's been jerked around for the last three or four years, and it gets frustrating and sickening," said defensive end Bruce Smith, selected for the fourth consecutive year. "He does it all -- he plays the run, he rushes the quarterback, he covers guys. You can't ask for a better linebacker."
"It's a crime," said wide receiver Andre Reed, making his third straight Pro Bowl trip. "You can't have a better year than he has had."
Smith and Reed are two of five Buffalo players picked to start for the AFC. The others are center Kent Hull and linebacker Shane Conlan, both going for the third year in a row, and running back Thurman Thomas, making his second consecutive appearance.
Quarterback Jim Kelly and linebacker Cornelius Bennett were named backups, while Steve Tasker was chosen for special teams. Each has played in one previous Pro Bowl.
Since 1988, Talley has been seen by his coaches and teammates as the most consistent defender on the team. This year, he seemingly had, once and for
all, made a strong enough case to impress players and coaches who vote for the AFC squad.
He leads the Bills with 105 tackles and has two interceptions, including one against Cleveland that he returned 60 yards for a touchdown. Some cite the fact he has only four sacks, far fewer than two other outside linebackers selected (Kansas City's Derrick Thomas, 18 1/2 , and San Diego's Leslie O'Neal, 12 1/2 ). But Bennett, second on the Bills with 94 tackles, also has four sacks.
A year ago, Conlan was the first to admit his selection made little sense in light of the fact he was injured much of the season.
But Wednesday, Conlan, despite ranking fifth on the Bills with 85 tackles, offered no apologies. He was unhappy over Talley's snubbing, but also felt he had performed well enough to merit Pro Bowl recognition.
"I shouldn't have gone last year. I don't think it was fair to the other players in the league that I went after playing only a half-season," Conlan said. "But I'm happy this year. You listen to what you guys (reporters) say, about my not having a good year, but the coaches never say that, and the players know I'm playing well. I'm just not getting the big stats.
"The coaches and players see the way you hit people, the way you take on blocks. I don't really care what the media thinks or what other people think, because they just don't see what I do. I don't base my play on the number of tackles I get."
For Bennett, the selection was especially gratifying. He was picked to the Pro Bowl for the first time in 1988 but, due in part to a shoulder problem, went into a slump last year and received a great deal of criticism.
"The whole season has been a comeback year for me, and this sort of puts the icing on the cake," Bennett said. "It was a big struggle for me to make it back and get the recognition from the players around the league again after missing it last year.
"Even though I didn't have the stats as far as the sacks were concerned, I guess my overall play has not been determined just on me making a sack. It's a prayer answered for me."
Tasker was far more excited about being chosen this year than he was the last time, in 1987.
"It means a lot more to me, because we have a better team now than we had then, and I like being able to contribute to a great team," he said. "It's one thing being good on a 7-8 team. But to be good on a team that has a shot at winning it all means so much more."