SANTA CLARA – For the second straight season, no team has more Pro Bowl players than the 49ers. Eight members have been voted to play in the Jan. 26 game in Honolulu, which will have an altered format that the league hopes will attract more viewers.
The Chiefs also had eight selections.
The Raiders, meanwhile, had a Pro Bowl haul befitting their 4-11 record. Just one player, fullback Marcel Reece, made the roster.
The only 49er making his first appearance is outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks, who has a career-high 8½ sacks on the season. The other seven players honored were tackle Joe Staley, guard Mike Iupati, tight end Vernon Davis, running back Frank Gore, defensive end Justin Smith and inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis. Willis has been voted to the Pro Bowl all seven years he’s been in the league.
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None of the 49ers appeared in the 2012 Pro Bowl game because they played in the Super Bowl instead.
A year ago, a league-high nine 49ers made the NFC’s team. That list included outside linebacker Aldon Smith, who spent more than a month in a substance abuse treatment facility this season following a DUI arrest, and safety Donte Whitner, who upon learning he did not make the roster tweeted, “I must keep believing that everything happens for a reason. ... And I do!”
Whitner was one of six alternates named to the team. Special-teams player C.J. Spillman, the only 49er to lead fan voting at his position, did not make the first team either but was named an alternate.
For the first time, the Pro Bowl teams won’t be divided by conference. Instead, the teams will be picked by two captains, former players Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders, prior to the Jan. 26 game. That means Willis could end up having to tackle Gore, and Staley might have to block Justin Smith.
“I hope I don’t have to go against Justin,” Staley said. “Actually, I hope I do, so that we can have a little handshake deal. I won’t make him look bad. He won’t make me look bad.”
Said Willis when asked about taking on Gore: “That’s a little strange. But if I have to, I have to. But I wouldn’t want to go tackle Frank. ... There’s always something new. You’ve got to adapt, I guess.”