For Mathis Pro Bowl Nod is Bittersweet

Rashean Mathis, Pro Bowler

The Jaguars haven't won a playoff game since 1999 and are 6-6 in their last 12 games. That helps explain why cornerback Rashean Mathis was the only player they had selected to the Pro Bowl Tuesday. Big winners reap the most rewards.

The Jaguars had seven players make it when they went 14-2 in 1999 and the 12-2 Chargers have nine players on this year's squad.

Mathis and the Jaguars were disappointed that the other players were snubbed, notably defensive tackle John Henderson.

"That takes some of the joy out of it. He's on my side of the ball and I know the year he's had and for someone to tell me he didn't make it. I'm like, "What? I'm here and he's not,' " Mathis said.

But Henderson, though, wasn't alone in being snubbed. Even Tom Brady, the New England quarterback who's won three Super Bowl rings, didn't make it

Henderson and running back Fred Taylor, who's never made it, were both voted first alternates and will be invited if one of the players who made it is injured.

Henderson, who lost out to Richard Seymour, Jamal Williams and Casey Hampton, has yet to be voted in, but played in the game in 2004 as an alternate.

Henderson finished second in the fan voting so he wasn't a victim of playing in a small market. He was snubbed by the coaches and players, who voted him fourth.

Taylor finished fourth in the balloting behind LaDainian Tomlinson, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker. The voters went by the yardage statistics. Taylor is fourth in yards rushed in the AFC and finished fourth in the balloting.

None of the Jaguars' offensive linemen made it even though they're second in the league in rushing.

Mathis' selection was the climax of an improbable saga. He grew up in a small Georgia town (Nashville), moved to Jacksonville when he was 12 and wound up being selected on the second round by the Jaguars in 2003.

"It's been a blessing," Mathis said. "My prayers have been answered."

Mathis is tied for third in the AFC with seven interceptions with Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha. Denver's Champ Bailey and New England's Asante Samuel, who didn't make it, are tied for the lead with eight each.

Even Mathis couldn't have dreamed all this, including the five-year $25.5 million contract extension he got a year ago when the Jaguars saw how good he was going to be and wanted to lock him up for his prime years.

"In a way, it's more than you can ever imagine. A lot of things had to happen for me to get to this point," he said.

One of them was that he broke his leg in the sixth game of his senior year at Englewood High School.

"Some can see that as a blessing. I could have been at a big school and got lost in the numbers. I was fortunate to go to a small college like Bethune-Cookman and have an opportunity to play right away and showcase my skills," he said.

He was destined to go to Florida State before the injury. After he was injured, they wanted him to be a walk on and show his leg had recovered.

But the brother of Bethune-Cookman coach Alvin Wyatt was then teaching at Englewood.

"He said we have this kid who broke his leg and a lot of colleges are backing off now," Mathis said.

Wyatt offered him a scholarship and Mathis decided to grab it.

"My mother was like, if an opportunity knocks, you're never supposed to turn down a free ride," he said

He starred at Bethune-Cookman, intercepting 31 passes, but he had to prove he could play on a big time level.

Mathis didn't doubt he could.

"Even at the Senior Bowl, I was like, "well, if these are the guys competing at the next level, I can do this,'" he said.

Still, Mathis was bypassed on the first round before the Jaguars took him on the second. Mathis figures it didn't hurt that James "Shack" Harris, the team's vice president of pro personnel, played with Wyatt at Buffalo in 1971.

"It's all about who you know," Mathis said with a smile.

Mathis said besides friends and relatives, he's inviting all the Jaguars' defensive backs to join him for the Hawaii trip.

"I think it's an experience that everybody should experience if you have the opportunity," he said.

Mathis also hopes this is the first of several visits. "I feel I still need to get a whole lot better," he said.

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