Chicago Sun-Times

Tillman beats the odds to make his first Pro Bowl

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Brian Urlacher made the Pro Bowl for the eighth time. Lance Briggs made it for the seven consecutive season. Matt Forte is the Bears' first running back to make it in 20 years. And Corey Graham made it as a special-teams player when Devin Hester didn't.

But for my money, Charles Tillman is the best story of the five Bears to make the Pro Bowl this season. How often does a ninth-year cornerback from a non-playoff team on a defense that ranks 18th overall and 29th against the pass -- and has two interceptions -- make the Pro Bowl for the first time?

Not very often. In fact, although there are cornerbacks who have made their first Pro Bowl after turning 30, only Tory James of the Bengals in 2004 and Gil Byrd of the Chargers in 1991 -- he's now the Bears' assistant defensive backs coach -- come closest to Tillman's low profile. And both of them led NFL in cornerbacks in interceptions the year they were chosen.

It's a little surprising that it's taken this long for Tillman to make the Pro Bowl. He gained instant recognition as a rookie when he outfought Randy Moss -- at his peak as the best wide receiver in the NFL -- to make a game-saving end-zone interception in a 13-10 victory over the Vikings. He played on top-five defenses in 2005 and 2006. He played in the Super Bowl. And he's gained league-wide attention for forcing 27 fumbles -- six more than any other defensive back in the NFL since 2003.

In 2005, Tillman had a momentum-turning 95-yard interception return late in the first half against the Packers, but didn't get into the end zone. Nathan Vasher clinched the Bears' 19-7 victory with a 45-yard interception return for a touchdown that gave the Bears an eight-game winnings steak. Vasher, with eight picks that season, became just the second Bears cornerback since 1968 to make the Pro Bowl.

"I guess it just wasn't my time,'' Tillman said. ''There were obviously other corners that were doing bigger and better things than me in years past. But everything happens for a reason. They called me this year. I got in. So I'm grateful for the honor."

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Potash published on December 28, 2011 8:47 PM.

Jay Cutler a Pro Bowl alternate was the previous entry in this blog.

A closer look at my 30 best players under 30 in the NFC North is the next entry in this blog.

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