The Oakland Raiders may as well have been creating their own song from Cher pertaining to punter Shane Lechler.
Instead of the song being “I got you, babe,” it may as well have been, “He got screwed, babe.”
The season has been so bad for Oakland that not even its most deserving player was selected to the Pro Bowl Thursday.
The Raiders, who enter Monday night’s home game against the Green Bay Packers with a 4-10 mark, have endured a tumultuous season with several injuries. Lechler was left off the Pro Bowl roster, marking the first time no Raider made football's annual all-star game in Honolulu since the franchise joined the league with the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.
Five Oakland players were voted to last year’s team in an AFC Championship season. Two players at each position expect punter are voted. Craig Hentrich of the Tennessee Titans got the nod over Lechler, who led the fan voting segment but players and coaches also have input in who gets selected.
Hentrich is second in the AFC in net punting average and fifth in the NFL at 37.1 yards. His 43.3-yard gross average is fourth in the conference and eighth in the league. Lechler, meanwhile, leads the NFL in gross average at 46.6 yards and is second in the league in number of punts with 82. His net average of 36.4 yards is sixth in the AFC and he has league-high 12 touchbacks, which might have worked against him in the voting process.
The fourth-year pro from Texas A&M made the Pro Bowl in 2001. This season, Lechler surpassed Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh for the top career punting average at 45.5 yards, with a minimum of 250 attempts. Lechler walked into the locker-room briefly on Thursday before the news officially broke. Lechler, however, sounded pessimistic about his chances.
“I don’t think I got it,” Lechler said. “That’s my gut feeling.”
Lechler was also asked whom he would vote for other than himself.
“I’d probably vote for Craig because he pulled double-duty for a while,” Lechler said. “He still does on long field goals.”
Lechler’s teammates, however, were not as diplomatic.
“That’s bulls---,” Raiders kicker Sebastian Janikowski said. “You can write that down.”
Added right offensive tackle Lincoln Kennedy: “My punter should have made it,” Kennedy said. “It doesn’t matter who we vote for. They send anybody.”
Vince D’Adamo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org