Like last season, no team has more Pro Bowlers than the 49ers, and like last season, they hope those players will be unavailable because of Super Bowl commitments.
Eight 49ers earned Pro Bowl invitations: running back Frank Gore, tight end Vernon Davis, left tackle Joe Staley, left guard Mike Iupati, defensive tackle Justin Smith, outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks and inside linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Patrick Willis.
"The ultimate goal is to play in the Super Bowl so we don't have to go to Hawaii," said Willis, who has made the Pro Bowl in each of his seven seasons.
Only the Kansas City Chiefs equaled the 49ers eight Pro Bowl selections, though former 49ers quarterback Alex Smith was not one of them. The 49ers had a league-high nine players earn Pro Bowl selection last season, as well as in 2011.
At least one non-selected 49er took the news hard. Safety Donte Whitner hinted on Twitter about his snub before the selections went public: "You guys will find out in a few hrs why I'm mad! Peace ... I must keep believing that everything happens for a reason ... And I do!" Later, Whitner posted: "#Snubbed."
Whitner was selected as an alternate, as were wide receiver Anquan Boldin, guard Alex Boone, free safety Eric Reid, punter Andy Lee and special-teams ace C.J. Spillman.
Fans, players and coaches comprise the voting process, with each group counting one-third. For the first time in Pro Bowl history, players will be assigned to a team in a Jan. 22 draft.
On that note, Gore (third straight selection, fifth overall) is pleased two of his linemen made it — Staley and Iupati — but he's not so pleased he might encounter Willis and Bowman in the game Jan. 26 in Honolulu.
"They better not hit me," Gore said. "We are teammates."
Said Willis: "I wouldn't want to go tackle Frank. That's a little strange."
Of the 49ers' four starting linebackers, Aldon Smith is the only one who didn't earn an invitation, and he wasn't even on the fans' ballot, likely because of his five-game absence while in an alcohol-treatment facility.
Brooks, a first-time honoree, said of joining Willis and Bowman as Pro Bowlers: "It goes back to the way we push each other. I think we help make each other better, and it's good to see that people around the league are noticing that."
Davis, with a team-high 12 touchdown catches, earned only his second Pro Bowl invitation.
"It's a great thing, but it doesn't stop right here," Davis said. "We have to keep on going. We know what we have in front of us. So with that being said, we just have to keep this in the back of our mind because it's only a part of what we're trying to do."
For Justin Smith, this is his fifth consecutive Pro Bowl honor, and he called it "the greatest one yet." He leads the 49ers with 81 quarterback pressures and 55 quarterback hits, complementing his 6? sacks.
The 49ers (11-4) weren't a popular pick among fans' votes. The only 49er to finish first among his position in fan voting was Spillman, but he was beaten out for Pro Bowl spots by the Cardinals' Justin Bethel and the Patriots' Matthew Slater.