First-time Pro Bowlers soak it all in
KAPOLEI, Hawaii ó Arian Foster usually gets where heís going in a hurry ó at least on the football field.
This week, the first-time Pro Bowl selection is in no hurry.
Houstonís All-Pro running back was one of the last players to leave the practice field Thursday as he posed for photos, signed autographs and chatted at length with reporters.
Foster is one of 35 first-timers selected for Sundayís NFL all-star game, including 23 from the AFC. The most is when 44 first-timers were selected to the game in 2000, including 26 on the NFC.
And itís usually not difficult to spot a first-timer. Besides being the last off the field, theyíre also the ones that look like theyíve had too much sun ó but still grinning ear to ear.
ěYou have no choice but to enjoy Hawaii. Youíve got a problem if you donít,î Foster said. ěThis is like heaven. Iíll die and go to Hawaii. Thatís all right with me.î
The 24-year-old Foster earned a spot by going from undrafted member of the Texansí practice squad to the leagueís leading rusher with 1,616 yards and 16 touchdowns this season.
Foster said it first sunk in that he was among the NFLís all-stars when he saw AFC teammates such as Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning and Baltimore Ravens linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs at the first meeting.
ěWhen you just see them, itís just surreal,î he said. ě(Then) you kind of realize they have the same amount of respect for you as you do for them. That makes it all worth it.î
The new Pro Bowlers generally take guidance from the veterans as far as how to act, where to go and what to eat. But they really donít know what to expect on game day.
ěI have no clue. This is my first rodeo. I donít know if these guys are really going to come out and try to hit hard,î Foster said.
While Foster made his first trip in his second year in the league, others have had to wait much longer, like Atlanta Falcons fullback Ovie Mughelli, who is in his eight season and will start for the NFC.
ěIím loving it. For years, and years and years, Iíve been trying to get here,î he said. ěIt took eight years but now that Iíve got it, I donít want to let it go.î
Mughelli, one of an NFC-leading nine Falcons, said the experience is much better in person than watching on TV. He did attend the 2008 Pro Bowl, but that was to support teammate Michael Turner.
This time, someone else is picking up the tab.
ěThe first-class flight out here instead of coach didnít hurt either,î he said.
For Mughelli, walking into the Pro Bowl hotel for the first time and seeing Manning, Drew Brees, Michael Vick and other NFL greats ó past and present ó made him pause.
ěAll these monsters of the game,î he said. ěAll these are legends and Hall of Famers walking by me. Itís hard not to be in awe of how much greatness is in one room … Iím hoping one day Iíll be looked at like I look at them. But right now, itís just a blessing to be around here.î
It also took eight years for Denver Broncos receiver Brandon Lloyd, who is cherishing every moment and even went surfing this week.
ěThereís probably nobody as honored as I am to be out here and playing in this game,î he said.
Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles remembers watching the Pro Bowl for years on TV. He said being in Hawaii is ěa trip.î
ěI watched other people and Iím like, ëWhy canít I be up in there?íî he said. ěAll it takes is hard work.î
Charles, making his first appearance in his third season, plans to visit Pearl Harbor this week.
Oakland Raiders tight end Zach Miller, also a first-timer, said it has been an amazing experience so far and heís enjoyed catching passes from his AFC quarterbacks.
ěItís cool because theyíre All-Pro guys, multiple-time Pro Bowlers and theyíre just at the top of their game,î he said. ěYou could see it out here, the way they lead the offense and the way they play.î
Lewis, meanwhile, is making his 12th trip, leading all players.
ěItís an honor every time whether itís one, two (or) 12,î he said. ěFor me, itís always a blessing.î
In his 15th season, Lewis said heís committed to playing the all-star game, but realizes other veterans have decided to pass on the Pro Bowl, which may be the reason for youth movement.
ěThis is your reward. If you donít appreciate this, if you think youíre too big for this, itís a sad day because this day will soon come to an end for all of us,î he said.
Lewis remembers making his first trips to Hawaii and learning from former greats like Reggie White and Derrick Thomas. Now, the first-timers are all hitting Lewis up for some wisdom. He tells them to learn and soak it all in.
ěWhen you see these young guys, you see how big their eyes are, you see how excited they really are to be over here, it makes you feel good all over again,î Lewis said.
The Associated Press