The practices that lead up to an NFL Pro Bowl are, to put it kindly, informal. They generally last less than an hour, never exceed walk-through speed and rarely feature any yelling from the coaches. Players often bring their families, and kids running around on the field is a common sight.
Antoine Winfield, Jr. could relate, even before he participated in his first few practices as a Pro Bowler. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers' second-year safety is the son of former NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield, Sr., who went to three Pro Bowls over the course of a stellar 14-year playing career. The younger Winfield was 10 when his father was named an all-star for the first time after the 2008 season.
Winfield, who was added to the NFC roster last week, called the moment he learned he was going to his first Pro Bowl as a player "a dream come true."
"I remember I used to watch my dad come to the Pro Bowl when I was younger, and I used to run around like how some of these kids are," he said with a wide smile. "It's cool just to be here."
The beginning of Winfield's career has been very cool indeed. In fact, he says he couldn't possibly have drawn it up better. The Buccaneers' second-round pick in the 2020 draft, Winfield joined a team that had just made one of the boldest personnel moves ever by signing Tom Brady. The rookie safety immediately won a starting job, turned in an outstanding debut season and helped Brady and company make it all the way to the pinnacle of the league with a win in Super Bowl LV. His first campaign ended in a way the NFL had never seen before, with a team winning the final game in its own home stadium. The Bucs followed up with a team-record 13-4 record in 2021, tying for the NFL's best regular-season finished, and though they came up short of their goal to repeat Winfield is still getting one more chance to play. A Super Bowl win and a Pro Bowl invitation in less than two calendar years was more than he could have hoped for.
"It's still surreal that I'm at the Pro Bowl and then it's surreal that last year we won the Super Bowl," said Winfield. "So it's a kind of crazy experience these first two years, but I've been enjoying it. I'm blessed. I don't think [it could have gone better]."
Winfield says he's hoping to surpass his father's three Pro Bowl appearances, and given that he made it in his second year, eight years faster than Winfield, Sr., he would seem to have a good chance.
Winfield, Sr. played against Tom Brady seven times and even picked him off once in the quarterback's first season as the Patriots' starter. He did not, however, get to play with Brady, spending his career in Buffalo and Minnesota. His son ran into that good fortune and it has definitely had an impact on the early part of his development as an NFL player…and now all-star.
"I would say just being able to see how he works and operates like every day," said Winfield, Jr. "Being out there practices watching him, I feel like that's something I can definitely tell my kids about. I've seen it firsthand, and I watched him do it and tried to emulate those same things into my game as well. It was great to see that early on in my career."
Winfield has set the bar high for himself over two very eventful seasons in the NFL. The next step is to help the team maintain the winning culture that Brady helped foment in the Bucs' locker room over those two years. Individually, Winfield can build his own legacy simply by attacking the game the way he has over the course of 21 months.
"I want them to remember me as a guy that laid it all out there every time he got a chance to play," he said, "because that's how I play."