Bucs RB/KR Clifton Smith wrapped up his trip to Hawaii with an excellent performance in the Pro Bowl game
*Tampa Bay Buccaneers rookie running back Clifton Smith traveled an unbelievable path in 2008.
Smith joined the Buccaneers as an undrafted free agent in May and spent the first half of the 2008 season on Tampa Bay's practice squad before being called up to the active roster in late October. From that point on, incredibly, he exploded onto the scene as one of the NFL's most dangerous return men.
Smith posted 1,316 total return yards – the second-highest total in team history – and became the first player in team history to score on both a punt and a kickoff return. As a result, he was named to the NFC Pro Bowl squad as the team's return man, the first Buccaneer ever to fill that position in the all-star game. Smith became just the third NFL player since 1970 to be selected to the Pro Bowl in the same year he entered the league as an undrafted free agent.*
Along with cornerback Ronde Barber and guard Davin Joseph, Smith traveled to Hawaii to represent the Bucs in the league's annual all-star game that was played on Sunday. Linebacker Derrick Brooks was also selected for the Pro Bowl but did not play due to pre-existing injuries.
Smith has been to the 50th state before; his alma mater, Fresno State, visited the University of Hawaii on occasion. But this trip across the Pacific will be a unique one for the Bucs' rookie, and he has agreed to share the experience with Buccaneer fans. Smith arrived in Honolulu last Monday and did a running diary on Buccaneers.com throughout the Pro Bowl week, detailing his experiences in Hawaii up to and even after the game.
*Sunday marked the date of the 2009 Pro Bowl game, and Smith had an excellent showing. Although he was forced to take a knee for a touchback on the opening kickoff, Smith went on to tally 28 yards on two punt returns and 128 yards on three kickoff returns, an average of 42.7 yards per return. *
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald continued his unbelievable postseason performance, snagging two touchdowns in the game and earning MVP honors as he lead the NFC to a 30-21 win. Fitzgerald's second score, a two-yard strike in the fourth quarter from New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, was actually set up by a 55-yard kickoff return by Smith and gave the NFC a lead it wouldn't relinquish.
As he returned to his hotel room after the game, Smith checked in one final time to give his thoughts on his Pro Bowl experience. Here is the third entry in Smith's "Pro Bowl Diary:"
"The game was a lot of fun. It was a great time. Being out there with a bunch of stars was a good time. And it was nice, for once, coming to Hawaii as a Pro Bowler instead of being booed at as a college kid.
"I wish I could have taken the first kickoff back to the house and given the fans something to see. But I felt like I had a good game and gave the offense short fields to work with. It was mostly just everyone out there having a good time. Nobody was really playing hard; it was mostly just having fun.
"Compared to a regular-season game, this one was much more laid-back until it got to the fourth quarter. Once it got to the fourth quarter though, now everybody was ready to play. You've got a lot of money on the line as far as the bonus the winning team gets, so everybody played hard in the fourth quarter.
"I was in the game as the return man, but everyone had to pitch in on special teams, so I covered some kickoffs, too. It was fun. Everybody was just out there taking plays off and laughing, so there really wasn't too much serious stuff going on. Everybody was just out there helping each other out.
"Looking back on the week, I got to do a lot of stuff. I did the â€˜Play 60' event earlier in the week where I went to a local elementary school with about 100 kids to play a little flag football with them. I was the all-time quarterback. Me and [Packers safety] Nick Collins went out there and had fun with the kids.
"We've had a couple of welcome parties at the hotel, then [Jets running back] Thomas Jones had a party that I went to at this place called Zanzibar. That was pretty much it as far as NFL off-the-field stuff. I did do another community event where I went to a military base and met the soldiers over there and went through this simulator where you're actually shooting real guns, but they take the guts out and they hook it up to a machine so you're basically playing video games. That was a lot of fun.
"Other than that, I've just been hanging out a lot with the family and friends. We've been going out to dinner a lot. We went snorkeling. Actually, they went snorkeling — I just sat on the beach and watched them. We rented a couple scooters and drove around the island on scooters. I played golf with my dad, and that was about it."
"Overall, this has been a wonderful experience, especially at the beginning of the game when they announced the 2009 Hall of Famers, guys like Bruce Smith and Rod Woodson. Shaking those guys' hands was a humbling experience. As far as the game and the practices went, practices were a great time. I sat on the water cooler all practice long until the last 10 minutes, so it was a lot of fun. It was literally a big vacation.
"Now that I've gone to the Pro Bowl once, I definitely want to go back. Especially now that I got to taste some Hawaii pineapple, it makes me want to work even harder to get back to the Pro Bowl, even though it won't be in Hawaii anymore."