LB Derrick Brooks looks around the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' locker room, sees eight players headed to the Pro Bowl (including himself), and sets a goal for next year.
That doesn't seem out of the question for 2001, considering the Buccaneer boom in Pro Bowl nods in recent years.
Under the watch of General Manager Rich McKay and Head Coach Tony Dungy over the last five years, Tampa Bay has had 28 Pro Bowl selections. Prior to that, the Buccaneers had 18 Pro Bowl selections in the first 20 years of the team's existence (1976-1995). Since McKay's arrival in 1994, the Buccaneers have drafted at least one Pro Bowl player in five of the six drafts from 1994-1999.
So a large group of newly-anointed Pro Bowlers roamed the Buccaneers' locker room on Thursday, having just learned of their need to make early February travel plans at the end of the morning walk-through. Dungy gathered the team around to share the good news – Tampa Bay has more Pro Bowl starters than any other squad in the NFL – before sending them in for lunch and the weekly media session.
DT Warren Sapp, Brooks and FB Mike Alstott are all making their fourth consecutive Pro Bowl trips for Tampa Bay, so the news wasn't terribly unexpected. S John Lynch will go to his third all-star game in that same span. Offensive linemen Jeff Christy and Randall McDaniel are also repeat Honolulu visitors, but felt they had something new to prove in their respective first seasons with the Buccaneers. CB Donnie Abraham and K Martin Gramatica were simply thrilled to be making their first Pro Bowl appearances.
Here's some of what they had to say in the locker room as the news sunk in.
Brooks on whether he's getting used to the honor: "It's not something that I want to get used to. You never want to take that for granted. But we're always thankful – we set another team record…adding Martin and Donnie for the first time. It's just a tremendous sign of how well we played on defense and special teams. I look forward to spending a week over there with these guys again.
"I always want to be a guy that sets out to prove that I belong over there every year. I just thank God that I have a chance to go again."
Brooks on how he felt about the Bucs' league-leading contingent of Pro Bowlers: "You never know what to expect with this, so we're going to take our eight and hopefully we'll make it nine next year."
Brooks on his feelings about Abraham finally earning a selection: "It seems to go along with the theme. The year you think you deserve to go, you always go a year after. But Donnie's been putting up impressive numbers since he's been here, and I think it's deservedly so that Donnie's going and I'm happy for him."
McDaniel on whether it's still exciting to be voted in, after 11 previous selections: "They're still special. It's still the same. Whenever your peers and coaching staffs vote you in, it's an honor to get back over there. I've got no complaints. The only difference now is that I'm going from the warm to the warm. I don't have to change or pack anything."
McDaniel on whether he remembers his first Pro Bowl: "Yes, I do. (I remember) Jackie Slater and all those guys. Singletary, Taylor. McIntyre. There were a ton of guys that I had watched play in college and when I came out. It was really special. I've met a lot of people over there. They're like my second family over there, so it will be nice to get back again."
McDaniel on whether he will see the usual sights while in Hawaii: "I'm a creature of habit. There are certain places I always go when I do make it back over there, so everybody expects me to show up."
McDaniel on whether this Pro Bowl selection means more than the others: "I'll be honest to you, this one feels like the first one to me right now. After what happened in Minnesota, then to come here and make it back again. After they released me and I was told I was too old to play anymore, this is kind of nice."
Christy on how it feels to be selected again in his first year with a new team: "You know, it makes me feel really good. There's a little bit of vindication there for me, knowing that I can still play at that level being out of that system that supposedly made me. So I feel like I've proved something, and I feel good about that."
Christy on what it says that the Bucs have eight players headed to the Pro Bowl: "I think it says that we've got a pretty good team. We've got a 9-5 team and we've got some players that are playing well. We've got to get together as a team. We've still got an offense that we're putting in and, no matter what you say, there's still a learning curve."
Christy on whether it's becoming 'old hat' for him to go to the Pro Bowl: "No, I don't think so. I don't think it ever becomes old hat. With new players coming in every year – bigger, stronger, faster, that kind of thing – I don't think it's ever old hat. I think I just try to go out and get better each year, and I've been able to do that so far."
Gramatica on how he thinks he measures up against other NFC kickers: "I just try to get better and try to make all my kicks. I don't compare what I'm doing to other kickers."
Gramatica on what he did to shake off a preseason slump: "I'm not doing anything different than I was doing in the preseason, the ball's just going through. I don't think I've really changed anything."
Gramatica on whether this is the ultimate honor as a player: "The best thing would be the Super Bowl, because you can share that with all of your teammates. But, as far as individual things go, I think it is (the biggest honor) because all the fans vote, but, more importantly, the players and coaches (vote). That means a lot. My fellow players voted me in…that's just amazing."
Gramatica on whether he was surprised to learn he was headed to the Pro Bowl: "Yes, I was. I was real surprised. You've got to see all of the kickers in the NFC – great kickers – so I'm real surprised. I thought it was Gary (Anderson), for sure."
Abraham on whether his selection was redemption for not being selected in 1999: "Well, I wouldn't say 'redemption'. They always say you have to have a Pro Bowl year before you actually make the Pro Bowl (the next year). Last year, I think I did that. The hard thing was coming back and doing it again."
Abraham on whether he was surprised to be chosen: "Given my stats, I'm not surprised. Considering my stats, I should be there. I don't think it has really sunk in yet, because you never think it's going to happen, especially to a guy like me. I'm from a small town, from a small school, so you never think it's going to happen. But when it does happen, it feels great."
Dungy on his feelings about eight Bucs being selected: "I felt very happy, especially for the first-time guys. I thought it was well-deserved. Donnie Abraham, Martin Gramatica – I think the rest of the guys have all been (to the Pro Bowl before). But they've played well. There are times when you have guys that you feel like deserve to go and don't go. No one can be totally satisfied, because you can't have everybody there, but I thought it was great for our guys. Having eight guys was quite a tribute to the way they worked."
Dungy on Abraham's selection: "I think Donnie's played well enough. There have been some good corners in the NFC and it's been tough to good. But I thought this year was well-deserved and it's probably the culmination of the last few years, really."