Pro Bowl honor a ‘very nice thing’ but it’s certainly not what these Patriots are playing for
|12.28.11 at 6:00 pm ET|
FOXBORO — If only every NFL player could have the bright-eyed nature of Matthew Slater when they get the news of being selected for the first time to the Pro Bowl. He found out from his coach Bill Belichick on Tuesday night, just before the announcements were made on TV.
“Coach Belichick called me into his office [Tuesday] night and told me,” Slater said of his Pro Bowl selection as an AFC special teams Pro Bowl member. “I was a little worried at first, because you don’t want to get called into his office. But I got the news from him. It was very humbling.
“He kind of had a little smirk on his face but all that being said, that’s not what the end goal is for me or him. We don’t really care about Pro Bowls. We know what we want to do around here. That’s all good and fine, and we can look back on it after the season and enjoy it. We’re still focused on doing our jobs and winning football games.”
Four of the eight Patriots selected to this season’s Pro Bowl who spoke Wednesday were gracious enough.
But they all made it pretty clear – it’s not what they’re playing for.
From Tom Brady to Slater, they were all proud and honored to be singled out for terrific seasons.
“Pro Bowl ‘ always happy for the guys that made it,” Belichick said of his cast of eight Pro Bowl Patriots, tied with San Francisco for tops in the NFL. “There are always other guys that probably were worthy of it but that’s the way it goes. I don’t have a lot of control over that. Most importantly, we’re moving on here to our last regular season game. Try to continue to improve, get some things worked out.”
Brady was predictably humble and appreciative of his seventh Pro Bowl honor.
“It’s a very nice thing for your peers and coaches to name you to the team,” Brady said. “We have a lot of guys joining us, so it’s always pretty cool. We have other plans hopefully and we’ve got a big game this week. We could really put ourselves in a good position if we win it. It’s a team we lost to before, and we’ve got to go out and play well.”
Slater has overcome quite a bit to get where he is today, in his fourth season in the NFL. In his rookie season of 2008, Slater fumbled away a kickoff against the Steelers, setting up a Ben Roethlisberger 11-yard scoring pass to Hines Ward. Slater filled in for Ellis Hobbs, who sat out that play after suffering cramps. The next year, Slater dislocated his elbow early in the season and was placed on season-ending injured reserve.
“There’s been a lot,” said Slater, a fifth-round pick out of UCLA in 2008. “From the play my rookie year against Pittsburgh, to dislocating my elbow, but through it all I just try to keep my head down and keep working. Many of you who know me, know I’m a man of faith and I’m depending on somebody up above and trusting he has a plan and that’s help me push through adversity.
“It’s been a long journey, a lot of adversity from my rookie year to this point. It’s a humbling experience, a humbling honor, and I’m thankful for the opportunity. It’s something you strive for. Whatever most of us in here set out to do, we want to be the best at it. We’re competitors, and that’s why we’re here. Every single man in this locker room has – at some point – been the best at something he’s done, and that’s what’s gotten them here.”
While this is Matthew’s first, Pro Bowls are nothing new to the Slater family. On his way to the Hall of Fame, his father Jackie Slater earned seven Pro Bowl bids with the Rams from 1983-90 as an offensive tackle.
“You would’ve though he made the Pro Bowl, the way he was acting,” Slater said of his dad’s reaction. “He is extremely proud, and my father is a big reason why I’m here today and why I’ve had the success I’ve had, football-wise because he’s taught me to be a professional, taught me to respect this game and taught me how to really work at it and prepare to be the master of your craft. I owe him a lot.
“I knew when I got here I had some personal goals that I only discussed with my father. I enjoy competing and I enjoy going out and doing what I do every Sunday and, obviously, I want to work to be the best at that.”
Rob Gronkowski – with his Hall of Fame-type season – also made the team for the first time.
“You think about it and obviously, it’s kind of a personal goal,” said Gronkowski, who has set a new standard for tight ends with 15 touchdown receptions and one rushing. “It’s success due to the whole team, being out here with all the coaches helped out, all the veteran players, being here with Tom, being here with all veteran wide receivers. Just overall, without all of them none of this would happen. It’s just a honor to be in it, there are so many great tight ends out there, and to be the first team tight end for the AFC is unbelievable. It’s just due to hard work and dedication.”