GLENDALE, AZ -- It's fair to suggest that Darren Sproles is Pro Football Hall Of Fame material with an NFL-most 15,045 all-purpose yards since 2007 and more receiving yards and touchdowns receiving than any running back in the league in that span. It has taken 10 years, even with all of that success and all of those yards, to reach the Pro Bowl.
Needless to say, Sproles is as happy as any player in Arizona this week.
"To finally be recognized, and to be out here with all of these greats, I'm so happy," Sproles said as he walked off the field at Luke Air Force Base on Thursday as Team Irvin broke the huddle to end practice. "I'm going to really enjoy this."
Players become jaded about the Pro Bowl. You make it once or twice and it's great to be treated like a king and earn $50,000 or so for a few days of relaxing practices and nice perks and then a mid-speed football all-star game to follow. After that, for some, it's old hat. It's an honor, no question, but as far as playing the game? Some players find any reason to skip the week.
Sproles is in his glory in Arizona. He's got a bunch of young running backs around him – DeMarco Murray from the Cowboys, C.J. Anderson from Denver and Mark Ingram from New Orleans – who look at Sproles and see someone who has done spectacular things for the better part of a decade.
"He's always been someone I admire and see as special. I can't believe it's taken this long for him to make it to the Pro Bowl," Murray said. "All those times I've watched him make big play after big play. Defenses don't have an answer for him. This is his first time? Really?"
It is. Shocking. Sproles said he has had seasons during which he felt he was deserving – the most obvious was 2011 when he averaged 6.9 yards per carry and gained a career-best 603 rushing yards and added an eye-popping 86 receptions for 710 yards and 7 touchdowns and then killed it in the return game with a 27-yard average on kickoff returns and 10-yard average and a touchdown scored on punt returns. Sproles set an NFL record with 2,769 all-purpose yards and was bypassed for the Pro Bowl.
The other season was in 2008 or 2009 – Sproles wasn't sure which was his best – and the truth is that both seasons merited a bid.
"I've had a lot of guys come up to me and say they were happy for me for making it," Sproles said. "It took me 10 years, man, but I'm finally here. It's lived up to everything I thought it would be. The draft is a good way to do it. It's fun. This is fun for everyone."
Most of the Air Force personnel and NFL fans on the sidelines oohed and aahed whenever No. 43 touched the ball during Thursday's no-pads, half-speed practice. His half speed is breathtaking, anyway, and throw in the fact that Sproles plays in the shadows of so many giants only adds to his allure. He's the one every fan roots for. How does a player that small (Sproles is listed at 5-foot-6, 190 pounds), the whispers at practice repeated, do so well against such giants?
"He's fast and he cuts so quick," Anderson said. "I watch him. He's an amazing player and I've always enjoyed seeing him play. Being this close to him is even more amazing."
Sproles is the return man for Team Irvin on punts and he could get some reps out of the backfield, too. Whatever he is called upon to do, he'll do it gladly. You don't wait 10 years for your name to be called and then not appreciate every second of the opportunity. Sproles has his sights set on having fun, but also going out on Sunday with a purpose in his first Pro Bowl game.
"It's going to be all fun and I'm going to go out and play ball, do my thing," he said. "It's not about me here. It's about doing what I can do for the team and being here and enjoying it.
"To be here, it's all good. I love being an Eagle. It's worked out great. I love the team and I love the city."
The feeling is mutual, that's for sure. Sproles earned second-team All-Pro honors in 2014, made his first Pro Bowl and delivered on special teams and on offense for the Eagles, accumulating 1,237 yards and scoring eight total touchdowns on 137 touches. He changed games for the Eagles. He led the way on special teams. He was an explosive element with every touch.
Now he's where he belongs – among the best of the best in the game.
"It feels good to be here," he said, smiling. "It was worth the wait."