PHOENIX, Ariz. – It hits them immediately: The Pro Bowl has an impact. The Eagles who arrived in Arizona on Tuesday met their fellow NFL all-stars and knew right away that being in the Pro Bowl is special, an achievement, some recognition from the rest of the league.
"It's a tremendous honor to be here and it's a culmination of a lot of hard work by a lot of these guys," center Jason Kelce said. "It's a privilege to be here and to meet a lot of the guys you went up against during the season."
Let's be sure to put the Pro Bowl in the correct context. It is not the Super Bowl, which is the ultimate team goal for every player. It is not played with the same intensity of a regular season game, or the desperation of a postseason win-or-go-home 60 minutes.
But it is a medal-of-honor moment to be among the game's best players. We've all watched the game, and while there has been, perhaps, some perspective gained about where the game ranks, it's still the NFL's all-star game.
And the players who are here – six Eagles will play on Sunday at 8 p.m. on ESPN – are having themselves a grand time mingling with players they've never had time to know on a personal level and renewing acquaintances with some they have befriended through the years.
"That's the awesome part, being here for the second time," long snapper Jon Dorenbos said. "For me, it's been a tough year in my personal life and being here is just something I cherish. I love seeing all of the guys you play against every week. We're all a brotherhood, when it gets down to it.
"That's kind of what I told the guys who haven't been here before: Enjoy it. You don't know if it's going to happen again. Look at me. I'm a two-time Pro Bowler. I can't believe it. It's awesome."
The game itself? It's competitive, as evidenced by last January's 22-21 Team (Jerry) Rice win over Team (Deion) Sanders. You remember, of course that Eagles quarterback Nick Foles was named the offensive Most Valuable Player for his performance, which included a 39-yard touchdown pass to Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown.
Every player who is invited to the Pro Bowl either as a voted-in team member or an alternate player makes some nice dollars, too – a reported $55,000 goes to each player on the winning team and $28,000 goes to each player ln the losing team.
"It's very hard to have an all-star game in football, because the last thing a player or a team wants is for a player to get injured and face a nine-month recovery," said Troy Vincent, the league's Executive Vice President of Football Operations. "We want a competitive game and we've had that. The players deserve a lot of credit. They know the limits, but they also go out there with the desire to win the game. I'm proud of this game and I think the public enjoys it and the players enjoy the experience."
"I'm going to play it like last year, and that is to play to win," guard Evan Mathis said. "They introduced the concept of a defensive MVP last year and gave away a car and that raised the intensity of the game. I expect it to be just as physical this year. Physical vs. physical. That's the way it's going to be."
It's taken running back Darren Sproles 10 seasons to make to the Pro Bowl. Think he's taking it easy on Sunday? How about placekicker Cody Parkey, who ends his "surreal" -- his words -- year in the Pro Bowl. Kelce and Mathis are in the trenches, battling. Linebacker Connor Barwin has to cover in space with rules against blitzing.
"I think, in the end, it's going to be a lot of fun and something I'll remember," Kelce said. "That's what it comes down to. We're here with the best players in the league and it's something to cherish."