ORLANDO — For players making the NFL Pro Bowl who come from teams that have struggled, the game and week of festivities leading up to it are very special.
But if you are a player who has climbed the mountain and won the Super Bowl recently, the Pro Bowl can be a letdown.
It appeared Eagles All-Pro right tackle Lane Johnson is in that letdown state of mind.
All week, Johnson went to all the ceremonial practices, went to the dinners, signed autographs and helped run drills at the NFL Community Day football camps (ages first grade to middle school) that take place on the many fields at the massive ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Kissimmee, Florida, just outside Orlando.
But it was clear Johnson wasn’t feeling the joy he did last year during the Eagles’ magical run to a Super Bowl title. It was, for sure, one of the great team efforts in NFL history.
Johnson is all about the idea that football is a team sport. It was apparent that the 6-foot-6, 317-pounder was having some problems dealing with the pure individual aspect of playing in an all-star game, if you can call it that.
This rain-soaked edition of the Pro Bowl that was on the display at Camping World Stadium last Sunday was as forgettable as any played previously.
“People call it selfish trying to make this event,” Johnson said at his locker after the game. “Or…if you’re making it here, that means you’re trying to do your job to the best of your ability. It goes down in the books, as your resume, you can take it as you want. I’m just doing my job the best that I can and try to put some right tackles on the map.”
Johnson said he believes the NFL is trying to develop Pro Bowl week into something more than a game virtually every NFL fan says is worthless — although the TV ratings would suggest otherwise. Per Nielsen, 8.6 million people viewed this year’s Pro Bowl. The 2018 NBA All-Star Game drew 7.7 million.
The interaction with fans all week is what Johnson was drawn to and hopes it improves.
“Yeah, I liked it,” Johnson said. “It’s definitely been evolving. It’s a good venue for everybody, fans to get to know these players and see what they’re like off the field. You get to meet all these other great players across the league and see what they’re like. You get to put a name to a face. That’s what I do love about it.”
But no matter how you talked to Johnson about his first participation in the Pro Bowl, the more he went back to talking about the season and how much he wanted to defend the Super Bowl title.
“As far as our team goal, we didn’t reach that his year,” Johnson said. “We had a good run despite all the injuries. But this will be a good offseason for us to kind of refresh. This is my first time ever here. I brought the family just to say I’ve done it. All in all, it was a good year, we’ll make it better next year.”
Johnson admitted the Eagles need to learn how to deal with long playoff runs. He admitted the Birds needed to lick their wounds and be better prepared. He said the Patriots have learned that aspect of the offseason better that any franchise ever has.
“We joke about that,” Johnson said. “It’s (a break) much needed. When you constantly grind, grind, grind…your body is eventually going to break. This is their ninth time, they’ve got a blueprint for that. It’s something teams from around the league can learn from.”
Johnson said be believes the Eagles will be back next season and better prepared physically as well as mentally.
“It was our first time to do that whole deal, to win it,” Johnson said. “So, it was a new situation for everybody. We kind of got a taste of what it was going to be like the following year. I talked to Troy Aikman before the season, he was saying, when they won back-to-back, the second one was 10 times harder than the first year, as far as mentally. You are kind of being attacked now…you’re the target. As far as that dynamic, it changes. It was good, we learned a lot, and it’ll do us good moving forward.” ••