TAMPA — Bucs defensive tackle Gerald McCoy visited Hawaii for the first time this past offseason. Upon departing, his fiancee offered some prophetic words.
"She told me, 'Baby, next time we come back, we're coming for free,' " McCoy said. "I said, 'All right, that's cool.' "
Her statement became a reality on Wednesday when McCoy was named to his first Pro Bowl, the lone Buc — for now — selected for the NFC team in the NFL's all-star showcase.
The selection culminates a lot of hard work after two years of frustrations. McCoy, the No. 3 pick in the 2010 draft, sustained season-ending torn biceps in 2010 and 2011.
The 24-year-old bounced back in 2012, playing his first complete season (if he plays Sunday in Atlanta, as expected) and having a significant impact on the Bucs' top-ranked rushing defense.
"I just wanted to play a full season," McCoy said. "This is definitely a gift from God. God has outdone himself with this.
"My goal was to be my best for my team. But by doing that, I was able to accomplish that and show people that I can play a little football."
McCoy might not be the only Buc in Honolulu for the Jan. 27 game.
Receiver Vincent Jackson, running back Doug Martin and free safety Ronde Barber were named alternates for the game. (Jackson and Martin are first alternates.) Numerous players opt out of the game every year because of injuries or their team has advanced to the Super Bowl, which is played a week after the Pro Bowl.
Jackson, who has been to one previous Pro Bowl, was beaten out by the Lions' Calvin Johnson, Bears' Brandon Marshall, Falcons' Julio Jones and Giants' Victor Cruz. Martin, in his rookie season, was beaten out by the 49ers' Frank Gore, Vikings' Adrian Peterson and Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch. Barber, who has been to five previous Pro Bowls, won the fan voting but was beaten out by the 49ers' Dashon Goldson and Seahawks' Earl Thomas.
McCoy said his selection is hardly the extent of what he can achieve.
"Much more (is coming)," he said. "This is just the beginning of what I plan to do."
After the torn biceps, there were times when the Pro Bowl seemed miles away.
"We're very excited for Gerald McCoy," Bucs general manager Mark Dominik said. "He's put a lot of work into this."
McCoy has a career-high five sacks and 15 tackles-for-loss.
While one-third of the vote is taken from fans, the other two-thirds come from players and coaches, who offer a more accurate assessment because they compete and coach against other players. Justin Smith of the 49ers and Harry Melton of the Bears finished ahead of McCoy and will start.
The Lions' Ndamukong Suh, who was drafted one spot ahead of McCoy and with whom he often is compared, was not selected. (He did make it in 2010.)
"It's a great honor that my peers see me in that light," McCoy said.
"I'm really at a loss for words because I didn't expect anything like this. But apparently, I've done something to where my peers think I'm worthy of being in this game."