Bucs left tackle Donald Penn has always been a stand-up guy for a player whose job is to keep the quarterback standing.
So when he was bypassed on the first ballot for the Pro Bowl last month, he didn't hide his disappointment.
But then, recognition has always come slowly for Penn.
An undrafted free agent who spent a season on the Vikings' practice squad, Penn, 27, earned his spot on the NFC squad for tonight's game when the Packers and Pro Bowl left tackle Chad Clifton defeated the Bears to reach Super Bowl XLV.
Not only is Penn, who will back up the Panthers' Jordan Gross, the first Bucs offensive tackle to play in the Pro Bowl, he is the team's only representative despite a 10-6 record.
Penn helped block for a Bucs offense that compiled more than 3,000 yards passing and 2,000 yards rushing in the same season for the first time while being the only Tampa Bay offensive lineman to start all 16 games.
"It feels real good. I'm very appreciative," Penn said Saturday of his Pro Bowl berth. "I keep working hard, and this will make me work harder so next year I can be on the first ballot. I feel privileged. I've been having a good time with the guys, talking to the guys, joking with the guys, getting to know them better off the field; the guys I battle against. It's been a great experience."
Penn talked about his time in Hawaii, his new contract and the new offensive line coach.
Does it feel strange to be the only Bucs representative despite winning 10 games?
Oh, yeah. I've got to get Josh Freeman, Davin Joseph, Mike Williams, Kellen (Winslow), Gerald McCoy … we've all got to get out here. We've got to make it a family affair now. That's the goal, to have all your guys to the Pro Bowl. I definitely want to bring those guys because I know they'd enjoy it. It's a great experience. I'm very happy, and I want to thank the Buccaneers fans for their support.
Who came with you to Hawaii?
I've got my whole family out here. I've got my mom, my dad, my stepmom, my son, my girl. Everybody is here. I've got two of my boys here. (My agent) Rocky (Arceneaux) has all his other clients here, so it's like the family is here.
That must make it even more special, right?
It's beautiful. It really is. I can't even explain it. It's a good time. It feels real good right now. I'm very happy.
What's it like getting to know some of the NFC teammates on defense that you battle against each Sunday?
The funny thing is getting to talk to (Julius) Peppers and (John) Abraham and DeMarcus Ware, who is one of my friends anyway. To talk to those guys that I battle with off the field, it's just fun. A couple times, we've talked about a couple plays that we had against each other. But when we are together, we're not really talking about football. We're talking about everything else.
Had you been to Hawaii before?
I came out here and played here in college in the Hula Bowl (a showcase game for seniors), and I came out here when Davin (Joseph) was in the Pro Bowl.
What do you make of the first-class treatment?
It's real nice. The family is loving the water and the beach. The weather has been great out here. Everybody has been meeting and greeting. It's very exciting. I grew up watching Michael Vick, and I was a big, big fan. It's been great getting to know him and to be in the huddle with Drew Brees and Matt Ryan, hearing their voices call the plays. I'm still a big fan. It's like being a little kid. I met Ray Lewis and Peyton Manning, too.
Do you think it might make you lose your edge?
No, you've got to go out there and compete even harder because you don't want to lose your bragging rights.
Do you feel like you have to raise your standard because you're a Pro Bowl player?
Oh, yeah, I want to go every year, and with the things the Buccaneers are doing, we're going to keep growing. We have a young team, and we're going to keep growing. I think I can grow in the system we have, and it's going to continue to happen for me and for a lot of our players. We're just going to keep getting better. I'm going to keep raising my game like I do every year, and our other players will. And I think we'll get a lot more guys out here.
Talk about your journey from holding out in the offseason, a new contract to start training camp and now the Pro Bowl.
It's been great. It's the start of a new year. Me and my agent said this is going to be our year, and we're starting off this year with a bang by being in the Pro Bowl. I just want to make this year better than last year. I'm excited I got all that stuff behind me, and I want thank the Glazers for getting everything done.
You have a new offensive line coach from the Vikings that you played for for one year. What's your take on Pat Morris?
I look forward to working with him again. I didn't get to end up with him at Minnesota, but I know he's a good coach. I think he's going to be a good person to fit in with our group. He's kind of laid-back. That's how our group is. Pete Mangurian is a great coach, and he's going to be missed. I have a lot of respect for him, and he's helped me out tremendously. But that's just part of the business. I'm looking forward to working with Pat Morris.