*Severely injured in the second preseason game of his rookie campaign back in 1996, Mike Flanagan's professional career nearly ended as quickly as it began. But now, eight years later, the Green Bay Packers' starting center is on his way to the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, Hawaii.
Flanagan joins running back Ahman Green, tight end Bubba Franks and right guard Marco Rivera at the all-star event. Quarterback Brett Favre was voted to the NFC all-star team, but will not attend the game due to injury.
Last year Rivera became the Packers' first offensive lineman to be voted to the Pro Bowl since Larry McCarren in 1983. This year the inclusion of Flanagan and Rivera gives the Packers two O-linemen in the Pro Bowl for the first time since 1967, when tackle Forrest Gregg and guard Jerry Kramer were starters.
Originally just an alternate for the event, Flanagan claimed the second NFC center spot when Olin Kreutz of the Chicago Bears pulled out due to an ankle injury. Matt Birk of the Minnesota Vikings will get the start.
For Flanagan, this isn't his first trip to Hawaii, but it is his first trip to the Pro Bowl. Flanagan graciously offered to share his experience in an online diary exclusive to Packers.com.
The Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium is Sunday, February 8.*
Pro Bowl Diary, Part I - February 1, 2004
For most of the NFL, today is significant because the Carolina Panthers are taking on the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XXXVIII. But I won't be able to see much of that as today I'm flying from my offseason home in Las Vegas to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl.
I'm fortunate to be going. In the Pro Bowl voting I only made first-alternate and if it wasn't for Olin Kreutz being hurt, I'd be at home.
It's unfortunate that Olin has to be hurt, but in the NFL you have to make the most of your opportunities, so I'm going to try to make the best of mine.
I wasn't really surprised when I didn't make the Pro Bowl outright. There are only two spots for NFC centers and Kreutz and Matt Birk are elite players in this league. I feel like I had a good season, but that doesn't mean that I deserved to bump those guys out of the top spots.
I didn't even find out I was going to the Pro Bowl until a week and a half ago.
I'd been sick and I was still lying in bed half asleep when a member of the Packers public relations office called me and asked if I was interested in going to the Pro Bowl.
I said, 'Yeah, sure,' but even when he mentioned that Kreutz wasn't going to play because of an injury it didn't hit home what he was trying to tell me.
Eventually the coin dropped that I was first alternate and that I was going to get to play for the NFC all-star team. But that moment of excitement was followed by the realization that I hadn't worked out since the season ended. It was back to work for me.
After I got off the phone with the Packers PR guy, an NFL rep was supposed to call me right away to give me all the details. But after staring at my phone for over an hour waiting for him to call, I started to feel like it was all a big joke. Eventually though, he called and I knew it was official.
For me, going to the Pro Bowl doesn't validate my season. The only true prize in this league is a Super Bowl championship. We had a great chance to bring the Vince Lombardi Trophy back to Green Bay this year and we let it slip through our fingers.
But it's still an honor to be going. To be honest, I felt it was an honor just to be first-alternate.
I'm hoping that by playing in this game, maybe I'll be recognized a little bit more and might get the chance to go again in the future, but I'm not going to take this trip for granted.
Including myself, I'm sending 17 people to Hawaii: my mom and dad, aunts and uncles, my girlfriend, one of the Packers trainers and his wife, just to name a few. It's just one way I can try to thank in some small way some of the people who have been so generous to me and have been such a big part of my success over the years.
I don't know how much I'll get to see them, but my goal will be to hang out with as many people as I can while I'm there.
I talked to Marco and he gave me some of the tips about going to the Pro Bowl. For example, he told me to pack along some extra helmets so I can exchange them with some of the other players.
One of the reasons I like being a player rep for the league is that it allows me to meet a lot of the guys from around the NFL, so just hanging out with the guys is one of the things I'm looking forward to as much as anything else. But the trip should be fun no matter what.
Even if all I do in Hawaii is spend every spare minute sitting on the beach, I'm going to be a happy man.
Mike Flanagan's Pro Bowl Diary will continue later this week at Packers.com.