Browns' Anderson among first-timers relishing Pro Bowl experience

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- Derek Anderson is used to being the second choice. So it should be no surprise that his first trip to the Pro Bowl comes after Tom Brady declined his invitation following the New England Patriots' loss in Super Bowl XLII.

Brady, along with teammate Randy Moss, were a couple of late scratches from the 2008 Pro Bowl in what is seemingly a growing list of players who annually bypass the NFL all-star game. The biggest news surrounding the Pro Bowl isn't so much who is voted in, but who is actually going to show up.

So, is going to the Pro Bowl still the reward it once was?

"I think, so," Anderson said after the AFC's first practice on Tuesday at Kapolei High School. "This is still a great opportunity and I am honored to be here with a chance to compete with some of the other guys. And join my (Cleveland) teammates here to represent the Browns."

The Browns quarterback was ready to go even if his helmet wasn't -- it had been shipped to Aloha Stadium and he practiced sans head gear on Tuesday. Anderson is one of many players relishing his chance to participate in the Pro Bowl.

First listed as an alternate, Anderson knew he was going to get his opportunity to play when Brady injured his ankle in the playoffs. So he spent the last few weeks practicing and waiting. Waiting, like he had during the early part of his career.

Anderson did not play at all his rookie season with the Baltimore Ravens, who drafted him in the sixth-round of the 2005 NFL Draft. He didn't throw his first NFL pass until last season with the Browns.

The training camp and preseason competition between Charlie Frye and Anderson was so close that coach Romeo Crennel literally flipped a coin to determine who would start the first preseason game. Frye eventually won the job almost by default and was the team's Week 1 starter.

But one bad start by Frye gave Anderson the shot he needed.

Anderson passed for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns this season -- a point noticed by his former Ravens teammates who who good-naturedly joked with him at the Pro Bowl. Cleveland went on to win 10 games, the most since the Browns won 11 in 1994.

Anderson now has a chance to become the city's most beloved quarterback since Bernie Kosar. Interestingly, Kosar was cut by then-Browns coach Bill Belichick, currently Brady's coach in New England.

Anderson, of course, is fighting off one of the Browns' first-round picks from 2007, Brady Quinn, to be the starter in 2008. But Anderson has been there before, competing for his spot. He plans on enjoying the moment again … and another opportunity.

"I hope to be (in Cleveland)," Anderson said. "It's out of my hands, and time will tell."

Anderson is one of a number of first-time players at the Pro Bowl, relishing the chance to be in Hawaii. San Fransisco rookie linebacker Patrick Willis is taking the time to enjoy Hawaii and brought along his legal guardian, Chris Finley, to enjoy the festivities. Willis hopes this is the first of many trips to the Pro Bowl, as he intends to bring along his brothers and sisters on future trips.

Redskins tight end Chris Cooley also is making his first Pro Bowl appearance, and said he enjoys mingling with all of the players that he has competed against during the season.

"The Pro Bowl is still the goal for every player," Cooley said. "Plus, it's great to see everybody from around the league. I spent 15 minutes last night talking to Roy Williams. Can you imagine that, a Cowboy and a Redskin sitting together and talking?"

The event isn't just for wide-eyed rookies and breakthrough players. Peyton Manning was out working in practice, just like you would imagine that he would at any time during the season.

Manning obviously doesn't have much to prove, and nobody would raise an eyebrow if he had a mysterious ailment that kept him from making the trip. And while superstars like Brett Favre, Brady and Moss continue to beg out of the event, Manning was at practice on Tuesday, even taking the time to talk to fans, sign autographs and honor media requests.

"It's an honor to be voted in by the fans," said Manning, the last AFC player to get on the bus back to the hotel. "I'm proud to be here."

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