GREEN BAY – T.J. Lang ran his fingers through his red hair. Lip quivering, tears in his eyes, the Green Bay Packers right guard thought about what his father would think.
Lang was elected to the Pro Bowl for the first time Tuesday. For all the issues the NFL’s all-star game has, anyone who thinks a Pro Bowl nod has lost its luster needed only to see Lang inside the Packers' locker room.
“Definitely got emotional just thinking about my dad and how proud he’d be,” Lang said with watery eyes as he spoke of Thomas Lang, who died from lung cancer almost five years ago. “Yeah, it was a pretty big array of emotions.”
Lang’s case might be the classic example of a player – especially an offensive lineman – receiving a Pro Bowl nod one year later than he should.
Lang said he “started to lose hope” after his name was left off the Pro Bowl roster a year ago. He was a first alternate for the Pro Bowl in 2015, a season that still may be his finest if only because he stayed healthy for all 16 games.
This year, Lang said, he entered Pro Bowl announcement day with no expectations. It helped that Lang missed three games with a broken foot, even though his play hadn’t dipped from the previous season.
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“I was definitely up in the air,” Lang said. “Part of me felt like if I didn’t make it last year, I might never make it. Just thinking about the injuries I’ve had this year, missing three games, kind of thinking, ‘Well, that might hurt me in the long run.’ So I definitely didn’t get too excited. I think the last couple years, ’14 and ’15, I got excited around this time wanting to find out, and just ended with disappointment.
“This year, I came in yesterday and said, ‘Hey, if it doesn’t happen, oh well. I won’t be surprised.’ If it happens, which it did, then I’ll be pleasantly surprised.”
Lang said he received congratulatory calls and texts from many people, including former Packers guard Josh Sitton. Now with the Chicago Bears, Sitton didn’t make the Pro Bowl this year after being selected three of the previous four seasons.
Lang acknowledged he had to “take the back seat” to Sitton the past couple years. But Sitton was a big influence on him too, Lang said.
“The first thing I said,” Lang said, “I thanked him. ‘You’re a big part of why I have success, too. Not only just watching you, but the silent competitions we have, and everybody wants to be the best in what they do. You’ve got a guy that plays on the opposite side of you playing at a very high level, definitely elevates your game as well.
“He definitely was a driving force behind me too, always motivating me, making sure I was playing my best.”
Lang now will enter free agency with a nice boost to his resume. While coaches and general managers around the league don’t make evaluations based on the Pro Bowl, it certainly catches attention.
It’s also worth noting Lang is the lone Pro Bowler on the Packers' offensive line, though left tackle David Bakthiari was named a first alternate.
“It’s definitely a huge, huge step in my career,” Lang said, “and honestly couldn’t come at a better time for me, this being a contract year and everything, playing through the injuries.”