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Wednesday, December 17, 2014         

PRO BOWL / 2 P.M. TOMORROW / ALOHA STADIUM / KHON


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This time, it's for real

Detroit Lions receiver Calvin Johnson was just on vacation the last time the Pro Bowl was played in Hawaii

By Jason Kaneshiro

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Calvin Johnson was understandably excited to be selected to his first Pro Bowl.

Though perhaps not quite as excited as the NFC quarterbacks who'll have the chance to throw to the towering Detroit Lions receiver tomorrow.

"Oh my gosh, it's unbelievable," Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan said. "Him and (Arizona's) Larry Fitzgerald, two big guys like that. It's fun to throw it to big targets and they do a great job of being aggressive and catching the football."

At 6-foot-5, Johnson tends to stick out in an NFC receiver unit that includes the 6-3 Fitzgerald, and has been a prominent figure since a prolific college career at Georgia Tech.

The second pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, Johnson emerged as an elite receiver in Detroit, although his production has been largely overshadowed by the Lions' collective struggles.

He was named a Pro Bowl alternate in 2008 and happened to be in Hawaii on vacation when the Pro Bowl was last played at Aloha Stadium in 2009.

So did returning in a working role cross his mind back then?

"I did think about that," Johnson said with a wide smile.

Johnson made the team this time around, as a starter no less, after catching 77 passes for 1,120 yards. He was tied for second in the league with 12 touchdown receptions.

"He's one of the special guys in this group and you don't always get to see it," Dallas tight end Jason Witten said. "But he's a very talented guy, a special player."

While he lingered after yesterday's practice at Ihilani Resort to take pictures with fans and sign autographs, getting to hang out with the game's best is a thrill for Johnson as well.

"I'm a fan of the game and I love watching these guys, and to be out here is great," said Johnson, who said one of his highlights of the week so far was trading helmets with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning.

After the game was moved to Miami for a year, Johnson is among the players happy to see the game back in Hawaii this time around.

He noted the atmosphere around town during his Pro Bowl-week vacation and is glad to be part of it again.

"It's big for us to see the fans take us in as their own," he said. "They love to have this thing here.

"I was out this way two years ago when they had the Pro Bowl. I wasn't in it, but I saw how much they love it out here. When it left it really hurt them, so it's good to have it back here."

With rookie defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh pulling out of the Pro Bowl due to injury, Johnson is the lone representative from a Detroit team that went 6-10 this season.

Although the Lions, whose predominant color is "Honolulu Blue," remained near the bottom of the NFC North, they lost six games by five points or fewer and ended the season with four straight wins. Certainly reason for hope for a franchise that went 0-16 in 2008 - when Johnson posted career bests with 78 receptions for 1,331 yards - and 2-14 in 2009.

"We just keep a couple key guys healthy, and we'll be all right," Johnson said. "We're real close. We were in every game late in the fourth quarter, so just a little bit more and we'll be all right."

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