POSTED: 01:30 a.m. HST, Jan 28, 2011
James Johnson beamed as he showed off the bill of his cap, freshly signed by New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees.
"I was all excited," said Johnson, who's from Lake Charles, La. "He's the man."
Some might place that tag on Johnson and the military veterans who attended yesterday's Pro Bowl practices at Kapolei High School.
Johnson made the trip to Hawaii as part of the "Impact a Hero" program founded seven years ago by Dick Lynch.
Lynch said the non-profit program provides "emotional and financial support for severely wounded veterans back from Iraq and Afghanistan."
The financial side comes in assistance with living expenses such as rent, food, etc. To help with the emotional side, the program sends veterans to events such as the Pro Bowl, where the veterans relished collecting autographs after the AFC and NFC practices.
» Team picture/ practice: At Ihilani Resort, 8 a.m. AFC with practice to follow; 9:30 a.m. NFC with practice to follow.
» Cheerleaders: At Ala Moana Center Stage, 5 to 5:45 p.m. Fans can enjoy performances by the 2011 Pro Bowl cheerleaders and attend a meet-and-greet session at Center Stage. Some of the top NFL players and cheerleaders will be on hand to sign autographs and take pictures.
The veterans also got to hang out with former Pro Bowl players Christian Okoye and Jim McMahon.
Johnson, a retired Army staff sergeant, was wounded in 2005 while serving in Iraq. He spent a year in a San Antonio, Texas, hospital recovering from severe head and back injuries, while his daughter fought off leukemia back home.
"She's almost 11 years and to look at her you'd ever know she'd been sick," Johnson said.
Coming through the harrowing experience heightened Johnson's appreciation for his day watching the NFL's best.
Then again ...
..."You appreciate every day a little bit more."
Quick now: Which player in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl played high school football at Aloha Stadium?
Don't waste your time, there's no local product in the game this year; the answer is DeSean Jackson, the Eagles receiver and return man.
He was a sophomore at Long Beach Poly (Calif.) when the Jackrabbits came here to play Kahuku as part of a Hawaii-California high school doubleheader in 2002. The second game featured Saint Louis and Bay Area powerhouse De La Salle. The California schools won both games.
"I didn't score, but I caught a couple of balls and we got the victory, and that's what counts. It was a good experience," Jackson said.
Jackson pulled out of Sunday's game yesterday with a sprained left knee.
3 players added to rosters
Dallas receiver Miles Austin, Minnesota linebacker E.J. Henderson and Denver cornerback Champ Bailey were added to the rosters as injury replacements yesterday.
Austin replaces Jackson in the NFC receiver corps and Henderson will step in for New Orleans' Jonathan Vilma. Bailey, who will make his 10th appearance in the Pro Bowl, replaces Oakland's Nnamdi Asomugha.