Four times over the last five years, the New England Patriots did not send their selected players to participate in the Pro Bowl. Instead, they were preparing for the only Bowl that really matters in the NFL: the Super Bowl. And when it comes to Dont’a Hightower, one of the three Patriots selected to the league’s all-star games this season, his mind is also set on the championship game rather than the exhibition contest taking place one week earlier.
“It’s a huge honor,” the team captain, who was voted to the second Pro Bowl of his eight-year career, told reporters in the locker room on Wednesday (transcript via NESN’s Zack Cox). “I definitely was not planning on that this year. I definitely have — obviously — bigger goals ahead, but I appreciate my teammates, all the fans, everybody that voted, colleagues and all that good stuff. But hopefully, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.”
Hightower, who has earned a $500,000 roster bonus due to being voted to the Pro Bowl, has been an integral member of the NFL’s best defense this season. From his linebacker spot both on and off the line of scrimmage, the 29-year-old has served as the unit’s primary on-field play caller and one of its most consistent playmakers: he has registered four sacks among his 27 total quarterback pressures, and also scored a touchdown on a fumble return.
The former first-round draft pick has therefore been chosen as one of two players — the other being three-time Pro Bowl cornerback Stephon Gilmore — to represent the league’s top scoring defense at the all-star game. Hightower and Gilmore will be joined by special teams standout Matthew Slater, who made the cut for the eighth time in his career. Ideally, however, none of the men will actually be in Orlando during the last week of January.
“I’m blessed,” Hightower added when talking about earning his first Pro Bowl nod since 2016. “But me seeing out gratification from other people, people that don’t necessarily see me work each and every day — which, I mean, that means a lot to me for those people, fans and everybody to see the work that I put in each and every day — but that’s not thing that I wrote down, like, ‘Pro Bowl.’ That’s not something that’s important to me.”
“I appreciate it, I definitely do. I can’t say that enough. But I definitely have bigger goals,” he continued. Those goals are of course adding another championship ring to a collection that already has three in them. Hightower therefore seems to follow a mantra that quarterback Tom Brady pointed out to a former teammate of the two, Brandon Spikes, back after the Pro Bowl selections in 2012 were announced (a group that excluded Spikes).
“You think I play this s--- to go to Pro Bowls? Get it together. Get your head up. We’re trying to win rings. That’s what it is here,” Brady told the linebacker according to a Sports Illustrated story published earlier this year. Hightower’s remarks and the team’s general conduct reflect this line of thinking: the Patriots are grateful for being recognized, but their end game is not collecting individual accolades but rather Vince Lombardi Trophies.