T.J. Lang had endured plenty of pain — both mental and physical. On Tuesday, he was rewarded with his long-awaited selection to the Pro Bowl.
“It was kind of all over the place,” Lang said of his emotions on Wednesday. “I was shocked for a good portion of the day. It didn’t really set in until probably late last night or today, when I was able to talk to more of the guys. Definitely got emotional. I think about my dad and how proud he’d be ...”
Lang looked down into his lap as he thought about his father, Thomas, who died in 2012. His bottom lip quivered with emotion for a couple moments.
I could feel his pain — and told him so afterward. My dad died before he got a chance to meet my wife, Melissa. My mom died before Melissa and I got married 10 years ago. They never got to meet our two little guys. Never got a chance to see them run my mom's old Lionel trains, which are the one thing that tie together generations that never will quite connect. They never knew I covered the Packers — a big deal, since their honeymoon was at Lambeau Field.
Ever the tough guy, Lang carried on.
That’s been Lang’s life.
Lang played at Eastern Michigan because Eastern Michigan was the one and only school to offer him a scholarship. He started his college career on the defensive line before switching sides. An all-conference player as a senior, he wasn’t selected for the Scouting Combine. The Packers drafted him in the fourth round in 2009, and he languished on the bench for most of his first two seasons. From 2010 through 2015, he started all but two games, despite a serious elbow injury in 2012 and a shoulder injury that required surgery this past offseason.
Through it all, Lang kept on trucking. Oddly, despite hips that will require surgery and a broken foot that sidelined him for three games, this was the year Lang was viewed as one of the three best guards in the conference and one of the six best in the NFL.
“It was a pretty big array of emotions,” Lang continued after regaining his composure. “It was a good day. It was a fun day. I got to talk with my mom a lot, talked to my brothers, enjoyed it with my wife, watched it on TV with the kids. It’s something that when you feel like you work so hard at it for so long and you finally get that validation — everybody wants to be one the best, and you finally get that validation that your teammates and other players and coaches ultimately think that of you, too, that probably means the most.”
In 2014 and, especially, 2015, when he outplayed then-teammate and Pro Bowler Josh Sitton, Lang played at a Pro Bowl level but was overlooked. “I was starting to lose hope a little bit after last year,” Lang said. Because of the foot, he didn’t think this would be his breakthrough year.
But his play, not just this season but in past seasons, and his reputation and toughness impressed the players and coaches who voted him into the game.
“I definitely feel like I’ve been playing well,” he said. “I think the first eight or nine games I played, I was off to one of my best starts and then I had the foot injury, missed a couple games. The last couple weeks has been tough. I definitely feel some pain — everybody in this locker room does; nobody’s healthy at this point in the season — but I still feel like I’ve been getting the job done. But to have other coaches and other players vote for me, that really means a lot. It’s definitely a check off the old bucket list there. It’s one of the best honors you can get as a player.”
And a well-deserved one for one of the good guys.
Bill Huber is publisher of PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at www.twitter.com/PackerReport.