PHOENIX — **How do you measure a season? Yards? Touchdowns? Receptions?
For Emmanuel Sanders, you can measure it with this number: two. His grandmother, who raised him in the small Texas town of Bellville, is one of the most important people in his life. Before this season she had never flown on an airplane in her life, and now she has done it twice, with the Pro Bowl being the second time.
To be sure, this was a landmark year for Sanders. On the cusp of breaking out in Pittsburgh, Sanders looked to find the place where he could be most effective and have that breakout season. That place, he decided, would be Denver.
Sanders set his previous career bests on fire, setting new records for receiving yards for a season, for a single game, touchdowns and the list goes on. All combined, it made for a Pro Bowl season, making the roster as an alternate.
"It's a blessing to be selected to a Pro Bowl," he said. "You talk about the best of the best, you get an opportunity to be a part of the elite and just happy to be here."
Flying out to Phoenix a couple days ago, Sanders said the magnitude of his season really hit him when he arrived.
"This week right here lets me know that I had a really good year. It's crazy because when you're out there playing and you're going through the season, you have one goal in mind: to win the Super Bowl. And you sometimes don't be able to soak in everything that's happening in terms of the amount of yards that you had and coming out here kind of puts the exclamation point on that season of saying I worked my butt off prior to the season, I had a really productive season and I've gotten to be able to come out here and reap the benefits of it.'"
Check out historic photos of Broncos players in the Pro Bowl.
Questions from before the season surrounding his fit and how he'd adapt to the offseason were answered quickly on the field as Sanders put together some of the best receiving games early in the year. Though the touchdowns didn't come early, they did come in bunches later.
The chemistry Sanders was devoted to building with Peyton Manning was evident from the beginning to the end, with the two connecting on spectacular throws and catches to fill highlight reels for days.
With another milestone reached, Sanders is excited for this week. Hall of Fame wide receivers Cris Carter and Michael Irvin are team captains, so regardless of who drafted him, he was bound to get a chance to pick the brain of one of them to get some input on how he can get even better.
"I'm definitely going to do it," Sanders said. "Especially at these practices, you get the opportunity to go up against guys, see what guys are about and just pick their brain. Michael Irvin is my coach now. That's kind of how you want it, so I'm looking forward to it."
But it's not all work at the Pro Bowl. It's also a time for relaxing and spending time with family and friends, and Sanders is going to cherish the rewards this week brings.
"This is a vacation, although it is work at the same time. It's also an opportunity because this is a reward. So I'm enjoying it with my family. I'm happy that they're here to be a part of it and hopefully the festivities just keep getting better."
Now that he doesn't have to worry about picking a new home this offseason, Sanders can spend his time in more ways, both in regards to preparing for a new season, and also to spend more time with his family.
"[I'll] just relax. Let my body recover for like a month and then get back to working out. Take a couple vacations with my son and be ready to get back at it."
Rest, recovery, renewal — given those things, maybe in another 12 months we could be talking about yet another career season for Emmanuel Sanders.