ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — The Pro Bowl is not immune to criticism.
Players are often selected one year too late and stay on the roster one year too long. It has been derided as a popularity contest and as an unscientific way to determine the league's best players.
But if you doubt what the honor means to the players who are chosen, take a moment Monday to watch former fifth-overall pick Bradley Chubb try to fight back tears before giving in to the emotion.
Listen to Justin Simmons pause to find the right words to describe long-awaited recognition.
If there are faults with the Pro Bowl selection process, the picks of Chubb and Simmons show what happens when the voters — comprised of fans, players and coaches — get it right.
The honor, which was the first for each player, held different significance for Chubb and Simmons.
For Chubb, it represents a return to the alluring potential he showed in 2018 when he totaled a franchise rookie record 12 sacks. He tore his ACL just four games into his second season, and it was the second time he'd injured that knee. Doubts would creep in during the nearly year-long recovery process.
Could he make it back? Could he regain his explosiveness? Would he be the same player?
Chubb still doesn't think he's all the way back. He said Monday that he's still not the "maximum me" that he can be. But the honor is still sweet.
"When I got the news about the ACL, I called my dad crying," a choked-up Chubb said. "I was a little emotional going through it. He told me to keep my head on straight, keep my head down and keep working. That's what I did. Just to get this accolade is huge. Sorry to get emotional. I went through a lot this year. This for sure feels good."
Chubb said he realized his Pro Bowl potential ahead of the Broncos' Week 4 game against the Jets. In Denver's win, Chubb recorded his first sacks since the injury, including the game-clinching stop.
"I remember right before we played the Jets. I talked to Von [Miller], and we had a conversation about what I really wanted out of the season," Chubb said. "He just asked me what type of leader I wanted to be and what type of player I wanted to be. When I had that conversation with him, I started to get out of my own head and I started to realize, 'Yeah, I can really be in this league, and I'm in this league for a reason.' I went out there, gathered my teammates around me and we did it. I got [a] huge accolade, but it doesn't stop there. I want to keep going. This one is special. That's why I keep getting choked up. It's so special, man. I'm sorry."
Chubb had nothing to be sorry about for his reaction — and neither did Simmons.
A season ago, Simmons was among the most notable Pro Bowl snubs. The then-fourth-year player recorded four interceptions and was Pro Football Focus' top-rated safety. He was named a second-team All-Pro, but he didn't even garner Pro Bowl alternate status.
In 2020, playing on the franchise tag, Simmons has backed up that 2019 performance with another four-interception campaign.
"Man, it means so much," Simmons said. "I think the toughest part was last year feeling like I kind of earned a spot just from the season. I know team wise we finished 7-9 and just the way it went probably wasn't the best season, but individually I thought I put a pretty good resume together. I think what stunk the most was not even being an alternate, and then earning All-Pro kind of helped that. So, this offseason even with everything going on, I felt like there's a lot of motivation in that. I had a lot of team goals, but individually I think there was a lot of motivation coming in this year because I just felt like — for whatever reason — part of my game wasn't being considered as some of the best of what this league has to offer in terms of safety play. So, there's a lot of motivation behind this year and [I] kind of wanted to make sure I solidified myself again — playing under the tag — all that stuff. A lot of adversity, but I think it just speaks volumes to just the way that I've been able to kind of persevere and handle that."
Simmons said the 2020 season was the most difficult year of his career, due to a combination of COVID-related factors, playing on the franchise tag and the injuries the Broncos have suffered. Simmons has also taken on the responsibility — and the weight — of combating social injustices in the Denver community. For his efforts, he was named the Broncos' Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year nominee for the second consecutive season.
And at last, his on-field accolades are beginning to match his off-field success.
"I'm just so thankful for the journey and for just the patience and the wherewithal to kind of get through it and to strive through it," Simmons said. "It hasn't been an easy one. I do a pretty good job kind of canceling the outside noise, but no one's perfect and you listen and you hear things and sometimes you get into your own head. It's just been a crazy year. I'm just thankful for the journey. This is probably the toughest year but definitely my most favorite in terms of just everything that's been going on."
An added element of Chubb's and Simmons' newly found Pro Bowl status is that they each recognize that significance of the other's selection.
The two spoke on the phone after learning the news, and the conversation was as cathartic as it was congratulatory.
"I'm just so thankful I get to play with someone like Chubb, because he's been a big part of the reason why I've been able to just put my head down and work and watching someone like him persevere through what's going on," Simmons said. "Chubb's the type of guy that is a cornerstone for any program that he's going to be a part of. He's a guy that you always want in your corner. I can't say enough good things about him. He's my brother, I love him, and I'm so happy for him that he gets to be able to be selected to his first Pro Bowl, because he definitely deserves it and more. I'm so happy for him and there's many more years to come for him to do that."
Chubb was equally thrilled to have Simmons receive the honor alongside him.
"Justin is somebody that did the same thing," Chubb said. "He came in here, put his head down and every day worked to be the best. He talked about being the best, and he went out there and did it. I'm proud of him. The things he does in the community as well. Just to see him get that light and that honor that he's supposed to get is special. It makes me tear up for him too, because 2020 has been so rough for everybody. To have this bright spot for the both of us is huge."
So, no, the Pro Bowl selection process may not always be perfect.
But on Monday, for a pair of well-deserving Broncos, it was.