TEMPE, Ariz. -- Calais Campbell received an early Christmas gift Tuesday.
In his seventh season, the Arizona Cardinals' defensive end finally earned a spot in the NFL Pro Bowl, which will be played Jan. 25 on Campbell’s home field. But as grateful as he was for receiving the invitation, he was more excited about the possibility of turning it down, which he would have to do if Arizona makes the Super Bowl, played a week later at University of Phoenix Stadium.
"It’s still sweet to get the nod, though," Campbell told ESPN a few hours after learning about his Pro Bowl selection. "I know that this team is special, and I know what we can do is there right in front of us. To get the nod is always cool, because it’s getting the [recognition] for your hard work and your efforts.
"It’s one of those things where I’m looking forward to be able to turn it down."
Campbell was one of three Cardinals selected for the Pro Bowl, along with cornerbacks Patrick Peterson and Justin Bethel, who was chosen as a special-teamer. Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and cornerback Antonio Cromartie were selected as alternates.
With Arizona in the thick of the race for the top seed in the NFC, Campbell said he is more focused on helping the Cardinals defeat San Francisco on Sunday than on the Pro Bowl honor.
Campbell doesn’t think he would be among the six defensive ends chosen if it wasn’t for Arizona’s success. This season, he was continually playing on the biggest regular-season stage of his career as Arizona raced out to a league-best 9-1 start. With the record came attention Arizona hasn’t seen since its Super Bowl run in 2008.
In typical Campbell fashion, he deflected some of the credit to the Cardinals' defensive line.
A year after being an alternate, Campbell became the Cardinals’ first defensive end in the Pro Bowl since Bertrand Berry in 2004. Campbell has seven sacks this season and 54 tackles -- the sixth straight season he’s had at least 50 tackles and six sacks. He has 17 quarterback pressures and 10 tackles for loss to complement an interception against Denver’s Peyton Manning in Week 5.
Campbell said he didn’t pay attention to the Pro Bowl voting as it went on during the season, and when he suffered a sprained MCL against Denver that forced him to miss two games, he didn’t worry about his Pro Bowl chances getting hurt. It took him one game after returning to find his early-season rhythm.
Since Week 9, Campbell has had 35 tackles and six of his seven sacks -- including a career-high three against Seattle.
He had been talking about making his first Pro Bowl since last summer, the sting of being an alternate with a career-high nine sacks still lingering.
"They say the first one is the hardest one to get," Campbell said.
But after Tuesday, there is nothing more to talk about, except finding the nicest way to turn down a Pro Bowl invitation.
"The Pro Bowl is always in the back of my mind because I do want it," Campbell said. “But who doesn’t? Everybody does.
"It’s saying you’re the best of the best."