While a few of his teammates were enjoying a week in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl last week, Texans right guard Mike Brisiel received a different kind of recognition.
Brisiel was named the captain of USA Today's 20th annual All-Joe Team, a squad that "celebrates first-rate players who receive second-rate recognition." One of the most unheralded performers on one of the league's best offensive lines, Brisiel played the entire second half of the Texans' division-clinching victory at Cincinnati in Week 14 with a broken fibula in his right leg.
The fourth-year guard is so modest, so averse to the spotlight, he thought somebody was pulling a prank on him when a Texans public relations official informed him of the All-Joe honor.
"He was like, 'Hey, this guy from USA Today wants to talk to you,'" Brisiel said. "I'm in the training room rehabbing and I just said, 'Yeah, right.' I just kind of laughed and looked at him, and I was like, 'What are you talking about?'
"He was like, 'They want to do an article on you.' I was like, 'Give me a break, man. Shut up.' Then he said, 'Dude, I'm serious.'
"Anytime you get honored for playing football, it's just a pleasure, so I'm just glad. It's nice to get a little recognition, but it's definitely not what you play the offensive line for, so it's kind of a little bonus."
After playing through a broken leg against the Bengals, Brisiel had surgery the next day. Just four weeks later, he returned to the lineup and started both of the Texans' playoff games.
"It was one of those things where I was just happy to be back out there," Brisiel said. "I got nicked up through the middle of the year and kind of was battling that and then I ended up breaking my leg in that Cincinnati game. I don't know why, but I got some more publicity out of a broken leg than (anything else); it was ridiculous. But luckily, they didn't put me on injured reserve, so I was lucky enough to have a chance to play in our first-ever playoff game."
Brisiel had season-ending injuries in 2009 (left foot) and 2010 (shoulder) that caused him to miss a total of 15 games. When healthy, he routinely grades out as the Texans' top offensive lineman on a weekly basis, according to his teammates and coaches.
"I'm happy for him," said center Chris Myers, one of the Texans' three Pro Bowlers. "He's had a lot more hardships throughout his career than I have injury-wise. This year alone, he's already had two surgeries. That guy's been through so much, and he's just a grinder. He's the most consistent guy on our offensive line, and he deserves a lot more recognition."
Undrafted out of Colorado State in 2006, Brisiel spent a month of his rookie season on the Texans' practice squad before he was released. The Texans re-signed him in January 2007, and he spent that spring playing in NFL Europe before getting cut again in August.
After 12 games on the practice squad in 2007, Brisiel was called up to the active roster. He became a starter following an injury to guard Fred Weary, and he hasn't relinquished the starting job since.
"I tell you what, I told Mike right when we broke (after the season), what he's done with his career has been outstanding," Texans offensive line coach John Benton said. "To go from a street free agent, essentially, a college free agent, and build himself into a top-tier type player, it's neat to see him get that award."
A native of Fayetteville, Ark., Brisiel entered the NFL with modest expectations.
"I told my dad when I came out of college, I was like, 'You know what, I'm not expecting anything big-time. I just want to maybe make a little bit of money, save up my money try to get a little head start on the rest of my life,'" Brisiel said. "And the opportunity kind of hit for me and I've been able to stick around here. It's just been a blessing. Each year is a blessing."
Brisiel also made the All-Joe team in 2008, when he started all 16 games and helped Steve Slaton lead all rookies with 1,282 rushing yards. He and his line-mates helped the Texans rank second in the NFL in 2011 with a franchise-record 153.0 yards per game.
"I try to do whatever it takes to get the job done," Brisiel said. "It might not be pretty, but that's the kind of player I am. I don't ever really like to get beat. I just try to work hard every day and I try to be as consistent as I can and, you know, just try not to embarrass myself out there with those athletes."