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For teen, Pro Bowl trip was in the cards

[Times photo: Dirk Shadd
Thanks to a rare MVP insert Warrick Dunn football card, Northeast High sophomore Justin Cooper won a drawing for a five-day Pro Bowl trip.

By JOHN C. COTEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published January 22, 2001


Justin Cooper is a lot like the Buccaneers coaching staff: they both seemed to forget all about Warrick Dunn until Mike Alstott was injured.

In Cooper's case, he discarded Dunn, literally. While whipping through a slew of packs of Topps football cards, the Northeast High sophomore found a rare MVP insert -- one in 400 packs, he said -- which entitles the bearer to a free boxed set if the player on that card earns league MVP honors any of the 17 weeks of the regular season.

It also enters the bearer in a contest to win a trip to the Pro Bowl. But Cooper and stepfather Richard Strader figured his chances of winning that were slim and Dunn.

"I was going to throw it out," Cooper said. "I just saved that one just in case because it was somebody halfway decent. So I figured I better hold on to it."

Dunn may not be going to the Pro Bowl, but because of his 210-yard effort against Dallas, Cooper is. Dunn's MVP performance made Cooper the winner of that boxed set, and he also won the drawing to go to the Pro Bowl.

On Feb. 1, Cooper and Strader will fly to Hawaii for a five-day, four-night stay at the Hilton Hawaiian Village. He will attend the Pro Bowl and the NFL Experience, get $500 and meet his favorite players -- the Colts' Edgerrin James and Peyton Manning.

"Pretty unbelievable," said Cooper, 15, an avid card collector.

"With the Bucs' diverse offense, what were the odds," Strader said. "But Mike Alstott got hurt and Dunn I guess ran for 200 yards against Dallas."

Even after Dunn earned MVP honors, Cooper didn't remember filing the Dunn card in his box with his other common cards.

But a few weeks later Cooper was scrolling through a copy of Beckett's price guide and saw a list of the MVP winners.

"I remembered then that I had Dunn," Cooper said. "I wasn't even thinking about the card. I saw it in Beckett and was like, 'Oh my God!' "

So Cooper sent off the card to receive his boxed set.

"I wasn't that excited," Cooper said. "The big prize for me was the boxed set. That's all I was worried about.

"Not even for a second did I think about winning the grand prize."

The biggest prize may be meeting James and Manning. At the NFL Experience, Cooper will sit next to them and hand them items to be signed for those in line.

While his schoolmates don't quite believe it, he plans on returning home with proof.

"I plan on taking a lot of pictures," Cooper said.

"Millions of them."

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