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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Monday, February 3, 2003

AFC keeps picking on NFC

 •  Gannon still feels sting of Super Bowl setback
 •  Manning calls Colts teammate an 'idiot'
 •  Ferd Lewis: Now we know what makes Ricky Williams special
 •  Titans will help out ex-Warrior
 •  Pro Bowl statistics

By Stacy Kaneshiro
Advertiser Staff Writer

Aloha Stadium's artificial turf served as an oven in yesterday's Pro Bowl, baking a combined 10 turnovers in the AFC's 45-20 win over the NFC.

Ricky Williams of the Miami Dolphins and MVP of the Pro Bowl posed with University of Hawai'i mascot Vili Fehoko after the game yesterday.

Associated Press

It was no contest as the AFC picked apart the NFC passing game with six interceptions, including a 43-yard touchdown return by New England cornerback Ty Law, before a sellout crowd of 50,125 in 81-degree heat at kickoff. It was the third consecutive win for the AFC, which leads the series, 17-16.

"It's always great just to be here, but to make a play and help your team win is more exciting," Law said. "Most importantly, we had a good time. We had fun. That's what it's all about."

The AFC's six picks tied a Pro Bowl record it set in the 1977 game. Adding the NFC's two interceptions, the eight combined broke the 1977 record of seven. Oakland safety Rod Woodson had two interceptions.

And it wasn't just the defense getting turnovers. Miami running back Ricky Williams caused a fumble when he popped New York Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey on a kickoff.

Meanwhile, Oakland quarterback Rich Gannon tried to snag a third Dan McGuire Award for being the game's MVP with two first-half touchdown passes (he finished 12-of-18 for 102 yards), but it instead went to Williams, who led all rushers with two touchdowns and 56 yards on 11 carries and had three receptions for 18 yards.

His favorite moment?

"Causing the fumble," said Williams, who once rambled on Aloha Stadium's turf as a collegian for Texas, which beat Hawai'i, 38-17, in 1995. "Anytime I got to run down on special teams was a lot of fun for me."

Williams was humbled by the award.

Miami running back Ricky Williams was named the MVP after helping the AFC win the Pro Bowl for the third straight year.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"We had a lot of guys on defense make a lot of plays," he said. "It could've gone to a bunch of guys. I was just fortunate it came to me."

Lost in the turnover party was Philadelphia's David Akers, who kicked a record 53-yard field goal against a brisk wind.

"That was a record?" said Akers, who broke the 51-yarders set by Detroit's Jason Hanson in 2000 and New Orleans' Morten Anderson in 1989. "Sweet. I didn't know."

Akers said he was hitting pre-game warmups from 69 yards.

"I was hoping to kick the long ones," said Akers, who also had a 45-yarder.

Speaking of long, New Orleans kick returner Michael Lewis, who finished with 214 yards in kickoff returns, started the game with a 47- and 60-yarder. He would leave the game later feeling nauseous, but returned in the second half and added a 55-yard return. His 47-yarder led to Akers' 45-yard field goal, but the other two returns were eventually negated by interceptions by Miami linebacker Zach Thomas and Dolphins defensive back Sam Madison.

"It just shows that we have a lot of good guys on our side of the ball," Thomas said. "We had three players get interceptions, and then Ricky Williams got the MVP."

The third Dolphin had the first interception of the game. Defensive end Jason Taylor leaped at the line of scrimmage to steal a pass by San Francisco quarterback Jeff Garcia. Taylor's 15-yard return to the NFC 31 set up the first of Williams' two TDs, a 1-yard run through the middle with 12:15 left in the first quarter.

The NFC pulled to 7-3 on Akers' 45-yard field goal, but the AFC responded with an eight-play, 71-yard drive that started with Kansas City's Tony Gonzalez dropping a Gannon pass, but concluded with the Chiefs tight end making an 11-yard reception to make it 14-3 with 5:06 left in the first quarter.

Ricky Williams said his favorite moment was "causing the fumble."

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

"I just had to settle in," said Gonzalez, who led the AFC with five catches for 98 yards. "The first catch is usually the hardest one. Once you get going, it's all downhill. You have a good time."

Early in the second quarter, Oakland's Woodson made Garcia's third interception of the game and returned it 17 yards to the NFC 33. Gannon was 4-of-6 for 35 yards in the seven-play series, ending it with a 13-yard pass to Buffalo's Travis Henry, who ran a loop from the backfield to get open over the middle. That made it 21-3 with 10:20 left in the half.

Williams caused Shockey's fumble on the ensuing kickoff, but the NFC got the ball back when Philadelphia cornerback Troy Vincent intercepted Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe in the end zone for a touchback.

After Akers' record field goal pulled the NFC to 21-6, the AFC strung together an 11-play, 71-yard drive. Williams capped it with his second 1-yard TD run by blasting through Washington cornerback Champ Bailey at the goal line.

"I love coming around the corner, especially in a game like this, they don't really want to tackle me, so I kind of had an unfair advantage," Williams said.

The half ended with a bizarre interception return by Woodson at the AFC 3 against Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb. Woodson lateraled to Brock Marion, who lateraled to Law, who then made an illegal forward pass to Taylor, who reached the NFC 29 as time ran out.

The AFC continued its assault by opening the second half with a 20-yard field goal by New England's Adam Vinatieri to make it 31-6.

The AFC continued the onslaught in the fourth quarter with Law's TD return against Tampa Bay's Brad Johnson.

"It was premeditated a little bit," Law said. "It was the route I've seen him do early in the game. I said, if he does it one more time, I'm going to jump one of them. So I made sure Rod Woodson had my back before I did it. I chose the right time to do it and it was off to the races."

The NFC wasted Lewis' ensuing kickoff return of 55 yards to the AFC 38, when Madison intercepted a Johnson pass and returned it 13 yards to the AFC 34. That set up a 32-yard TD pass from Indianapolis' Peyton Manning to Pittsburgh's Hines Ward, making it 45-6 with 7:31 to play.

Johnson made up for his interceptions with touchdown passes of 12 yards to New Orleans' Joe Horn and 4 yards to Bucs teammate Michael Alstott.