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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, February 13, 2005

Pro Bowl receives high praise

 •  Pro Bowl roster

By Brandon Masuoka
Advertiser Staff Writer

Critical Pro Bowl comments from former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman touched a nerve with players and fans this week of the annual NFL all-star game, which will be played today for the 26th time at Aloha Stadium.

As testament to the Pro Bowl's popularity, fans at Aloha Stadium work hard to get Tom Brady's autograph.

Ben Margot • Associated Press

WHEN: Today, 2:30 p.m.

WHERE: Aloha Stadium.

TV: Live on ESPN.

TICKETS: Sold out.

GATES: Parking gates open at 10 a.m. (Parking $5.) Stadium gates open at 11:30 a.m.


10 a.m.-2 p.m.: "Aloha Zone" Tailgate Party at Aloha Stadium parking lot near Gate 4. Tickets available at the door.

11:30 a.m.-2 p.m.: Official Pro Bowl Tailgate Party "Magic of the Sea" at Richardson Field. Advance tickets required. Tickets available at Ticketmaster.com, (877) 750-4400 and at all Ticketmaster ticket centers.

2 p.m.: Pro Bowl Pregame Show at Aloha Stadium.

2:30 p.m.: 2004 NFL Pro Bowl Game, AFC All-Stars vs. NFC All-Stars, Aloha Stadium.

Aikman told The Associated Press before the Super Bowl that he'd like to see an end to the Pro Bowl, and added most players felt the same way.

"Paul Tagliabue won't want to hear this, but nobody wants to play in the Pro Bowl," said Aikman, a six-time Pro Bowler who was once fined by NFL commissioner Tagliabue for leaving the all-star game after the third quarter. "Everybody wants to be voted and go to Hawai'i and be there ... (but) nobody wants to play. I don't watch it. I don't know who watches it."

The comments by Aikman — one of the most high-profile figures to criticize the Pro Bowl — stung some players and fans, and belittled a game that is considered the crown jewel of sporting events in Hawai'i. Last October, the state and NFL signed a $21 million contract to keep the Pro Bowl in Honolulu through 2009. The game brings in 18,000 visitors to Hawai'i and accounts for more than $25 million in visitor spending, according to the Hawai'i Tourism Authority.

Joe Mazzullo of Diamond Head said Aikman's comments hurt the state and NFL fans such as himself.

"It's almost disrespectful to the fans of Hawai'i who wait all year for this to come around," said Mazzullo, a Kalihi-Uka Elementary teacher who paid $100 for his ticket. "We wanted so badly to keep it in Hawai'i because this is our one shot. This is what we love. It's (Aikman's comments) kind of like a kick to the stomach."

Blaise DeMello of Kahului, Maui, said he has traveled to Honolulu every year to watch the Pro Bowl since 1987.

"I think it was just bad vibes that (Aikman) got," said DeMello, a warehouse worker who has paid more than $325 in expenses for this trip. "I love the Pro Bowl. I'm going to keep supporting the game by coming here. This is the only time we get to see these guys. We can't go up to the Mainland and watch them."

Aikman, a three-time Super Bowl champion who is now a TV analyst, said the game is dangerous, should be replaced with a skills competition, and is especially difficult for players who just completed the Super Bowl.

Pro Bowl players such as Larry Izzo of Super Bowl champion New England disagreed with Aikman, saying the Pro Bowl was not a waste of time.

"It's such a wonderful time to be selected to play in this game," said Izzo, a three-time Pro Bowler. "So to miss it just because your season went a little long, I can't really relate to that. We played as long as anybody and you see all of our representatives out here."

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady — who has played in nine postseason games since 2001 and won all of them — said he enjoyed coming to the Pro Bowl, and called it a "nice reward."

"I think it's fun for everyone to come," Brady said. "I think everybody enjoys it. It's hard for the guys who I think haven't played in four weeks to come over here and play. But at the same time, it's a nice reward and it's great to be honored by your peers."

New England kicker Adam Vinatieri said there is a risk of injury in the game, and he understood why some players bypassed it because of injuries sustained in the season. As for himself, Vinatieri said, "It's a great experience for us, and we appreciate the opportunity to play in this game."

Six-time Pro Bowl center Kevin Mawae of the New York Jets called Aikman's comments silly. Mawae said the game is important to the players, especially the first-year Pro Bowl honorees, and the fans and military personnel who attend.

"To say that we just need to do away with (the Pro Bowl), I think that's just an asinine statement," Mawae said. "Everybody has their own opinion. He (Aikman) definitely played in a lot of these out here, so he's entitled to say how he feels.

"I know (cornerback) Tory James from Cincinnati, I've played with him in college (at Louisiana State) ... this is his first Pro Bowl, and he's excited as ever to be out here," Mawae added.

Five-time Pro Bowl quarterback Peyton Manning of the Colts said the game has not lost its luster with him, and he looks forward to coming to Hawai'i.

"I love coming here," Manning said. "It's always an honor to be voted in. I've had a great time. People in Hawai'i do a great job taking care of us. If I get voted back, I'll come back every year."

Three-time Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Taylor of the Miami Dolphins said he likes the Pro Bowl as is, and he didn't see any need to change the format of the all-star game.

"It's been fine with me the way it is," Taylor said. "You don't want to add a whole lot more as far as physical games and all that, because there's more risk of guys getting beat up."

As far as excitement, the past few Pro Bowl games have proved quite competitive. Last year, the NFC rallied from an 18-point deficit in the final 13 minutes for a 55-52 victory over the AFC.

"From a fan standpoint, I think the games have been a little bit better than what the perception is," veteran ESPN NFL reporter Chris Mortensen said. "Last year was an example.

"I know Peyton Manning, every time he shows up, he's playing to win," Mortensen continued. "When (Oakland Raiders quarterback) Rich Gannon was here, he took it seriously."

For the record, players on the winning team will each earn $35,000 (coaches get $15,000), while losing team members each earn $17,500 (coaches get $10,000).

Dustin Detwiler, of Wahiawa, and his wife, Jennifer, said they're thrilled to attend the Pro Bowl. He said he hoped players would feel the same way.

"From what I've heard players say, a lot of them say it's an honor to be selected and stuff like that," Detwiler said. "They have a good time, not just in the game, but coming out here and hanging out in the islands and bringing family out here. Maybe some players don't like it, but I think most players enjoy coming out here."

Reach Brandon Masuoka at bmasuoka@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2458.

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