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Out of Bounds: A Pro Bowl experience

by Chris Alcantara, associate Sports editor

 

Professional football players go to war week-in ,week- out through a grueling 16-game regular season schedule. A few deserving teams then go on to three more weeks of intense practice and playoff games, all chasing after the one goal of every player in the league, the Super Bowl. But at the end of the season, two elite squads are chosen for one more game. The best players from the National Football League are selected to come here to O‘ahu to play in the final clash of titans at Aloha Stadium.

This is of course the NFL Pro Bowl, and this season it took place on Feb. 2. This was my first trip to the Pro Bowl ,and I was soon to find out the game itself is only a small part of the attraction.

 

Starting the day after the Super Bowl, O‘ahu comes to life with football spirit in preparation for the big game. With all the “hoopla” surrounding it, the Pro Bowl is always a huge economic opportunity for many businesses on the island. With the arrival of the players comes the arrival of many tourists intent on a Pro Bowl “experience.” Pre-game action includes everything from a “Beach Bowling Bash” outside of the Hilton Hawaiian Village, to endless festivities at Fort DeRussy, to nightclub promotions around Waikiki which gave fans the opportunity to mingle with their favorite NFL super stars before the game. Now, when game-day finally rolled around, I was ready for some football, but the festivities had only just begun.

Every football fan knows going to the game isn’t the same without a healthy session of tailgating first, and we were not about to break such a hallowed tradition. So my roommates and I took the necessary precautions only to find ourselves meager in our efforts. We were surrounded by people who had taken tailgating as we knew it and turned it into a bonafied art form. There were grills galore, the unmistakable smells of barbequed meat and mass beer consumption, stereos “bumping” loudly, state-of-the-art lawn chairs with matching canopies, and the essential football for a little “parking lot Pro Bowl” of their own. Becoming almost a sport in its own right, we found that many tailgaters had no intention of actually going into the stadium. The fact that they made the trip just for the tailgating and were content to just hear the game on a radio was a display of dedication that should touch the hearts of football fans everywhere.

As game time approached, we wrapped up the tailgate and made our way to the ticket booth. Luckily our tickets were at the will call window, and we did not have to wait in the main ticket lines which stretched all the way back to the parking lot.

Once inside, we trudged through masses of fans and vendors on the way to our seats and were pleasantly surprised to be sitting in the eighth row on the 20-yard line with the players’ families. I guess one could call it luck: it was one of those “we knew a guy who knew a guy” type deals, and we weren’t complaining. We were close enough to the field so that all the players on the sidelines were up close, personal, and fully life-size. We watched in awe as these freakishly talented athletes we’ve spent so many Sundays worshipping and hating warmed up right in front of us.

While the players headed for the locker rooms for final preparation, an array of endless ceremonies began. First off was a ceremony honoring five inductees to the NFL Hall of Fame, headlined by former Raider’s superstar running back Marcus Allen. Then fireworks were followed by a ceremonial fly-over by a team from the U.S. Air Force. After that there was an amazing stunt performed by a team of Navy Seals, who parachuted down to a spectacular landing right onto the astro turf of Aloha Stadium. Two Seals even parachuted in tandem only to separate at the last minute and land individually for a little added excitement. All of the patriotic acts were then warmly dedicated to the fallen members of the Columbia space shuttle crash.

The NFL all-star mascot team was then introduced as its members and paraded around the field on weird looking two-wheeled contraptions that shot fireworks out of the back. Finally the players from each team were announced, sending the fans into frenzied cheering at the name of their NFL favorites.

Followed by yet more fireworks, the show then moved onto the ceremonial singing of the Hawai‘i state anthem courtesy of native Hawaiian recording artist Kapono. Then, close to 1,000 color coordinated dancers rushed the field for a ceremonial performance of our nation’s anthem sung by R&B recording artist Brandy. During the Star Spangled Banner, another, once again “ceremonial,” fly-over took place. This time it was by Challenger, the only Bald Eagle ever to be trained for such acts, as he swooped down into the stadium landing on his trainer’s arm. Next, captains from each team were called to meet in the middle of the field for the, you guessed it, the “ceremonial” coin toss. The coin was flipped, anticipation grew high, and kick-off time was here at last.

However, once the game started it unfortunately proved to take second stage to everything else going on around it. In a flurry of interceptions, field goal attempts, and bad defense, the AFC (American Football Conference) jumped out to a 28-6 lead over the NFC (National Football Conference). The uncompetitive first half of the game seemed a little less interesting compared to the teams of all-star cheerleaders rotating around the sidelines and the hilarious battles between team mascots. Next to the line of kids trying to get players autographs, was an even larger line of middle-aged men drooling over the cheerleaders and begging for autographs.

As the Pro Bowl half-time show started, the 1,000 dancers again rushed the field and a stage was quickly erected at the 50-yard line where singer/actress Jennifer Love Hewitt, on a moving platform that elevated her above the main stage, performed a song from her latest album.

The game soon resumed and the second half brought much of the same luck for the NFC as they continued to be routed by an energized AFC team that drove down the field with ease on every possession. We decided to partake in “slightly” overpriced snacks from the concession stand, because a football game wouldn’t be the same without a good ol’ hot dog. Little did we know what we had gotten ourselves into as we were handed unbelievable behemoths of a hot dog. Two pounds of meat is one thing, but two pounds of hot dog meat was almost too much to handle.

As the fourth quarter wound down, my roommates and I began to reflect on the day’s happenings. Between the cheerleaders, tailgating, and parachuting Navy Seals, we sometimes forgot that there was even a game going on. It was an eventful day to say the least, and as the game ended, one last ceremony took place in the crowning of the game’s MVP, who turned out to be Miami Dolphins running back, Ricky Williams, for his two-touchdown effort.

These were just some of the things that made my first Pro Bowl a truly “ceremonious occasion,” and hopefully it won’t be my last. I never knew I could be so content watching so little actual football at a football game, and I think I speak for many when I say, bless the person who came up with the idea of having a Pro Bowl cheerleading team. It’s sheer brilliance in my book.

 

 

 

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