Three Cheers For The Pro Bowl

Jerry Coffee
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Wednesday - February 21, 2007
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The Coffee family album includes more than one picture of yers truly in a football get-up, the earliest as a four year old on the farm in bib overalls wearing a cardboard helmet and holding a football twice the size of my head. My love for the game endured through adolescence without little league or Pop Warner play. Two years as an undersized second-string quarterback for the Modesto High Panthers, Intramural flag football at UCLA and in the Navy scratched my itch until a blown-out knee put me off the field and into the infirmary - all the time cheering on my often hapless San Francisco 49ers. So I really get excited when the NFL Pro Bowl comes to town.

For you readers for whom football is ho-hum, why does the Pro Bowl turn some of us on? It’s much more than football. The annual Pro Bowl (the 37th this year) pits the American Football Conference against the National Football Conference was probably the biggest win-win event held in our state this year - rather ironic since most of the fans didn’t really care too much who won. It’s the cultural spectacle, the rite of “ownership” for millions (including the TV audience) of blue collar fans who never attended college and who’s loyalty is attached not to the team of an “alma mater” but to their city’s team, maybe the only “home team” they’ve ever known. That’s why they spend millions on NFL licensed apparel and souvenirs each year.

From Seattle to Miami, San Diego to Boston, and from 28 more NFL cities, pro football fans flocked to Aloha Stadium sporting their colorful, team caps, team jerseys with their favorite play-er’s name across the back, Green Bay Packers “Cheese Head” hats,Tampa Bay Buccaneer Styrofoam cutlasses, and face and body paint celebrating their team colors. Young military fans stationed far from home cheered their favorite players with rowdy enthusiasm, a temporary elixir for home sickness. For most fans it was, to some degree, a reconnection with their roots.

The Pro Bowl comes after the championship Super Bowl game, so it provided a fitting conclusion to the season by rewarding the NFL’s best. Because many players make the Hawaii trip a family vacation, local and NFL sponsored events were family oriented. Most players and families stayed at the Ihilani Resort, the more remote location enhancing the players privacy. But privacy was not supreme. Players spent hours talking with fans and signing autographs at the Ihilani practice field and at the public practices held at Aloha Stadium. They made appearances at hospitals and schools, and conducted hands-on football clinics for kids. Even the glamorous NFL cheerleaders visited hospitals and military units, signed autographs, and conducted cheer leading clinics for young girls. And, although garnering receipts from stadium admission tickets, concessions and parking, the NFL made generous contributions to several local charities.

As always, the visitor count spiked again at Pro Bowl time, and was up 1.8 percent over last year. An estimated 30 to 40 million dollars accrued to the state’s coffers. Of course, the most obvious benefit was the six to eight hours of nationally televised Pro Bowl activities, and the game itself with a halftime show featuring hundreds of local and visiting youngsters, Kapono, a stylized volcano and thunderous fireworks, all under blue skies, lazy palms and with happy, sun drenched crowds.

Although with much less on the line, the game itself was more exciting than the Super Bowl, a field goal in the final three seconds providing a win for the AFC.

And overall it was a big win for the NFL, it’s players and their families, a win for the multi-partisaned fans, a win for the state of Hawaii, and a win for those shivering blizzard-bound TV viewers who were moved to schedule a sunny Hawaii vacation.

And all of this with only two 49er helmets on the field ... maybe next year!

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