The beast at play is a sight to behold: It is never completely
tame and is always a bit awkward in the sunshine, but that
doesn't mean it can't get a tan. The beast is the National
Football League, the mightiest monster in American sport, and
when it comes to Hawaii for the annual Pro Bowl between the best
of the NFC and the AFC, the rule book stays home.
The Pro Bowl is the least compelling of the four major all-star
games, but the culture that surrounds it is rich. From the
middle of July through the end of January, the NFL operates with
the urgency and single-mindedness of an army in combat. Then it
comes to Hawaii and gets footloose and funky. Bitter rivals rub
elbows, and coaches devise game plans as complex as Dick and
Jane. There are no long meetings or bed checks, and football
starts to feel like a game again, the way it was before the
money got crazy and the players began taking themselves too
"The Pro Bowl is the one time when players can let down their
guard, enjoy their status and revel in the joys of their
profession," says former New England Patriot and San Francisco
49ers tight end Russ Francis, who is now sports director at
KGMB-TV in Honolulu. "It's camaraderie and adventure--the way
football used to be."
The game itself, though, has more restrictions than the Pritikin
diet. The rules say that on offense there can be no motion, no
shifting and no formations that have three receivers on one side
of the line. On defense, players must line up in a standard 4-3
formation and are prohibited from using pass-rush stunts,
linebacker blitzes and extra defensive backs. For the further
protection of the quarterbacks, there is no penalty for
February 12, 1996
While some superstars, most notably Miami Dolphins quarterback
Dan Marino, find excuses not to play in the Pro Bowl, others,
such as San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Jerry Rice and Green
Bay Packers defensive end Reggie White, show up as faithfully as
the big surf on Oahu's north shore. Rice, who in 1995 caught a
career-high 122 passes for a league-record 1,848 yards, comes
because he is quite possibly the most determined and obsessed
performer of his time. Hanging out last week by the enormous
circular pool at the Ihilani Resort, 30 miles northwest of
Waikiki, Rice said with a straight face, "Last year was pretty
rough for me. The day I get home, I'm starting my workout
program, and I feel like if I really work hard over the
off-season, this year can be a very good one."
The NFL used to house the Pro Bowl players at a high-rise hotel
in the heart of bustling Waikiki Beach. The proximity to
nightlife was enticing to many of the players, but others were
put off by the constant barrage of autograph hounds and video
cameras. This point was underscored when Dallas Cowboys
quarterback Troy Aikman, drained and frazzled after a week in
Hawaii, left the 1993 game after the third quarter and headed
straight for the airport.
Perhaps as a result the NFL decided to bunk the players at the
Ihilani, a lovely resort that sits on a private cove. More
players are now bringing their families with them, and this
year, in addition to nonparticipating players and a swarm of
agents, executives from many NFL teams made the scene at the
Ihilani. Ostensibly they were scouting Pro Bowl practices; in
fact, they were trying to get a jump on the free-agency signing
period, which doesn't officially begin until Feb. 16. That might
have been bending the rules a bit, but, as we said, normal rules
don't apply at the Pro Bowl.
Which makes it the perfect place for a free spirit like Cowboys
defensive end Charles Haley, who on Jan. 28 became the first NFL
player to play on five winning Super Bowl teams. Sharing a
poolside table with former Niners tight end Jamie Williams,
Haley was holding forth on the 49ers, his employer until they
traded him to the Cowboys in 1992. "If they had just left me the
f--- alone, I could have stayed there," said Haley, who
collected two of his Super Bowl rings with the Niners.
In what might seem like a scary notion to potential suitors,
Miami Dolphins linebacker Bryan Cox, a free agent this winter,
said he was learning a great deal from Haley. "He's teaching me
to not let other people's opinions influence my behavior," said
Cox, who was fined $17,500 by the league this season for
spitting at Buffalo Bills fans as he headed for the locker room
after being thrown out of a game on Dec. 17. "He simply doesn't
back down, and that's eye-opening."
This was evident as Haley discussed his most recent season with
the Cowboys. "At one point I lost too much weight, and they were
going to fine me," he said. "I told them they might as well take
away a game check too, because I wasn't playing that week. Do
you think they fined me? Hell, no!"
There were no fines levied at the Ihilani either, where the
NFL's hard edge was softened by the gentle Hawaiian breezes.
Scenes unfolded here that could never take place during the
regular season, when football is a life-or-death struggle. San
Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau and Indianapolis Colts
quarterback Jim Harbaugh staged a series of poolside chess
matches--they ended up playing to a 2-2 draw--interrupted at
various times by Harbaugh's taking calls on a cellular phone.
Life in the modern-day NFL is not quite that simple. Some
players are no longer sure where their teams will reside next
fall: Pro Bowl players from the L.A.-turned-Oakland Raiders
(guard Steve Wisniewski, defensive tackle Chester McGlockton,
cornerback Terry McDaniel and wideout Tim Brown), the
Houston-soon-to-be-Nashville Oilers (center Mark Stepnoski) and
the Seattle-soon-to-be-Southern California Seahawks (defensive
tackle Cortez Kennedy) sounded like real estate agents in the
Said Wisniewski, "On Friday, Stepnoski's asking Terry about
Tennessee, because Terry lives there in the off-season. I'm
talking to [49ers linebacker] Ken Norton about the Bay Area
because we're moving our facility to Oakland this year. And then
me and Chester are trying to sell our houses to Cortez, because
the Seahawks might be moving to L.A. I offered him the deal of
Real estate was not on the agenda at the Thursday night
gathering hosted by Hawaiian native and Pro Bowl tackle Mark
Tuinei of the Cowboys, and his wife, Ponolani. On the karaoke
stage Ponolani sang an A-plus version of Tina Turner's What's
Love Got to Do with It; her husband followed with a passable
rendition of Unchained Melody. Then 325-pound Cowboys guard Nate
Newton attempted to sing Kool and the Gang's Ladies Night. Said
witness Dave Guingona, a San Francisco television producer who
has attended the last 14 Pro Bowls, "It was probably the worst
karaoke moment here since [former Los Angeles Raiders tackle]
Henry Lawrence butchered Lionel Ritchie's All Night Long in 1985."
Guingona is a marvelous source of Pro Bowl lore. There was the
time in the mid-'80s when a bull escaped from a local zoo and
former New York Jets defensive end Mark Gastineau wrestled the
animal on a Honolulu street. Then there was the infamous NFC
huddle in '93 in which then Niners running back Ricky Watters
and two-way star Deion Sanders, then with the Atlanta Falcons,
demanded the ball from quarterback Steve Young of the 49ers
while receivers Rice and Dallas's Michael Irvin accused each
other of being the league's most selfish player.
This year the strangest Pro Bowl happening was a scary one.
Larry Centers, the Arizona Cardinals' talented 27-year-old
fullback, showed up in Honolulu on Monday and began behaving
"like he was possessed," says 49ers safety Tim McDonald, a
former teammate of Centers's in Phoenix. Centers, according to
witnesses, issued wild-eyed proclamations about Jesus one
moment, then in the next breath referred to former Cardinals
coach Buddy Ryan as the devil. He broke into tears during a team
photo session and had fits of uncontrollable laughter in meetings.
On Tuesday, Centers was placed under a doctor's care and
alternate Craig (Ironhead) Heyward of the Falcons was summoned
from the mainland. By the weekend Centers had regained his
equilibrium, but he did not attend the game. "I'm doing great,"
he said on Saturday night. "I got a little sick. But I'm having
a good time. Hey, this is paradise."
As for the game, the NFC held on for a 20-13 victory, and
afterward there were smiles all around in both locker rooms.
"It's been a great week," said Philadelphia Eagles defensive end
William Fuller. "What makes this truly special is that we can
hang out with guys we spend all season trying to kill."