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Star-Bulletin Sports


Saturday, February 9, 2002


[PRO BOWL]

art
ILLUSTRATION BY KIP AOKI



In your face

The NFL stars are playing for
pride and the winner's check


By Dave Reardon
dreardon@starbulletin.com

OH, the hate.

The loathing, the scorn and the repulsion. The pure unadulterated contempt.

That's what the Pro Bowl is all about.

Logo The AFC hates the NFC and vice versa. Or that's what the NFL would like you to believe.

Patriots quarterback Tom Brady tried to do his part.

"We're gonna go out there and kick their butts," the Super Bowl MVP said.

Say what?

This comes from the man who is more Forrest Gump than Forrest Gregg, the guy who spent most of Wednesday chatting up kids in wheelchairs.

Please take into account Brady's sleep deprivation, tongue in cheek and winking eye.

In reality, he has about as much ill-will in him as Mother Teresa.

What Brady, a Pro Bowl rookie, doesn't realize yet is that kind of talk should be saved for halftime. That's when the players start thinking about the money and a long year of bragging rates. That's when they need to fire up.

Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy is in his third Pro Bowl. He's noticed that the game starts out as patty-cake but usually ends up closer to rollerball.

"Pride's on the line. Money's on the line. So if it's close, it gets really serious," he said. "It's friendly competition at the beginning, but in the second half people begin to realize there's money on the line. A $15,000 difference."

Even NFL stars have financial considerations.

"I'm sure I'll start thinking about those hotel expenses and all those tickets I paid for," San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Ray Brown said.

Olin Kreutz, the Bears lineman who went to St. Louis School, said all his Pro Bowl money will go to tickets for friends and family.

Bill Cowher of the Steelers is coaching the AFC for the third time. He has also noticed the trend of escalating intensity as the game goes along.

"Some of the guys are low-keying it, as usual," he said. "But when they look up at the scoreboard, that's a motivator."

The AFC's fire was stoked earlier in the week when Harrah's line came out, favoring the NFC by 312 points. Oh, these guys are pumped.

But Ray Lewis, the Ravens' cuddly linebacker, didn't take offense.

"None of that matters," he said. "We're always the underdogs one way or another. It didn't seem to bother the Patriots."

New England shocked the world and rocked the bookies all through the regular season and playoffs.

"Oh yeah, we'll take that," Patriots cornerback Ty Law said. "We've been the underdogs all year."

Law was co-MVP, with Keyshawn Johnson, of the 1999 Pro Bowl. Law, then a fourth-year NFL player, returned an interception 67 yards for a touchdown in the AFC's 23-10 victory.

Brady, a Michigan alumnus like Law, has also enjoyed success at Aloha Stadium. He quarterbacked the Wolverines over Hawaii in 1998.

Now he's teamed with Denver kicker Jason Elam, who might be the best UH football player ever.

That Jason Elam, another hate-filled guy.

He was like a little boy yesterday, beaming about his ride the previous day in an F-15.

Did Elam, who has a pilot's license, get some stick time?

"You know I can't tell you that," he said with a laugh.

It's the only question one of the NFL's most accommodating players dodged all week.

Tennessee's Bruce Matthews is finishing his 19th NFL season. He said it is probably his last.

Matthews has played in 14 Pro Bowls. His best memories of Hawaii will be about attaining camaraderie with men he gets paid to pummel all fall, he said.

"You build up a certain amount of hate for them during the season, but then you come here and realize how much you have in common and what quality people they are," Matthews said.

This is the 11th consecutive Pro Bowl for San Diego Chargers linebacker Junior Seau.

His attitude, at least 24 hours before kickoff, seemed to indicate he wants to keep it loose.

"Underdogs? We're actually going to play a game?"

Seau then got serious. He said the past season gave the players a new perspective. It began with the training camp death of one of the league's best and most popular players, Korey Stringer, closely followed by the events of Sept. 11.

"Korey's passing was a learning experience for us all. It's sad that it took the death of a good man for us to learn that we have to train and take care of ourselves better," Seau said. "And then everything changed. (Sept. 11) made us humble, more appreciative of each other, that we have this chance to be under the helmet."

Bills fullback Larry Centers said he reflected on larger things than football often last fall. He said the displays of patriotism throughout the season and at the Super Bowl were not too much.

"It was good for us to realize what is really important, As players and a league, we became stronger and more bonded, like we did as a nation," he said. "The terrible events made us realize who the real heroes are. The military, the fire and police personnel.

"They're playing for keeps," Centers said. "We're just playing war games."

When the NFC goes on offense

NFC head coach Andy Reid may rely on Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb more than San Francisco's Jeff Garcia or Kurt Warner of St. Louis if the game is close down the stretch. That's because McNabb is more familiar with the Philadelphia offense. As McNabb's head coach, Reid also knows what his quarterback can handle in certain situations.

When the AFC goes on offense

AFC head coach Bill Cowher is prone to be conservative on offense, but look for him to give quarterbacks Rich Gannon of Oakland and Tom Brady of New England plenty of latitude. Like NFC head coach Andy Reid, Cowher has his own quarterback by his side in Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart. He, too, may turn to Stewart in key spots because of his familiarity with the Steelers' offense.



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