Tuesday, January 28, 2003

Adam Vinatieri, kicker for the Patriots, signed a helmet belonging to Glenn Casil at Honolulu Airport yesterday.

Pro Bowl players arrive,
open practice today

Those not fortunate enough
to play in the Super Bowl are here

By Nick Abramo

Adam Vinatieri's next stop in the NFL fast lane is Aloha Stadium for Sunday's Pro Bowl.

The New England Patriots place-kicker arrived in Honolulu yesterday and begins practice with the AFC squad today.

Things didn't fall into place for Vinatieri this season the same way as a year ago, when he kicked the Super Bowl's game-winning field goal as time ran out.

"It was disappointing to have failed to make the playoffs," Vinatieri said while signing autographs for a few hundred fans at Honolulu Airport. "We had players who did well individually, but if you don't do well collectively, then it's not quite the same.

"It turned out to be kind of a lost season, but if we focus on attaining our goals and get rid of some of our injuries, we should be able to come back strong."

Vinatieri was relegated to playing the role of viewer for this year's Super Bowl.

"I enjoyed playing in it a lot more than watching it," he said. "It was a whole different situation, different atmosphere.

"I was hoping Tampa Bay would win because they had never been there before and it was nice to see them get it."

New York Jets center Kevin Mawae also flew in yesterday for his fourth straight Pro Bowl appearance.

Mawae is the son of David Mawae, a native Hawaiian who was born in Kalihi and then lived in Anahola on Kauai. Kevin grew up in Louisiana, but he still has family in many places here.

"We started off our season really slow," Mawae said. "Everybody counted us out, but we didn't count ourselves out. We had faith in the belief we could come back. The big things were Chad Pennington, who is an excellent young quarterback, and Curtis Martin, who started getting healthy again.

"We went into the playoffs pretty confident against Oakland, but we didn't play as well as we thought going into the game. Still, winning our division was a great accomplishment."

Mawae usually visits relatives when he comes to the Pro Bowl, but this year he and his wife plan to "lay low" and relax.

He said he was fortunate to have assimilated to Hawaiian culture as a kid.

"I danced hula and was taught the special meaning of ohana and to have strong family values," he said.

Philadelphia's 6-foot-7 tackle Jon Runyan wasn't hard to spot, towering over the long line of autograph hounds.

"I'm happy about the way our season went, especially when we kept on winning even after what happened to Donovan (McNabb, the quarterback who missed six weeks with an ankle injury)," Runyan said. "I have a pretty good feeling about what we accomplished."

The Eagles were good enough to make it to the NFC Championship game for the second year in a row, but lost their bid to make the Super Bowl to eventual champion Tampa Bay.

"I watched it (the Super Bowl) on TV," Runyan said. "The most surprising thing was how Tampa Bay's defense scored so many times."

Runyan, a seven-year veteran, is playing in his first Pro Bowl.

"It's a nice reward for playing so hard for so many years," he said.

Pittsburgh defensive tackle Casey Hampton is here though he won't play in the Pro Bowl.

"It was really nice to see the water coming in on the plane," Hampton said. "I'm from Galveston (Texas) and I go to the beach all the time, but it's not as nice as here.

"I'm here to have a good time and to support my teammates."

In Hampton's rookie season a year ago, the Steelers made it to the AFC title game. This year, they were knocked out in the divisional playoffs by Tennessee.

"We've got the players, got the talent," Hampton said. "And we've got a good shot at being there (Super Bowl) next year."

Note: Autograph seeker Roger Leake put in mega-hours seeking signatures this week. He spent six hours at the airport on Friday and got just one autograph - from Chicago quarterback Jim Miller, who isn't playing in the Pro Bowl.

Leake, who is in the U.S. Army and stationed at Schofield Barracks, also spent eight hours on Saturday and 10 hours on Sunday trying to get ink from the players.

Yesterday, he arrived at 4 a.m. and planned on staying until 8 p.m.

"We only get football superstars here once a year," Leake said. "I love football, I played football in high school and in semi-pro. That's why I do this. I love it."

He said he doesn't get mad if athletes don't want to sign.

"You can't get upset," he said. "You gotta get up early and pay the price."

Leake was rewarded with signatures from Miami middle linebacker Zach Thomas and Green Bay receiver Donald Driver, but he most cherishes the one from Chicago linebacker Brian Urlacher.

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