Pro Bowl is nothing like real football, but entertainment comes in odd forms
THE Pro Bowl is not a real football game, of course. Oh, officially they wear helmets and there are bruises and they play on a regulation-size field, but let's not kid ourselves. They practice for about 11 minutes and ESPN's Suzy Kolber does interviews while the game is going on and coach Barry Switzer once went for a hot dog and new Hall of Famer Troy Aikman once left for the mainland instead of coming out for the second half. A real football game -- football people, actually -- would not stand for any of these things. But everyone goes with the flow at the Pro Bowl.
And so my own most cherished memories of the annual NFL All-Star event at Aloha Stadium through the years aren't plays or scores or game-saving tackles or great runs, but:
» Hanging out in the NFL All-Star mascots' locker room as they lounged around sans costume, their game faces lying around them in heaps. They all tried to top each other in a jazz session of wild stories, wicked zingers and playful roughhousing -- a Friars Club with feathers and fur.
» Baltimore linebacker Ray Lewis on the sidelines apparently doing some sort of kung fu.
» Walking to the press box with ex-quarterback Boomer Esiason (he has no idea who I am, we just got off the same elevator and were headed for the same place) when a fan yelled out, "Hey, Phil!"
JAMM AQUNO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
The start of yesterday's NFL Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium had a sold-out crowd watch the NFL's best duke it out. Bob Repin, left, of Chicago, and Louann Grohnan and Charles Evans of Mays Landing, N.J., showed their support at kickoff by donning their favorite players' jerseys.
No, as you can see, the Pro Bowl is not about football per se. Today, no one will be talking about blitz packages or protection problems or even turning points when discussing yesterday's 23-17 NFC win. No, the Pro Bowl is about event buzz and wacky moments and a cast of characters you won't find any other time at any other place. This is what you get when you throw together 80-something All-Pro NFL players, 50,000 fans of every team in the league, assorted ESPN semicelebs, jelly-bellied mascots, scantily clad cheerleaders, several halftime-show props, a guy with a foam Jerome Bettis bus on his head.
And a guy with cheese on his head. And a guy with blond Vikings pigtails on his head. And a guy with a "Friday the 13th" mask on his head. And a guy with a Seattle Seahawks official "We got screwed!" hat on his head.
And a guy with an authentic Pittsburgh Steelers helmet on his head, yesterday at the Pro Bowl, complete with chin strap, all buckled up.
"Have a good game," a passerby tells him encouragingly.
Where did he get that helmet?
"I bought it!" James Lake says.
He bought it? That's the real thing. How much did it cost?
"$236!" he says.
Holy cow. And his last name is spelled ...
"Like a big body of water!" he says.
Now here comes Lake's buddy, wearing a perfectly painted Steelers helmet hard-hat construction helmet.
"I made that!" says Lake, a Schofield Barracks soldier from Pittsburgh who has done a tour in Afghanistan. "I found it on the H-2! Look at that! It's still got cement on it!
"I was going down H-2, and I pulled over and pulled it out of the gutter!" he says.
At this point they are accosted by passing Steelers fans overwhelmed by the coolness of their helmets.
This is the kind of weird, wild scene you'll see at the Pro Bowl.
Which brings us to Aaron Diaz, dressed in -- what is this, velvet? -- a Cincinnati Bengals pimp suit. Yes, a pimp suit. He has the furry, wide-brimmed hat and matching orange coat with white trim and stripes. He looks like something out of "I'm Gonna Git You, Sucka."
"I found it at the mall," he says. Of course. Of course he did. It is his tribute to Bengals receiver Chad Johnson, whose jersey he wears underneath.
But we can't talk sports fashion all day. The Navy SEALs Flying Froglegs sky- diving team is arriving via parachute. It is a magical moment. The chicken skin builds as each man lands. Every parachute gets a touchdown ovation, every one louder than the one before.
"We can hear that up there, too," Petty Officer 1st Class Tony Delvecchio says as he pulls an arm out of his jump suit, still stoked, still flying, still hearing the cheers.
"We're only one of two teams that can jump over a populated area," he would say.
It is a big responsibility, being trusted not to land on anyone.
The game itself was a good one, for an All-Star exhibition. It looks like people were actually hitting each other this year. There were several interceptions, a few fumbles, sacks. Some nice catches. A handful of scoring plays.
A woman held up a sign that read, "I came for Tom Brady, now I'm here for the beer." Between the third and fourth quarters, a guy ran onto the field and was immediately tackled by 57 people, luckily, none of them Pro Bowl players.
The Star-Bulletin's Nick Abramo spotted fans with jerseys from all 32 NFL teams.
Seahawks linebacker Lofa Tatupu (son of former Punahou star Mosi) gave his skullcap to a kid.
It was a good Pro Bowl. It isn't a real football game, of course. It never is. But everyone had fun. Everyone always does.