GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann shared a laugh with Tiki Barber of the Giants and Will Shields of the Chiefs yesterday.
If the players have their way, the Pro Bowl will stay
If the opinions of Tiki Barber and Will Shields are indicators, NFL players prefer that the Pro Bowl remain in Hawaii.
"I think most the players love coming out here, especially some of us from the East Coast. It's such a far trip that you wouldn't take it otherwise. When you get honored to come out here, it's special," said Barber, the New York Giants running back who concludes his NFL career with next Saturday's Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium, his third consecutive.
"There's something special about it still being in the United States, and in the most beautiful place."
Barber spoke yesterday at a news conference promoting the game.
Pro Bowl Events
» Pro Bowl Kickoff Rally, noon Wednesday, at Tamarind Park. Free.
» Pro Bowl Football Festival, noon to 6 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday at Kapiolani Park. Games, entertainment, souvenirs, autographs. Free admission.
» Pro Bowl Ohana Day Celebration, 9 a.m. to noon Friday, at Aloha Stadium. See the players, get a preview of the halftime entertainment. Free.
» Pro Bowl All-Star Block Party, 7 p.m. Friday, Kalakaua Avenue, Waikiki. Entertainment on five stages, appearances by NFL all-pro players and cheerleaders. Free.
» Pro Bowl, 1 p.m. next Saturday at Aloha Stadium. Mayor Hannemann does ceremonial pregame coin toss.
» Pro Bowl Sunset on the Beach, 6:30 p.m. next Saturday, Queen's Beach in Waikiki. Free.
In December, NFL senior vice president of events Frank Supovitz said the league might invoke a clause in its contract with the state and move the game to a location abroad next year (such a move would add another year onto the end of the Hawaii contract). That would end a string of 28 consecutive Pro Bowls at Aloha Stadium going back to 1980.
Yesterday though, another NFL official said next year's Pro Bowl will likely remain in Hawaii, although a move "has not been ruled out."
"At this point, there is not a plan to do that and we are focusing on this event. If you don't focus as hard as you can on the current event you will make mistakes," Pro Bowl event director Michael Humphrey said.
Shields, who plays guard for the Kansas City Chiefs, will be in his 12th Pro Bowl this week.
"I think it would be difficult for the players to try to travel to places so far away like Australia or Japan. Plus, this is an all-star game for the best players in the U.S. -- it wouldn't have that same feel if our all-star game was played in another country," Shields said. "Now if you wanted to have it be a U.S. all-stars vs. the world type thing, then that would be one thing.
"Hawaii is such a unique place because there's nowhere else that you get the same type of feeling you get when you visit here," said Shields, who has developed an affection for Zip-Pac bentos. "There's a warmness and just a feeling that's hard to describe that you wouldn't get in Los Angeles or anywhere else in the United States that makes this such a unique experience."
GEORGE F. LEE / GLEE@STARBULLETIN.COM
NFL players Tiki Barber and Will Shields autographed surfboards custom-designed by local shapers at a Pro Bowl news conference yesterday. The boards will be auctioned off for charity.
Honolulu Mayor Mufi Hannemann has pumped up Pro Bowl week activities this year, including an unprecedented block party in Waikiki.
"We are the city that is the hostess with the mostess," Hannemann said.
He said he fully expects Aloha Stadium will continue to host the game.
"I have not been notified otherwise, so we're continuing as planned. We expect the game will be here and at least through the duration of the contract (through 2009)," he said. "It's all part of our ongoing marketing effort to make sure the National Football League knows we're willing to do anything and everything to show why this is such an attractive venue. The game is still very much evolving, and we want it to stay here."
While Barber thinks Honolulu is where the Pro Bowl belongs, he agrees with the NFL's strategy of globalizing American football.
"The NFL is making a big push to getting our game into other markets. They're talking about playing a regular-season game in London next year. I think it's a good thing for the league. They've done a great job with popularity within the states and they're looking for growth opportunities," Barber said. "It's always great to go to other parts of the world, whether it's Japan, or Europe. But Hawaii is special. It's in the United States and it's our game."
Hannemann was pleased with the support of the players.
"I'm making them honorary ambassadors," the mayor said. "Ambassador Barber, Ambassador Shields."
Another sellout: Humphrey said tickets for next Saturday's game are sold out. It is the 28th consecutive sellout for the Pro Bowl at 50,000-seat Aloha Stadium.
Retiring types?: Shields, a 14-year pro, said he's considering retirement.
"I'm not for sure about anything at this point. I'm just going to see if I can get through this game first and then I'll sit down and think about it," he said. "It's something that always crosses your mind, especially at my age (35). Anytime you pass that 10th year you start to really think hard about it."
Shields said he would spend his time coaching and maybe learning how to play guitar and saxophone.
"I've also got my own foundation I'm working with. We have about 40 different groups of people we work with in the Kansas City area and there's also a couple of places in Nebraska and Oklahoma as well," he said.
Barber has written three children's books with his twin brother, Ronde, a cornerback with Tampa Bay who is also in next Saturday's Pro Bowl.
Tiki Barber said he will spend some of his retirement time working on literacy projects and perhaps political issues. He will also likely do television work.
Surf's up: Surfboard designers Eric Walden and Ojay Tambio submitted winning entries for an online surfboard auction for charity held in conjunction with the Pro Bowl.
Barber and Shields signed the boards yesterday, and other Pro Bowl players will do so. They can be bid on at nflauction.com.
Sing a song: Jasmine Trias will sing the national anthem, Raiatea Helm will sing Hawaii Pono'i and Henry Kapono will perform at halftime next Saturday.