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If players want Pro Bowl here, why leave?


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POSTED: Wednesday, February 04, 2009

How much more does the NFL need to hear from its players?

Ray Lewis weighed in yesterday, telling the Star-Bulletin's Brian McInnis and other assembled reporters that if he's chosen for next year's Pro Bowl, he probably won't play.

This is striking for a few reasons.

First, next year's Pro Bowl is in Miami. And Lewis is from Florida and played college ball at The U, as in the University of Miami.

And don't you think Lewis expects to play in the Super Bowl next year? He's not into consolation prizes, and a Pro Bowl the week before the Super Bowl in his hometown would be more embarrassment than honor—it would mean his Ravens aren't in the big game. Ray Lewis is a lot of things, but he ain't a sideshow.

Whatever you think of him, Lewis is one of NFL's biggest names, a 13-year veteran who's been voted to the Pro Bowl 10 times. He is the face of ferocity, one of the most passionate players in the game.

What he says carries weight.

Lewis isn't the first player to question the league's decision to move the game around, and he won't be the last.

» Darren Hernandez, the fierce-looking, smooth-talking Kapolei football coach, is about my age. I gave him a nudge at the NFC practice yesterday.

"Eh, wanna feel young," I said. "Look over there, John Carney."

Like us, the Giants kicker is closing in on that AARP car insurance discount. Twenty years in the league, turns 45 in April.

Hernandez and I shared stories about watching Carney in the 1984 Aloha Bowl. Tim Brown was a freshman, two years before Jerome Bettis would be one—in high school. Gerry Faust, remember him? Straight from coaching preps to the Golden Dome. Didn't last long.

Carney has, though.

"Yeah, I was a sophomore and we played SMU. Good memory," he said.

Pretty soon a kicker is going to play until he's 50. Maybe it will be Carney. I thought Morten Andersen might do it, but he lasted to 48. So did Raiders legend George Blanda, who also played quarterback into his 40s.

One of the secrets to graceful aging is a sense of humor. Yesterday, Carney and punter Jeff Feagles (43 next month) donned leather helmets.

» Wanna feel old? The coaches, they're headed in the opposite direction. For them, pretty soon 30 will be the new 50.

Mike Tomlin, whose Steelers just won the Super Bowl, is 36. I've got socks older than that.

One of the best things about Tomlin's youth is it takes attention away from his ethnicity; he's being regarded as a very successful, very young coach, who just happens to be African-American. That's how it should be.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh is 45, but looks at least 10 years younger. I think he's got the Benjamin Button reverse-aging thing going.

He said he's over the disappointment of missing the Super Bowl by a game, and is excited about coaching the AFC this week. While the Steelers were beating the Cardinals on Sunday, Harbaugh was on the North Shore diving 50 feet off a cliff into the Pacific Ocean. He said he caught just a few glimpses of the third quarter of the big game when he ducked into a surf shop.

Ben Roethlisberger's clutch plays to win it didn't surprise him.

"That's what Ben does," Harbaugh said. "He makes plays at the end of the game."