[ 2003 PRO BOWL ]

New England kicker Adam Vinatieri spoke with Montserrat Oliver, who works for a Mexican television station. During the interview, Vinatieri gave Montserrat some tackling tips.

Special Pro Bowl
players harder to spot

Part of Lowry's job is to
convince the stars that
special teams are important, too

By Dave Reardon

Everyone here is the best in the business. It's the Pro Bowl, and everyone's special. But some are more special than others, and not the ones you might expect.

Jerry Rice? Not special enough. He's merely a backup on the AFC kickoff team. Ricky Williams and Sam Madison? These Dolphins are fish out of water trying to cover punts.

You have to look to find the really special guys. There's one -- the middle-aged man, the one wearing sunglasses, an aloha shirt and Dockers as he leans over the football and snaps it to Jaguars punter Chris Hanson time after time, long after the other AFC Pro Bowlers have headed for the first tee. The guy looks like a Honolulu businessman, perhaps a winner of one of those crazy contests the Pro Bowl spawns (Long Snapper For A Day!), and he's out at the Ihilani Resort on his coffee break to collect a dubious prize.

But Alan Lowry is no joke. He's the well-traveled 52-year-old special teams coach of the Tennessee Titans. He says he has the hardest job at the Pro Bowl, and nothing that happened yesterday morning disputed that as fact.

"It's pretty unique," says Lowry, who has previously completed this task in the Pro Bowl twice with the 49ers and once with the Cowboys. "The main thing is to make sure there are 11 guys out there for the kicks and that they know what they are doing."

Sounds simple. After all, Lowry has the most talented football players in the world at his disposal.

But that is exactly the problem. While Lowry gets the conference's best punter, kicker, kick returner and one general purpose special teams stud (Larry Izzo of New England), he must fill the rest of his lineup with guys who, Izzo notes, "haven't played special teams since training camp of their rookie year. It's like you're a one-man army."

If that sounds arrogant, you need to know Izzo says this only moments after posing for a photo with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, and dubbing the shot, "Peyton and Mini-Me."

AFC HEAD COACH Jeff Fisher is glad Alan Lowry has Pro Bowl experience.

"It's a coaching challenge. I think for Alan it's kind of like a preseason game, getting guys in and out and getting them motivated," Fisher says. "But the kicking game could be the difference in the game, so you'll normally see an increase in the intensity later in the game."

Not to say the biggest stars aren't into it until the money is on the line, but Lowry says some of them do need to be sold on the importance of special teams from start to finish.

"I try to appeal to the guys that a guy like Dante Hall (punt returner from the Chiefs) busted his butt to get here, and he deserves some help so that maybe he can enjoy some success in this game. Most of them respond to that, because even if they weren't special teams players, they were first-year Pro Bowl guys at some point." Lowry says.

Like Fred McAfee. It's taken him 11 years in the NFL to win a trip to Hawaii.

He's so anonymous that even former Redskin/Cowboy John Wilbur -- a special teams aficionado -- doesn't know who McAfee is.

He's listed as a running back on the New Orleans roster, but McAfee's real value is as a special teams banshee. He carried the ball one time for 11 yards in 2002. But he played on every special team and made 10 kicking-game tackles. He's also teaching the art of NFL survival to former Hawaii running back James Fenderson.

"James comes in and works very hard," McAfee, the New Orleans special teams captain says. "His locker is right next to mine, so we talk a lot and he listens and wants to learn."

The hero of Pro Bowl special teamers is Steve Tasker, the retired Buffalo Bill who was the MVP of the 1993 game.

"Oh, yeah, he's the man. He'll probably be the first guy to make the Hall of Fame as just a special teamer," McAfee says.

Tasker snuck into the game as a receiver a few times, but McAfee doesn't see himself as part of the NFC offensive game plan.

"I don't think I'll get to play running back on Sunday," he says with a laugh at his Aloha Stadium locker. "We've got four pretty good ones, and I don't know if we'll get to the fifth. But maybe they'll give old Fred a mercy carry."

ALAN LOWRY is sweating in his Aloha Friday business attire, but his snaps are true. He says he does this at work all the time, and he's pretty good at it, considering he was a quarterback and defensive back at Texas, and never played at all in the pros. He's got one of those three-page assistant coaching resumes: Virginia Tech 1974, Wyoming 1975, Texas 1977-1981, Dallas Cowboys 1982-1990, Tampa Bay Buccaneers 1991, San Francisco 49ers 1992-95, joined Titans/Oilers in 1996.

After a while, someone notices that Lowry could use a rest and says, "Hey Joe, why aren't you out there doing that?"

Joe Zelenka, the Jacksonville snapper, smiles. "I will if they let me do it in the game."

He's here as Hanson's guest; it's the punter's way of showing his appreciation to a fellow who helped him get to the Pro Bowl.

"He didn't have to do it," Zelenka says. "I think he just needed a golf buddy."

There are lots of special people here for the Pro Bowl. You just have to look for them.

National Football League

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