Fans bid NFL all-stars a fond farewell today


POSTED: Sunday, February 08, 2009

From the avid memorabilia collector who goes to practice with Sharpie and mini-helmet in hand, to the contract hires who work alongside some of the world's most finely tuned athletes, the Pro Bowl affects a wide range of Hawaii lives.

That's what makes the National Football League all-star game's imminent departure to Miami next year so painful for many of those watching today's closing act at Aloha Stadium. After 30 consecutive appearances, the Pro Bowl show will fold its tent and return to the mainland for the first time since 1979.

Talk to those who have been closely involved with this game that highlights the NFL's best players and they'll rattle off story after story about what they will remember most.

“;I always like the finishes,”; said “;Super Bowl”; Wayne LaVelle, a Michigan native who relocated to Hawaii more than 20 years ago. He eventually joined Russ Francis at Honolulu's first all-sports radio station, KGU-AM 760.

“;How about that Oakland quarterback?”; LaVelle asked. “;Boy did I like Rich Gannon”; (voted the game's MVP in 2001 and '02). “;The best part I like is when they give away the car (to the Pro Bowl MVP following the game). It's just so much fun.”;

LaVelle epitomizes the excitement fans feel when given the chance to witness the world's best gather on one stage.

“;It's the fourth quarter, and all of a sudden they're fighting for $20,000 more (the bonus a player receives if he is a member of the winning squad) because their wife just went out and bought a new car. They need that $20,000 and you hear those pads poppin'!”; said LaVelle, who lost count of the number of Pro Bowls he has attended after he got to 20.

One of the game's most important byproducts is the positive effect on the state's economy. Following the 2006 Pro Bowl, the Hawaii Tourism Authority released a report in which it surveyed 407 visitors in order to better determine how the all-star game affects the local economy.

Not only did an estimated 27,000 visitors come from out of state to take in the game, but those tourists also generated an estimated $33.26 million in spending, and $3.23 million in state taxes, according to the report.

One such beneficiary of the NFL's annual trek to Oahu is John Alvarado. He is currently unemployed, but picked up a job as a security guard assigned to the Marriott Ihilani Resort & Spa, where the Pro Bowl players and NFL staff are headquartered. It helped him “;get some side money”; in a time where jobs are scarce.

“;It's pretty cool. It's the first time I've been close to someone who makes this much money,”; Alvarado said of the NFL players, including New York Giants kicker John Carney, who asked the security guard for brief scouting reports on the opposition.

“;I don't really keep up with football, so (losing the game) won't be a big thing for me,”; Alvarado said. “;But after working here, I was going to follow up (with the NFL), and was looking forward to working here again.”;

Kaiser High School athletic trainer Ted Morikawa is another behind-the-scenes man of the Pro Bowl. He was selected by George Kamau, director of operations for the Pro Bowl, in 1995 along with a handful of fellow trainers, and has aided the NFL staff ever since.

“;It's pretty awesome,”; Morikawa said. “;There are no professional teams down here, so it's great for us to see a different level of play, (and observe) how the trainers and staff operate things. It's a great opportunity for the public to see professional players.

“;It goes without saying that it's extremely important”; that Hawaii gets the Pro Bowl back in the near future, Morikawa said. “;The public as well as the players look forward to it, and it's not like we can drive to another state to see a professional game. This is the only chance locals have.”;

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is in town for the game and its festivities, and according to LaVelle, the league could consider not only moving the Pro Bowl back to Hawaii, but also maybe even hold a Super Bowl here. But that's more wishful thinking than anything else.

“;I'm really optimistic because I've talked to the players, and most want to come so people can bring their families and have fun,”; LaVelle said about the possibility of the Pro Bowl's return to the Islands. “;I just talked to Steve Smith (wide receiver) with the Carolina Panthers, he has his whole family here, and he said, 'I'm going swimming with my son - that's what we like. We want to come back here.'”;