Friday, January 28, 2011

The NFL and the Pro Bowl

This weekend brings the glorified NFL All-Star AFC-NFC Pro Bowl to Honolulu. The superstars of the NFL, minus those who will play in this year's Super Bowl, compete in tropical splendor. The coaches and announcers show off their Aloha shirts. The Hawaii tourism advocates hope for gorgeous weather to entice the snow-bound residents of the mainland to come to Hawaii, spend money, and enjoy themselves.

The first Pro Bowl game was played on January 14, 1951 at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles and then rotated around the other stadiums in the league until 1980 when it was played in Honolulu. Before Hawaii, players offered excuses not to show up. But after Hawaii, a spot on the Pro Bowl team became desirable and very few players opted out. The Pro Bowl consistently generated more than 30 million dollars in direct visitor spending and more than 3 million dollars in state taxes. Of course, Hawaii pays the NFL to bring the game to Honolulu, but nevertheless, there is a large net dollar gain for the state and an even larger, although not measurable gain in PR.

We started going to Hawaii in 1990 and were in Honolulu every year at the time of the Pro Bowl, except last year (the game was not played in Hawaii) and this year (we're home). In 1990, we got in touch with the NFL and asked for press credentials for the Pro Bowl. We were treated like poor relatives who were imposing on their rich uncles. "Absolutely not. We only give credentials to those journalists who have the NFL team as their beat. Period."

But then, we wised up. We started emails from home long before the Pro Bowl date was announced and, eventually, we received a time and place to be photographed and get our "non game day" credentials. That was fine with us. We didn't want to go to the game, sit in the sun, get drenched by the daily rain shower, and fight the traffic back to our hotel. But, we did not want to interract with the cheerleaders. And, surprise, surprise, the NFL set us up with the people who produced the NFL half time show, the cheerleaders, and other press people. All of them treated us with kindness and intelligence.

We attended the yearly Pro Bowl press conferences, a nice Hawaiian lunch, served buffet style. Almost always, a cheerleader sat at our table. The most notable one was the graduate of Annapolis, Master's degree in Systems Analysis, a cheerleader with the San Francisco Forty-niners, who had earned a top gun at Pensacola, Florida. When she said that she flies the P-3 plane I whispered "you're a spy" and she smiled and nodded. She plays a fictional starring role in my novel "Pro Bowl Kapu." Almost all of the cheerleaders have professions, other than dancing - teachers, nurses, administrators, business owners, etc.

We're disappointed that the NFL decided to put the Pro Bowl a week ahead of the Super Bowl. The NFL brain trust must have had some reason for doing this and for keeping all the Super Bowl players out of this all star game. They never shared their reasons with us.

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