For the second year in a row, Pro Bowl players practiced at Kapolei High School, a few miles from their hotel. The football stadium is still under construction, as the press box was only half standing, and crews in hard hats building new bleachers stopped what they were doing to watch the AFC all-stars pour onto the field for the first of three practices leading up to the Pro Bowl on Sunday at Aloha Stadium.
On a windy and cool morning, students crowded the bleachers on the opposite side of the field to see the NFL’s best on display, until a loud bell signaling the change of class compelled some of them — but not all — back inside.
Chaos surrounded the field, but the field itself looked pristine. That didn’t last long. Ten minutes into practice, assistants started filling in divots caused by Patriots WR Wes Welker and Chiefs TE Tony Gonzalez as they made cuts to catch balls from Peyton Manning.
Manning, voted the AFC’s starting quarterback for the seventh year in a row, kicked off Pro Bowl week Monday night at a meeting with all the players before they split into separate AFC and NFC meeting rooms. He told the players, 33 of whom were voted to the Pro Bowl for the first time, what to expect this week, how to handle themselves and then, naturally, took the opportunity to pick on his younger brother, Eli, who will suit up for the NFC squad for the first time in his career.
In the NFC locker room, inside the players’ hotel, each player had a Nike rolling suitcase, two pairs of Nike shoes, Nike cleats, a visor, a hat, his team helmet and a practice jersey waiting for him.
After he had given his final interview, Eli Manning searched his area, and then the entire room, looking for his shoes so he could go for a run. He gave up the search rather quickly and settled on a shiny, new pair of cleats and set off to find a treadmill as other players called after him, “How are you going to run in those?”
Back inside the locker room, four chairs remained untouched, as Cardinals QB Kurt Warner, special teamer Sean Morey, WR Anquan Boldin and WR Larry Fitzgerald had yet to arrive. The Super Bowl runners-up — along with three members of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense, who attended the team’s victory parade Tuesday afternoon — should be at practice on Wednesday.