Pro Bowl: The Super Bowl’s crazy cousin

The NFL has landed in Hawaii to begin final preparations for what might be the last Pro Bowl game ever played. For those of us who work it, this is our baby, and we are pulling out all the stops to give the game its best possible chance to succeed.

Two critical pieces that will help determine the decision whether to continue playing the All-Star game are ticket sales, and the performance of the athletes on the field. The latter is out of our hands, but we have good reason to hope. The players fought hard to keep this game — and keep it in Hawaii — during the last round of labor negotiations, and they are well aware that their physical effort is what will be judged by Commissioner Roger Goodell. Recent comments from players such as Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, who has promised he will be “playing hard,” have been encouraging.

Aside from ticket sales, there are many other projects we are working hard on. In addition to overseeing our hotel block of more than 500 rooms, and our credentials, of which we issue approximately 7,500, my primary focus is to make sure that the Pro Bowl players and their families have a great experience while they are in Hawaii. From the minute they touch down at Honolulu Airport we want them to feel the “Aloha Spirit.”

The best part about Pro Bowl is that the atmosphere is very relaxed. It’s almost like Super Bowl’s crazy cousin. Players come out here to celebrate with their families and each other, and there are always a lot of laughs. The comedy usually begins at the ‘Mandatory Player Meeting,’ on Tuesday when all the guys get into town. This is probably the only NFL meeting in history that most of the guys bring beers to. Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, who has been selected to the All Star squad for the 12th time this year, is usually the ring leader. After various official speeches from NFL and NFL Player Association representatives, Manning has been known to give a hilarious account of what he thinks the guys should expect during Pro Bowl week. My favorite was probably the time when he pretended to warn the guys not to play pranks on each other, such as sending large amounts of unrequested room service to each other, and then proceeded to give out a few of the players’ room numbers. I can’t wait to see what he has planned for this year, especially since his little brother, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning, who he loves to pick on, will be joining us as well.

Once everyone has arrived, the first official event for the players is a Welcome Reception on Wednesday night. I have been responsible for managing that party for the past five years, and try to make sure that it always feels fresh and different, but one thing I have come to expect is that the party takes on a life of its own. I have seen everything from former Dallas Cowboys head coach Wade Phillips leading a giant conga line, to Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White doing “The Worm,” to Donovan McNabb dismissing the deejay I hired so that he could spin the turn tables himself, and New England Patriots wide receiver Wes Welker attempting to spin on his head break dancing.

At first I was a little stumped about how to make this year’s party special, because last January we put on a show with some of surfing’s most elite professionals, including legend Kelly Slater, which was a big hit. But I think we’ve nailed it by hiring the Grammy award-winning band Train to play a private concert on a sleek, modern stage built over the pool and LED lights. One thing I’ll be sure to do is take down the cat walk to the stage down when the show is over, so that we don’t end up with any break dancing players in the pool by accident.

Only time will tell what will happen at the welcome party, and some of the other special events we’ve created — which I’ll detail more in later blogs –but one thing is for sure, in the meantime there is plenty of work to do. Stay tuned for more updates in the next two weeks!

Erin Casey

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