The Pro Bowl isn’t until Sunday night, but the NFL’s experiment of moving the league’s All-Star game to the same city as – and a week before – the Super Bowl has already accomplished at least some of its mission.
It’s created a buzz. It’s not all good – in fact, some of it is downright contentious – some have grumbled about missing out on Hawaii and the requirement that Super Bowl players named to the game must attend to receive their Pro Bowl pay. Others, however, love the atmosphere and brought their families to vacation in South Florida.
But if the idea was the raise interest in the game that is often considered an afterthought -- that has happened.
You can’t go more than a few feet these past few days without bumping into a current or former NFL player. They’re practically everywhere. (See a Pro Bowl photo gallery here.)
On Wednesday, Pro Bowl players including Kevin Mawae, Brian Dawkins, Greg Camarillo and Sinorice Moss, helped encourage students at Carol City Elementary School to eat healthful foods and be active. They led the kids in activities and donated $5,000 to the school’s vegetable garden, which includes raised beds of lettuce, celery, parsley, red cabbage and hot yellow peppers.
“We have players who went to this school and went to schools in this area and to me it reminds players, reminds executive directors, of while we’re involved in a great game and a really, really big business, we all have our starts at schools like this,” NFL Players Association Executive Director DeMaurice Smith said after visiting the garden.
“We have to be strong members and strong contributors to our community. That’s what we need to be doing. We have a gift and an opportunity to play football and guys like Brian [Dawkins] play this game because they can do things ordinary humans can’t do. But you see them taking time, coming back, not because they think it’s anything special, this is a part of their lives."
On Thursday, players, including Mawae, Dawkins, Donovan McNabb, DeMarcus Ware and D'Brickashaw Ferguson along with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell joined with Bank of America employees to build a playground at RISE Academy in Lauderhill. They put up swings, painted murals, and raked mulch.
It was just one of a series of events in the daylong NFL Play 60 Community Blitz that included projects in Broward, Palm Beach and Miami-Dade counties, all aimed at encouraging kids to be active and healthy.
“It shows how great our players are and what they do off the field,” said Goodell, who raked mulch and suffered a nosebleed during the event at RISE Academy. “So many people see them on the field and all the great contributions they make on the field, but these are great men and they do great things in the community, and … it shows how much the NFL cares about their community, and we have the Dolphins here, but we’re also here with two of our biggest events, the Pro Bowl and the Super Bowl. And it gives us a chance to really give back to the community.”
Bank of America also saw the NFL’s commitment to South Florida as a way for the bank to help as well. The bank forged a partnership with the league for the events and for a program to feed the hungry.
More than 200 Bank of America employees helped out across South Florida.
“Our company is committed to finding opportunities to give back to the market,” said Lori Chevy, Bank of America market president for Broward County. “When Bank of America saw the opportunity to partner with the NFL, it made sense for us to be able to create this new opportunity.”
Bank of America is also donating $10,000 to Feeding America for every touchdown scored during the Pro Bowl.
And this morning, the NFL held an open Pro Bowl practice at Lockhart Stadium in Fort Lauderdale – attended by a few thousand fans, who snapped up Pro Bowl visors, caps and T-shirts, cheered the league’s mascots and cheerleaders and waited patiently for autographs. While the mascots and Goodell were generous with their time, not all the players were made available for autographs disappointing some fans.
The Pro Bowl has certainly gotten attention – both good and bad.