HONOLULU Rain was falling for the start of Sunday’s Pro Bowl, a possible omen for a game that has been clouded by questions about its future.
Somewhere in the New York/New Jersey metro area, commissioner Roger Goodell was watching.
Goodell threatened to pull the plug on the league’s annual all-star game two years ago after the Aloha Stadium crowd booed during the 2012 Pro Bowl that at times looked like a two-hand touch game on turf.
The league switched from the conference format to a fantasy football-style draft this year, and implemented several rules changes to try to spark interest and add more intensity to the game.
Cornerbacks were allowed to play man-to-man, press coverage in any area of the field, and 2-minute warnings were added for the first and third quarters.
Players love the idea of coming to Hawaii for a week with their families, but the hate the possibility of leaving with an injury. But the coaches in Sunday’s game believe it’s possible to strike a balance between safe and competitive play.
“The No. 1 thing is get out of here injury-free. Player safety during the regular season is as important as it is (Sunday),” Colts coach Chuck Pagano. “But they’re competitive guys. They’re going to come out, have fun, compete and certainly understand that we need to play and give these fans (a game) and represent the NFL and represent the shield the way it’s supposed to be represented.”
There is also some question about the future of the game in Hawaii, where it’s been held every year since 1980 but one. But attendance has declined in recent years.
Local officials have proposed having the Pro Bowl alternate between Honolulu and other locations. The league likely would move it to the site of the Super Bowl, as it did in 2010 in Miami.
Panthers coach Ron Rivera, who coached the Jerry Rice team, believes the Pro Bowl still deserves a place on the NFL calendar.
“This game should be played because it’s a tribute to these guys that played hard and had good seasons,” he said. “And they should be able to come here and play an all-star game.”
Panthers’ Pro Bowlers: The Panthers had three starters in the game, and were supposed to have a fourth. Middle linebacker Luke Kuechly started for Deion Sanders’ squad, while center Ryan Kalil and fullback Mike Tolbert were starters for Rivera’s team.
Panthers quarterback Cam Newton was scheduled to start for Pagano’s team, and was listed as the starter on the flip card distributed in the press box. The card was published before Pagano and Sanders decided Saturday morning to start Andrew Luck, who was the first quarterback taken in Wednesday’s draft.
Left tackle Jordan Gross (Team Rice), defensive end Greg Hardy (Team Sanders) and long snapper J.J. Jansen (Sanders) all were in early in the first half.
Trick or treat: Rivera said before the game that coaches had a “few tricks up our sleeves” in the form of trick plays. But the first one went against Rivera.
Luck hit Philadelphia receiver DeSean Jackson for a 36-yard touchdown pass on a flea-flicker. There were two defenders around Jackson, who went up and snatched the ball for the game’s first touchdown.
Jackson didn’t fare as well on his next trick play. He recovered his own fumble on a handoff from Luck on a reverse in the first half.
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