|NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, right, joins Titans center Kevin Mawae during an NFL Play 60 Community Blitz Thursday in Lauderhill, Fla. Pro Bowl players joined volunteers in projects designed to help local children stay healthy and active as part of NFL PLAY 60, the league's campaign to fight childhood obesity.|
Sometime soon, the league will decide if it wants to keep things that way.
"What we're seeing is a lot more attention on the Pro Bowl than we've ever had before,'' Goodell said. "And that in and of itself is a success.''
Goodell arrived Thursday in South Florida - the Pro Bowl will be played there on Sunday, followed one week later by the Super Bowl - and immediately went to work alongside some members of the NFL Players Association. But on this day, there was no talk about labor issues or an uncapped season.
Helped considerably by more than 200 volunteers, they built a playground at a school not far from downtown Fort Lauderdale, one of three stops by Pro Bowl players Thursday in what the NFL said was the largest community program in league history.
"When kids like this see us giving back and caring enough to help them build their playground, they'll remember it for a lifetime,'' said Tennessee's Kevin Mawae, the NFLPA president. "For me it's nice, being the president, having to answer the questions about what-ifs, I can come out here and be part of the community. Right now, the rest of it, that is the most unimportant thing in the world to me.''
In six hours, the playground was built, even with constant stops by the NFL players for photos with anyone who asked.
Mawae spent part of his day filling wheelbarrows with a shovel. The Jets' D'Brickashaw Ferguson, his shorts and shoes splattered with concrete - a job he said he was fired from earlier in the day - took a paintbrush and applied stain to some newly built picnic tables. Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, surrounded by kids half his size, led them in painting a mural on the school's exterior wall.
"I painted my room once,'' Ferguson said. "It took me a couple tries. This is very challenging. It's a rough day right now.''
And the commissioner, he pushed mulch around the playground with a rake, then somehow got a nosebleed for his efforts. After an icepack, he was fine.
"I think the benefit is a couple things,'' Goodell said. "First off, it shows how great our players are, what they do off the field here. So many people see them on the field and all the great contributions they make on the field, but these guys are great men and they do some great things in their communities. And number two, I think it shows how much the NFL cares about its communities.''
The Pro Bowl has traditionally been held the week following the Super Bowl. Sunday's game marks the first time in three decades the Pro Bowl is being played somewhere other than Honolulu, where it will return for 2011 and 2012.
No decision has been made on whether it will be played before or after the Super Bowl in those years.
"We knew that not having the Super Bowl players was something that was going to be a negative to doing this,'' Goodell said. "But everyone felt that there was a real chance to put this Pro Bowl on a higher platform and be a positive thing. We did that and I think it has worked for us. Super Bowl players will be on the biggest stage of all a week later.''
NOTES: The contract between the NFL and players expires after next season and Goodell noted that dialogue between the sides is ongoing - but that no more formal meetings are scheduled yet. "I think everybody is frustrated with the lack of progress,'' Goodell said. ... Goodell said the decision on the timing on the 2011 and 2012 Pro Bowls could be known "in the next 60 days or so.''