NFL hopeful of Pro Bowl's return to Hawaii

KAPOLEI, HI, Feb. 5, 2009 — "Aloha'' means many things in Hawaiian, including farewell and hello. It's a fitting word these days for the Pro Bowl.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Thursday he was hopeful the league and the state will reach a deal possibly by next week to bring the all-star game back to Hawaii.

"The reality is, we'd like to be back here on a rotational basis,'' Goodell said. "It makes sense for us. The Pro Bowl has got a great history here and tradition. We know how much it means to this community, so we'd like to be here.''

Sunday's Pro Bowl will end a 30-year run in Honolulu. The 2010 game will be played in Miami, a week before the Super Bowl. The NFL and Hawaii Tourism Authority are in contract negotiations for future dates.

The state pays the NFL millions to host the game, which brings thousands of tourists to the islands and showcases Hawaii's tropical scenery and sunburned fans to winter-weary TV audiences on the mainland.

Goodell said rotating locations and playing the game a week before the Super Bowl are designed to bring greater exposure to the game and players.

The scheduling move, however, essentially eliminates any players from teams in the championship.

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, coming off a thrilling Super Bowl victory, prefers it the way it is.

"It's really awesome to have everything culminate here in Hawaii,'' he said. "I know the NFL is looking to have that big bang at the end, but as a player, this is a big bang. Everybody wants to be the Super Bowl winner and come and be with their peers in Hawaii.''

Several other Pro Bowl players have expressed concern about moving the game away from the islands, saying it wouldn't be as special, or even a reward spending a week in cities they visit during the regular season.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis earlier this week went as far as saying he would "probably not'' play next year's game in Miami if he's selected because it wouldn't be a true vacation.

Ten-time Pro Bowl selection Tony Gonzalez was sad the game was being moved, but understood the NFL's decision.

"Guys are going to miss Hawaii,'' he said. "There's nothing like coming over here. When you step off that plane and they put that lei around your neck and come to the hotel and get a mai tai ... it's a special, special feeling.''

Goodell said the Pro Bowl would be wrapped up into Super Bowl events, "as opposed to after the Super Bowl, which to some extent is anticlimactic.''

"We came off maybe the greatest game in the history of the NFL last week and we're coming back and playing the Pro Bowl,'' Goodell said. "Had this been a lead-up to that, it potentially could've put more attention to the Pro Bowl and the players themselves and the Super Bowl for that matter.''

But Goodell isn't firm on any plans.

"We're going to try the Miami experiment and see how it goes,'' Goodell said. "Let's try it and see what the reaction is from our fans, the players and everybody else.''

Another issue for the NFL is the aging Aloha Stadium. The league is concerned about everything from its operations to the number of premium seats. Upgrades are in the works for the 50,000-seat stadium, known locally as "the Rust Bucket.''

"We want to make sure it's safe and it's a first-rate stadium for this kind of event,'' Goodell said.

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