FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - For 86 of the NFL's best players, the season is ending where they wanted: in Miami.
Their timing is off, though.
With a new venue and new slot on the league calendar, the Pro Bowl will be played Sunday as a preliminary to next week's Super Bowl on the same field.
"There's a bittersweet taste,'' said quarterback Tony Romo, a late addition to the NFC roster after his Dallas Cowboys came up two wins shy of a Super Bowl berth. "You're always hoping to play in the big game.''
The results: increased media coverage and the best attendance in 51 years, with a sellout crowd of more than 70,000 expected.
"That has been historic,'' said Frank Supovitz, the NFL's senior vice president for events. "That's nothing new.''And that's not what the league sought to fix by changing the date and site of the game, Supovitz said.
Ticket sales show the excitement level is up, Supovitz said. And he's optimistic about the television audience for the game.
The game will return to Honolulu in 2011 and 2012, but the league hasn't decided whether to hold those games before or after the Super Bowl. The Pro Bowl site for 2013 and beyond hasn't been determined.
"I'd rather have it after the Super Bowl,'' 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "I truly believe next year we're going to be in the Super Bowl, and I want to play in the Pro Bowl too.''
"There's something to be said for playing the game during the season,'' he said. "I think more people are interested.''
That's good for the league, and maybe not so good for the all-stars.
Still, practices this week were pretty laid back. AFC offensive linemen ran pass patterns. Browns kick returner Joshua Cribbs took a wildcat snap. Eagles receiver DeSean Jackson threw a pass on an end-around. Bengals receiver Chad Ochocinco practiced punting and kicking and said he may boot one in the game.
Running back Adrian Peterson decided not to play, then changed his mind two days after his Vikings lost in the NFC championship game.
"I was beating myself up, and then I realized that really wasn't the right route to go,'' Peterson said. "I'm here, and I'm going to enjoy myself.''