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NFL Pro Bowl Preview - AFC vs. NFC
By Bryan McGovern, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The NFL's best of the 2002 season will descend upon
Honolulu's Aloha Stadium for the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl on Sunday.
The NFL's 53rd All-Star game is scheduled to open on a patriotic note when a
non-releasable bald eagle named Challenger will fly onto the field during the
playing of "The Star-Spangled Banner."
Challenger, who is billed as the first national bird in United States history
trained to provide the soaring act, is best-known for a performance at Game 3
of the 2001 World Series at Yankee Stadium. The eagle soared in from the
center-field bleachers and landed on his handler's arm prior to President
George W. Bush throwing out the first pitch. The contest was the first World
Series game in New York after the September 11th terrorist attacks on America.
Tennessee's Jeff Fisher will serve as the AFC's head coach, while
Philadelphia's Andy Reid will lead the NFC squad. Both coaches will be aided
by their respective staffs.
It is Pro Bowl tradition to have the losing coaching staff of the conference
championship games head up the All-Star teams in Hawaii. Fisher's Titans
dropped a 41-24 decision to the Oakland Raiders in the AFC Championship Game.
Reid's Eagles lost the NFC title contest to the Super Bowl XXXVII champion
Tampa Bay Buccaneers, 27-10.
SERIES HISTORY: The AFC-NFC Pro Bowl format has existed since the AFL-NFL
merger in 1970. The NFC won the first such contest, 27-6, in Los Angeles
(1971). Each conference has won 16 times in the previous 32 Pro Bowls dating
back to '71, but the AFC has captured five of the past six All-Star affairs,
including each of the past two. The NFC hasn't won this showcase game since
Last year, the AFC earned a 38-30 victory over the NFC in Honolulu. While it
didn't make up for the heartbreaking overtime playoff loss to New England in
the "Snow Bowl," Raiders QB Rich Gannon became the first two-time Pro Bowl
MVP. Gannon completed 8-of-10 passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns,
including a 55-yard scoring strike to Colts WR Marvin Harrison.
STARS IN HAWAII
Gannon is scheduled to be the AFC's starting quarterback in the 2003 Pro Bowl.
The NFL's Most Valuable Player made history a week ago in Super Bowl XXXVII by
throwing a game-record five interceptions in the Raiders' 48-21 loss to the
Green Bay QB Brett Favre, however, will miss the Pro Bowl because of a
sprained ankle. Favre has been voted to the Pro Bowl six times in his 12-year
The 2003 Pro Bowl has made headlines mostly for who is not going to play in
the game. Joining Favre on the All-Star injured list is Atlanta QB Michael
Vick, who will miss his first Pro Bowl because of a bunion. Vick, who rushed
for 777 yards and eight TDs in 2002, joined Dan Marino, Brett Favre, Kurt
Warner, Daunte Culpepper and Tom Brady as the only second-year quarterbacks to
make the Pro Bowl in their first full season as a starter.
Bucs QB Brad Johnson will replace Vick on the squad. Johnson led Tampa Bay to
its first Super Bowl title last week, as he completed 18-of-34 passes for 215
yards with two touchdowns and an interception.
Fellow Buc Warren Sapp will not participate in the Pro Bowl because of a knee
injury. Sapp, who had a sack and a forced fumble in the Super Bowl, will be
replaced by Carolina's Kris Jenkins, a second-year defensive tackle
who will make his first Pro Bowl appearance on Sunday. Sapp's Pro Bowl
selection was his sixth straight.
While Sapp won't play, the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers will be well-
represented with the likes of Johnson, FB Mike Alstott, DE Simeon Rice, LB
Derrick Brooks, who was the 2002 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and safety
John Lynch. Led by head coach Jon Gruden, the Bucs held their Super Bowl
victory parade in Tampa on Tuesday.
The NFC will be without a pair of All-Star offensive tackles, as both Orlando
Pace (St. Louis) and Walter Jones (Seattle) will miss the game. Pace is
skipping the contest because of an accumulation of injuries from the '02
season, while Jones had right shoulder surgery. Philadelphia's Jon Runyan and
Washington's Chris Samuels were named as replacements.
Kansas City RB Priest Holmes, who finished third in the NFL in rushing despite
missing the final two games of the regular season, is out for Sunday's All-
Star game. The same hip injury that cost Holmes the last two games will force
him to miss the Pro Bowl. Holmes suffered the injury in a December 15 game
against Denver. Despite playing in just 14 games, Holmes managed to rush for a
career-high 1,615 yards and 21 touchdowns this season. Buffalo's Travis Henry,
who was named as the replacement for Holmes, will join Miami's Ricky Williams
and San Diego's LaDainian Tomlinson as the AFC's running backs.
Chargers LB Donnie Edwards was added to the AFC squad after Pittsburgh's
Kendrell Bell decided against playing because of injury. Junior Seau, Edwards'
San Diego teammate, will miss the game because of ankle surgery. Seau was
selected to his record-tying 12th straight Pro Bowl. Offensive lineman Randall
McDaniel was also named to 12 in his career.
In last year's Pro Bowl, New England CB Ty Law picked off a Donovan McNabb
pass late in the game and ran it 31 yards before pitching it to Baltimore's
Ray Lewis, who ran 13 yards for the AFC's final touchdown.
The AFC and NFC All-Star squads are comprised of the consensus votes of fans,
players and coaches. Each groupís vote counts one-third towards determining
the 43-man rosters that represent the respective conferences in the Pro Bowl.
The NFL is the only professional sports league that combines voting by fans,
coaches and players to determine its All-Star teams.
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