HONOLULU, Hawaii - Many NFL stars are hoping that when it comes to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, aloha doesn't mean goodbye.
The NFL all-star game doesn't have a home beyond Sunday's game. League and Hawaii officials are negotiating a deal to keep the game in the islands, which is hosting it for the second straight year after it was played in Miami in 2010, breaking a 30-year run in Hawaii.
"It takes away from the game when it's somewhere else," said Miami Dolphins receiver Brandon Marshall, who also selected to the Miami game two years ago. "It's always a privilege. It's always an honour to be selected to a Pro Bowl. But this is what the Pro Bowl is about — paradise. So it would suck definitely if we no longer come out here."
Some players went as far as saying they wouldn't participate if the Pro Bowl was moved.
"That's a lot of the players' attitude, I think. If it's in an NFL city, you're in those cities quite often," Minnesota Vikings defensive end Jared Allen said.
Allen and other players said the game belongs in Hawaii, where it's more family oriented, relaxed and considered a reward for the hard work they put it during the season.
Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew's first Pro Bowl was in Miami, which he said was a great experience.
"But it's nothing like coming over to Hawaii. This is my first time here for the Pro Bowl, and it's great," he said.
In Hawaii, the players are treated to a beachside hotel to themselves. They sip on colourful, tropical drinks and lounge around the pool, golf or wade in one of the white-sand lagoons at Ko Olina Resort.
"In Miami, we didn't have the whole hotel. You're signing autographs 99 per cent of the time at the hotel. It was just chaotic," Allen said. "Guys weren't showing up. You had a lot of alternates in and out. Over here, it's kind of what everybody looks forward to. ... I like it here. I'm a big fan of tradition. It started here. We should keep it here."
But the Pro Bowl wasn't born here. It was hosted for years in Los Angeles before jumping around the country in the 1970s, going everywhere from the Kingdome in Seattle to the Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
The game was first played at Aloha Stadium in 1980 with New Orleans Saints running back Chuck Muncie leading the NFC to a 37-27 victory. The winners earned $5,000. On Sunday, the winners earn nearly 10 times that amount.
The state is paying the NFL $4 million per game for the rights to hold this year's game. About seven months ago, Gov. Neil Abercrombie opposed the cash-strapped state paying millions to host the Pro Bowl when the money could be used for education.
"You can't do things like give 4 million bucks to a $9 billion football industry and not give any money to children," Abercrombie said then. "You've got this spectacle of these multimillionaires and billionaires out there arguing about how they're going to divide it up, and then they come and ask us to bribe them with $4 million to have a scrimmage out here in paradise.
"We've got to get our values straight and our priorities straight."
On Tuesday, however, Abercrombie changed his tune when he crashed the NFL's press conference and spoke in favour of keeping the game here. The governor said the state would like to continue hosting the game, "and we're going to do everything we can to make sure that comes about in a fashion that will make everybody very, very happy."
A House economic development committee on Thursday will discuss establishing a Hawaii Sports Task Force to co-ordinate efforts to keep the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, as well attract other pro sporting events.
Last year's Pro Bowl attracted 17,000 visitors to the state, generated $28.2 million in visitor spending and created $3.1 million in state taxes from people who travelled to attend the game.
Hawaii Tourism Authority President and CEO Mike McCartney said the agency is still in discussion with the NFL for the future of the Pro Bowl beyond 2012.
"We have enjoyed a wonderful partnership with the NFL and we look forward to continuing this relationship as well welcoming the NFL players, their families and all the fans for an exciting game on Sunday," he said in a statement.
Denver Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey is no stranger to the islands. Bailey is making his 11th trip to the Pro Bowl.
"A lot of people wouldn't come to Hawaii if not for the Pro Bowl," Bailey said. "It would be disappointing if they moved it, but I have no say in it. If I did, I would say keep it here because I love it here."
Perhaps no one is enjoying it more this week than Oakland kicker Sebastian Janikowski, who is making his first trip to the Pro Bowl in a dozen seasons in the league.
"Twelve years," he said. "I've been waiting a long time for this. Hopefully many more to come. Every time somebody asks me how many times I've been here and I say it's my first, they seem to be surprised and shocked. I'm just happy I got here, finally."
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