POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jan 29, 2011
LAST UPDATED: 2:06 a.m. HST, Jan 29, 2011
Count the Tennessee Titans here for the Pro Bowl among those taken aback by head coach Jeff Fisher's sudden departure.
Back in Nashville, Fisher addressed the split announced by the team on Thursday, saying yesterday it was "time to move on," ending a run of 16 seasons with the organization.
The news rippled to the JW Marriott Ihilani Resort, where three Titans are staying in advance of tomorrow's Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium.
"It was crazy. I was surprised," running back Chris Johnson said after yesterday's practice. "When I heard a couple of weeks ago Vince (Young) was gone I thought he'd be back.
"I thought I'd be playing for Fisher my whole career."
Johnson referred to the much-publicized rift between Fisher and Young, the Titans' soon-to-be-former quarterback. The team announced Young will be traded or released in the offseason, seemingly an indication Fisher would return.
But now both are headed out of town, leaving the players to wonder about the team's future direction.
"It was a shocker, tough to deal with because he was big part of my rookie year," said Marc Mariani, who made the Pro Bowl as a kick returner in his first NFL season.
"But those are things I can't control. I don't know where the chips are going to fall now, I don't know who's going to come in, but I'm just going to go back to the mainland and get back to work and get ready for the season."
Mariani said he "thought it was a joke at first" and defensive lineman Jason Babin also expressed surprise at the sudden nature of the announcement.
"I really like him," Babin said. "I'm a veteran player, so he doesn't say anything to me. He's an outdoorsman, so we talk a little hunting, fishing."
While Fisher's departure creates uncertainty for the Titans for the moment, Johnson said the current adversity may eventually help push the team forward.
"I really feel like we'll have a chip on our shoulder," Johnson said. "We've got a lot of hard work to do and a lot of motivation."
Punters don't usually get a huge amount of love at the Pro Bowl, but the Cowboys' Mat McBriar is an exception. That's because he's a former University of Hawaii standout. Fans were all over McBriar, in a good way, as he made his way to the team bus after practice Thursday.
McBriar said he has 28 family and friends coming to tomorrow's game, including his long-snapper L.P. Ladouceur. He paid for Ladouceur's trip.
McBriar's rounds have included reuniting with former teammates and current UH assistant coaches Nick Rolovich and Brian Smith.
"I watched the games with them on Sunday," McBriar said. "Besides practice, it's been a lot of catching up with old friends."
The AFC ended yesterday's practice at the Ihilani with a field-goal period, and punctuated the morning with New England Patriots offensive tackle Matt Light catching a pass from Oakland punter Shane Lechler.
While he enjoyed getting his hands on the ball in a generally relaxed practice setting, could Patriots coach Bill Belichick call his number again in tomorrow's game?
"I'll tell you what, if lightning strikes twice, it'll be amazing," Light said.
After practicing on the west side for the past three days, the teams move over to Aloha Stadium for today's "Ohana Day." The AFC is scheduled to practice at 9:30 a.m., with the NFC to follow at 10:30.
There are only a few seats available for tomorrow's game at Aloha Stadium, according to NFL officials. Even though the NFL All-Star matchup is not a sellout 72 hours prior to kickoff, it will be shown live on KHON.