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Tuesday, October 21, 2014         

NFL PRO BOWL


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Manning passes along gratitude

By Stephen Tsai

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Nowhere in the rule book is there mention of overtime.

Yet, 15 minutes after the conclusion of what passed for the AFC's final practice before today's Pro Bowl, quarterback Peyton Manning remained on the Aloha Stadium FieldTurf, signing photographs, scratch papers, miniature helmets and skin.

While AFC teammates had completed interviews and meet-and-greets, Manning had called another audible.

"There's one out there," a security guard said into his walkie-talkie, as if a rescue needed to be initiated.

"I don't mind," Manning said. "You have great fans over here, and you have great fans all over the NFL. There are Colt fans, and some fans who truly love football. A lot of people made a great effort to come here (for the practice) and to watch the game. I appreciate them, and I appreciate being here."

And, later, Manning did the ultimate no-no: He shook hands and thanked each reporter after the interview session.

"Peyton has been helpful," said Marc Mariani, a rookie kick returner for the Tennessee Titans. "He's been giving the young guys advice."

Manning said he told the first-time Pro Bowl players "what an honor it is to make it."

To the "repeat players," Manning said he told them: "Don't take it for granted. It's a special honor to be here."

This is Manning's 11th Pro Bowl, tied with tight end Tony Gonzalez of the Atlanta Falcons, and two behind linebacker Ray Lewis of the Baltimore Ravens.

"They've played every year they were selected," Manning said, "and they've had a great time. They're a great example. I hope everyone enjoys the week, and is grateful for being here. That's the extent of my host-committee duties."

This is the second year the Pro Bowl will be played between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Manning did not participate in last year's Pro Bowl, held in South Florida, because the Colts were preparing for the Super Bowl.

Manning said he "thinks most players" prefer the previous format of playing the Pro Bowl the week after the Super Bowl.

"But because it's over here, it's a great week," Manning said. "I love coming to Hawaii. The weather is great. The people are great. It's a fun week."

Manning said he enjoys sharing stories with the other quarterbacks.

"That's the one neat thing through the years, spending the week with a lot of different quarterbacks, whether it's Tom Brady or Ben Roethlisberger, or going back to Rich Gannon, Mark Brunell and Drew Bledsoe."

Recounting the names, Manning paused, then smiled. "Makes me feel old," he said.

The practices have been light this week. No pads, no contact.

But the AFC's head coach, Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots, has set a deadline for fun.

"Coach Belichick said he's 2-0 in his time here, and he wants to make it 3-0," Manning said, noting the series is tied at 20 victories apiece. "It will be an interesting tiebreaker. You have fun all week, but when it's time to play, you want to win."

Manning, starting quarterback Philip Rivers of the San Diego Chargers, and Kansas City's Matt Cassel, who played under Belichick for four years in New England, have been allowed input into the AFC's game plan.

"We're able to put in some things we like," Manning said. "It's been a good situation."

Well, there's one drawback. Offensive lineman Matt Light of the Patriots noted the unique Pro Bowl uniforms, which are somewhat snug and offer pants with shear siding.

"These are the latest and greatest of what the NFL made up," Light said. "It's somewhat of a problem for some guys out here. But for me, I look at it as an opportunity for me to shine. I think it shows off the lateral line in my leg. And these form-fitting jerseys, it'll be entertaining for all of you. If they're going to lock us out, they're going to make us look silly going. It should be good."

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