The Pro Bowl has become so diluted by player withdrawals, Super Bowl qualifiers and minimal effort that the NFL considered pulling the plug on it.
The future of the annual all-star game will be assessed again this spring, based partly on how Sunday’s game turns out, and in the event of a cancellation it’s a safe bet that Adrian Peterson won’t be the reason. Some of his Minnesota Vikings teammates there this week also bring a perspective that goes beyond the simple pleasure of a free midwinter trip to Hawaii.
Fullback Jerome Felton, who helped pave the way for Peterson’s 2,097 yards rushing this season, the second-most in league history, is a first-time selection. Tight end Kyle Rudolph, an injury replacement pick along with linebacker Chad Greenway, is also a Pro Bowl rookie. Defensive end Jared Allen wanted to delay surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder until after the game. Kicker Blair Walsh was so appreciative of the honor he paid for long snapper Cullen Loeffler to join him for the week.
Then there’s Peterson, who has never played at any speed other than full throttle. Motivation to play hard so soon after the physically taxing season is often missing for many, but he argues that letting up is more dangerous.
“When you play down, you put yourself in jeopardy of getting hurt going through the motions. So I won’t be playing down,” Peterson said earlier this month. “I’m going to play hard.”
Another motivating factor is the $50,000 bonus for members of the winning team, twice as much as the losers get.
“We get 50 more racks so we can give it to our mom, our dad, our family, or go buy a car. There’s a lot you can do with 50,” Peterson said.
Walsh could help defray the cost of his generosity. Walsh’s base salary in 2012 was $390,000, and as a sixth-round draft pick his signing bonus was a lot less than that. He lobbied for Loeffler to be selected to the NFC squad, but Detroit’s Don Muhlbach got the spot instead.
So Walsh is bringing Loeffler with him anyway.
“He’s a great guy and obviously has done a tremendous job and is just so thankful for the, I think, transformation that he’s made from his senior year in college to now,” Loeffler said. “As was our team being doubted before the season, so was he and the selection that they made. … He’s being really appreciative and showing tremendous gratitude toward me and bringing me a lot, too, which I’m thankful for.”
Walsh also told punter Chris Kluwe he’d paid for him to go, but Kluwe and his wife are going on their own dime.
“Just taking in the sun, laughing at Blair while he has to practice, and hanging out with Cullen by the pool,” Kluwe said Thursday in a phone interview. “He offered to take me as well, but I told him don’t worry about it. If I’m going to make it, I’m going to make it on my own. I did appreciate the offer, but I told him it’s OK: ‘You’re still on a rookie salary. You don’t have to cover the both of us.’ So he has a very vested interest in winning the game.”
Kickers and punters rarely back out of the game, so being named as an alternate doesn’t mean much. Kluwe and Loeffler have been trying to soak up the scene, hanging out with their wives and Walsh and his girlfriend during the down time.
“While it may not be the greatest game played because guys obviously don’t want to get injured and there’s a lot of restrictions on what you can do already, guys are excited to be out here,” Kluwe said. “It’s a pretty big deal because the ability to say you’re a Pro Bowler, to have that tag in front of your name, guys like it a lot.”