SAN FRANCISCO: National Football League fans hungry for the Super Bowl 50 showdown between the Carolina Panthers and Denver Broncos got an appetizer on Sunday (Monday in Manila) with the Pro Bowl exhibition in Hawaii.
As the Panthers and Broncos arrived in San Francisco, shifting the center of the NFL universe to the Bay Area, league stars whose teams didn’t make it to the February 7 championship spectacle strutted their stuff at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu — where the all-star team captained by former Dallas Cowboys great Michael Irvin defeated the team captained by former 49ers legend Jerry Rice 49-27.
Seven different Team Irvin players caught touchdown passes, and their teammates intercepted six passes in the victory.
Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson threw three touchdown passes while Vikings signal-caller Teddy Bridgewater and Tampa Bay’s Jameis Winston each threw two scoring passes — the delight of Irvin.
Irvin, a Hall of Fame receiver, picked Wilson first in the Pro Bowl roster draft and surrounded him with young running backs and elite receivers.
Wilson connected for touchdowns with receiver Julio Jones, running back Devonta Freeman of the Atlanta Falcons and Rams rookie running back Todd Gurley in the first half.
Team Irvin led 28-14 at halftime. Wilson competed eight of 12 passes for 164 yards and three touchdowns, and he was named the game’s Most Valuable Player.
Wilson said after the game that he would “never take for granted” any chance to play football.
But the quarterback who led the Seahawks to the Super Bowl the past two seasons, winning once and coming up short against New England last year, admitted to a TV interviewer in the second half that “obviously it sucks to not be in the Super Bowl. But to be here, I’m grateful as can be.”
New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning — whose brother Peyton Manning will lead the Broncos in the Super Bowl — started for Team Rice.
Manning and Oakland Raiders quarterback David Carr threw touchdown passes to Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce in the first half.
It was a lighthearted, almost leisurely affair, and even though the Pro Bowl returned to its traditional locale of Hawaii it provided a fitting lead-in to the hoopla of Super Bowl week.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, the arrivals of the Broncos and Panthers were minutely chronicled — with Newton’s travel ensemble featuring zebra-print trousers creating a social media sensation.
On Monday, the title contenders will run the gauntlet of Super Bowl Opening Night, a re-branded version of Media Day in which players meet the world’s press and celebrity inquisitors.
Then they’ll try to set the hype aside and concentrate on the real task at hand — winning the Super Bowl crown.