LB Derrick Brooks is headed to Hawaii for the third straight year
As consolation prizes go, this one's not too shabby. As everyone knows, the teams that win the two conference championship games head to the Super Bowl, Sunday's grand culmination of the National Football League's long season. The two teams that come up on the losing end in the conference championship games take a trip, too; at least, the football staff does. Those two staffs head to Honolulu to coach against each other in the Pro Bowl.
This year, it will be a pair of Florida teams that head to that other sunny paradise, as the Tampa Bay and Jacksonville crews head to the Pacific. Along with the Bucs' coaching staff, the personnel in the team's training, video, equipment and personnel departments will all attend the Pro Bowl. Since there are also six Buccaneers playing in the Pro Bowl – Mike Alstott, Derrick Brooks, John Lynch, Tony Mayberry, Hardy Nickerson and Warren Sapp – it will be a veritable Tampa Bay reunion in Hawaii.
Tampa Bay's coaches and personnel will be leaving for Hawaii on Saturday, Sunday and Monday. General Manager Rich McKay has indicated that the team's coaching staff and personnel department will also use that week to continue the team's detailed self-analysis, going over each player and position to prepare for the swiftly-approaching free agency period. Buccaneers.com will provide reports from the team's activities in Hawaii all week.
This marks the second straight season that the Tampa Bay football staff has headed to a postseason game as the NFC representative. Last year, as the NFC squad that came the closest to making the playoffs without qualifying, the Buccaneers were sent to Mobile, Alabama to coach the Senior Bowl, a prestigious college all-star game. While Mobile can't quite match the tourist attractions of Honolulu, it did prove to be a valuable experience. Tampa Bay's first two draft choices last April, Louisiana State DT Anthony McFarland and Tulane QB Shaun King, were both players that the Bucs' coaching staff grew very fond of at the Senior Bowl.
The Pro Bowl won't offer the same advantages, but it is an enjoyable experience nonetheless, according to Tampa Bay Head Coach Tony Dungy. "It's a chance to be around the best players in the game," said Dungy. "And it's good to see so many of our own guys in the game. It says a lot about the talent on our roster."
It's also a chance for Dungy to combine the forces that made the NFC Championship Game in St. Louis last Sunday such an elemental showdown. Dungy's Pro Bowl squad will feature four Buccaneer starters on defense and four Ram starters on offense. They won't play against each other this time, but Brooks, Lynch, Nickerson and Sapp will team with St. Louis' Isaac Bruce, Marshall Faulk, Orlando Pace and Kurt Warner to try to put an end to the AFC's three-game Pro Bowl winning streak.
Dungy will also have the services of Arizona DE Simeon Rice at his disposal, after Dungy named Rice as the NFC's 'need player'. Each conference selects a squad of 42 players, then the head coach is allowed to pick one need player, who must be a defensive end or a linebacker. Dungy selected Rice, a notable Pro Bowl omission who finished second in the NFL with 16.5 sacks. Rice had previously indicated that he wasn't interested in playing in the game, but apparently changed his mind due to the fact that it was Dungy that selected him.
Rice and the rest of the NFC squad will spend the week practicing under Dungy's supervision. The Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, February 6 and will be televised live by ABC-TV and CBS Radio beginning at 5:30 p.m.