Tampa Bay DE Simeon Rice will get another chance to pursue Tennessee QB Steve McNair on Sunday in the 2004 Pro Bowl
The 2003 National Football League season reached its conclusion on Sunday with New England's thrilling Super Bowl win over Carolina. One piece of unfinished business remains, however: the Pro Bowl.
Keenan McCardell and Simeon Rice set out on the long trip to Honolulu, Hawaii on Monday, preparing to represent the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFL's all-star game. Two other elected Bucs, Derrick Brooks and Warren Sapp, will sit out the game due to family illness and injury, respectively.
This is the 25th Pro Bowl to be held in Hawaii, which has been the home of this showcase of talent since 1980. It's a familiar location for all of the Bucs' 2004 selections; Brooks and Sapp were chosen for the seventh time in a row, Rice is making his second consecutive appearance and third overall and McCardell is repeating the Pro Bowl visit he made in 1996 as a member of the Jacksonville Jaguars.
So McCardell and Rice will have a good feel for the week's schedule when it kicks off on Tuesday morning in Honolulu. The AFC and NFC squads will take turns visiting Aloha Stadium for early morning practices from Tuesday through Saturday, all of them open to the public but very low-key affairs.
On Friday, players will be involved in two lengthy events, a Pro Bowl festival at Kapiolani Park during the afternoon and a Pro Bowl block party at Aloha Tower Marketplace during the evening. At both events, the league's top stars will sign autographs for local fans. Many of the players will also participate in a charity golf tournament Friday afternoon.
The 2004 Pro Bowl will kick off at 2:30 p.m. local time – 7:30 p.m. Eastern Time – and will be televised on ESPN. Rice will start the game for the NFC; McCardell is a reserve. All three will attempt to break the AFC's recent stranglehold on the event; the AFC has won the last three Pro Bowls and six of the last seven. The last four games have been very high-scoring affairs, even by the standards of the Pro Bowl, which uses somewhat relaxed rules to avoid injury and incidentally drive up scoring (example: no blitzing). The two teams have averaged a combined score of 67.5 points over the last four years, and the winner has scored 38 or more in every contest.
Buccaneers.com will provide updates from the Pro Bowl scene this week, complete with interviews with the Bucs on hand.
Cheers at the Pro Bowl
The participants in the 2004 Pro Bowl are the best football players in the world, and they will be cheered on by the best in the business, as well.
Like the team's themselves, the AFC and NFC cheerleading squads are comprised of all-stars from around the league. Each cheerleading team in the league selects one of its members to travel to Honolulu and form a pair of super-squads for the two sidelines. The all-star cheerleaders practice routines individually at home before joining forces in Hawaii and working feverishly to produce exact routines in time for Sunday's game.
This year, the Buccaneers will be represented by Angela Crawford, who is in her fourth year on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Cheerleaders squad. This is Crawford's first trip to the Pro Bowl, following her initial season as a team captain. Crawford will be part of a 12-women crew that also includes cheerleaders from Arizona, Atlanta, Carolina, Dallas, Minnesota, New Orleans, Philadelphia, St. Louis, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington.
You can read about Crawford and the other Pro Bowl cheerleaders, and vote in a poll concerning the selected women, by clicking here.
Brooks and Sapp might have been joined by a third Buc with a seventh Pro Bowl bid if not for an injured neck.
For the first time since 1997, Buccaneer fullback Mike Alstott will not be on the NFC squad.
Alstott's absence can be blamed on health. His early-season neck injury robbed him of all but four games this season and probably was the main reason he lost his grip on the NFC fullback spot to San Francisco's Fred Beasley.
So Alstott's all-star tally will hold at six for now – that's still a team record for offensive players – but he will remain a presence in the Pro Bowl record book. Alstott, in fact, is the only player score three touchdowns in a single game in the Pro Bowl's 33-year history.
Alstott also holds the career Pro Bowl record for touchdowns by a running back, with four. In addition to the three he scored in the 2000 game, the bruising back also got into the end zone once last year on a four-yard reception on a pass from teammate Brad Johnson. The only player in the history of the Pro Bowl with more touchdowns than Alstott is Jacksonville wide receiver Jimmy Smith, with five (all receptions).
Alstott's three rushing touchdowns in 2000 are tied for the highest Pro Bowl career total in that category. The Buccaneer back shares the record with two rather notable players, Earl Campbell and Chuck Muncie.
Alstott will not get a chance to separate himself from Campbell and Muncie this February, but he plans on returning strong from his neck injury in 2004, so there very well may be more Pro Bowl appearances in his future.