Lack Of Support Imperils Pro Bowl

When I left the seminary, lo those many years ago, and removed the white collar, I took a vow to give up preaching as well.

So I’ll make this as direct, factual and un-preachy as possible: If you like having the Pro Bowl in Hawaii, attend the Pro Bowl this Sunday. Simple as that.

Yes, the NFL’s all-star game – kicking off for the 33rd and perhaps final time at Aloha Stadium – has a number of issues that imperil its viability. They start with the competitive nature of the game. Last year’s laugher had as much to do with a pro football game as a Hokey Pokey festival. You put your right knee in, you take your right knee out … before some 300-pound nose tackle can shake it all about.

But just as important in the eyes of NFL leadership is diminished local fan support. A source who works on the Pro Bowl for the NFL tells me that while half the stadium’s 50,000 seats routinely sell to Mainland fans, the number of Hawaii fans buying tickets has dropped dramatically. That’s a problem.

NFL folks also sat up and took note when the game was played in Miami two years ago and it sold out – 70,697 people at SunLife Stadium, the biggest crowd at the Dolphins’ stadium in more than four years.

That’s one of the reasons the local Pro Bowl Host Committee led by Dr. Edison Miyawaki, part-owner of the Cincinnati Bengals, came up with the inaugural class of Hawaii NFL Legends, announced in MidWeek last week. They’re to be introduced on the field before the game, and it will be a proud moment for Hawaii when seven of our own are honored. Hopefully, this will not be the last time we see this scene unfold at Aloha Stadium.

Meanwhile there are things the NFL can and should do to make Pro Bowl Week better.

Fan access to players, for example, also has diminished over the years, and I see a direct correlation with game attendance. Decamping players from Waikiki hotels to Ko Olina is a factor in that.

And scheduling the game the week before the Super Bowl instead of the Sunday after The Really Big Game takes significant luster off the Pro Bowl. The loudest cheers in Pro Bowls past came when members of the just-crowned Super Bowl champs were introduced. (One of the great sports experiences of my life was during an AFC practice at the stadium for the 1980 Pro Bowl, when I got to run pass routes for Terry Bradshaw just days after he was tossing TD passes to Lynn Swann and John Stallworth in the Steelers’ comeback win over the L.A. Rams. That was the year I also got to field punts from Ray Guy of the Raiders, who boomed big, high curveballs. But I sentimentally digress about a smaller, simpler time in the NFL …)

Anyway, bottom line, so to speak: Without more local support, meaning fans’ fannies in stadium seats, you can kiss your Pro Bowl – and all the revenue and positive publicity it brings Hawaii – goodbye.

And that’s the way it is. * There’s a bit of back story to last week’s cover story on Wally Yonamine, one of the local boys being honored at the Pro Bowl.

It started with my trip to Japan last spring, which included a Yomiuri Giants baseball game at the Tokyo Dome and a visit to the Japan Baseball Hall of Fame there. I was looking in particular for anything having to do with the Father of Baseball, Alexander Cartwright, subject of my book The Ball That Changed The World. I found it, as well as Wally Yonamine’s Hall of Fame plaque. I mentioned this in a May MidWeek column, with a photo of Wally’s plaque.

That prompted a nice email and call from Wally’s widow Jane, who graciously sent me a copy of the book Wally Yonamine: The Man Who Changed Japanese Baseball by Robert K. Fitts. Busy with my own projects, I set it aside in my to-read stack.

So when MidWeek got an exclusive on the Pro Bowl honoring seven local players, including Wally. I immediately picked up the book, and it was invaluable in researching Wally’s cover story.

Things do have a funny way of working out sometimes.