By OSKAR GARCIA
HONOLULU — The NFC team ended its first Pro Bowl practice by breaking the huddle and shouting, “Win.” One night earlier, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning asked his fellow all-stars to play the game hard.
And players on both sides pledged Wednesday to play more determined in a game with a reputation of being taken less seriously than preseason exhibitions or meaningless Week 17 contests.
“We’re professional football players. I think you take a professional attitude to the game,” said Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck, one of two rookie passers in the game along with Seattle’s Russell Wilson. “It is an obligation of ours to continue this game.”
The future of the game to be held Sunday in Hawaii is uncertain. The contest was almost not scheduled at all this year after players faced blowback from commissioner Roger Goodell and fans for clearly not trying last year.
That’s made the 2013 Pro Bowl something of an audition. A league executive said Tuesday the NFL wants to decide on the future of the Pro Bowl by April, when the next regular season schedule comes out.
Manning responded later that night by urging players to play at full speed, according to a report by NFL.com. NFL officials said Wednesday a transcript of Manning’s speech wasn’t available, and Manning was not made available for comment after his team’s practice.
The AFC and NFC squads showed slightly different styles during a low key practice at a high school on Oahu’s west side, with players barely breaking a sweat while wearing T-shirts and shorts.
Manning and Luck took the field at the same time for passing drills to AFC receivers like Houston’s Andre Johnson, Indianapolis’ Reggie Wayne and Cincinnati’s A.J. Green.
The NFC practice included 7-on-7 scrimmage plays, special teams practice with punts and field goals and plenty of passes for Drew Brees, Eli Mannning and Wilson.
While some players, including Brees, spent time signing autographs for fans waiting just outside a campus gate, others didn’t linger around after practice as a bus promptly returned them to the team hotel.
Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz joked that he might take a surfing lesson before saying he thinks the game will be well-played.
When asked what the Green Bay coaches on the NFC side might think of him hitting the waves, Cruz said: “That’ll be our secret.”
Brees said the Pro Bowl is important in part because it’s a big moment for Hawaii, a state without an NFL team.
“There’s so many guys who come out here and take this with a sense of responsibility,” Brees said.
Denver cornerback Champ Bailey says players should take the honor of a Pro Bowl seriously because they never know when they will get the opportunity to return.
“This is a tradition that needs to keep going,” Bailey said. “That’s the only way we’re going to keep it going, is if we come over here and take it seriously.”