By AP News Wire
February 3, 2003
|Peyton Manning hands off to Ricky Williams in the NFL's Pro Bowl game in Hawaii. (AP Photo)|
HONOLULU (AP) - Former Tennessee stars Peyton Manning and Travis Henry helped lead the AFC to a 45-20 win over the NFC in the Pro Bowl--the NFL's annual all-star game in Hawaii.
Manning, playing in his third Pro Bowl, completed 5-of-11 passes for 100 yards, including a 32-yard touchdown pass to Hines Ward in the fourth quarter. Henry, in his first Pro Bowl appearance, scored on a 13-yard pass from Rich Gannon in the second quarter and rushed for 12 yards on seven carries.
Former Tennessee All-America linebacker Al Wilson of the Denver Broncos was chosen to play in the Pro Bowl but was unable to play due to injury.
The NFL's leading rusher this seasoin, Ricky Williams, ran for 56 yards, scored two touchdowns and forced a fumble on special teams to earn the MVP award as the AFC beat the NFC 45-20 on Sunday for their sixth win in the last seven Pro Bowls.
Williams' multifaceted performance was the highlight of a dominant afternoon for the AFC, which got three 100-yard games from its quarterbacks and six interceptions from its defense as the NFL wrapped up its season with another high-scoring all-star game.
"It seems every time we're over here, we do pretty well," said Kansas City tight end Tony Gonzalez, who had five catches for 98 yards. "The last couple of games I've played in, it wasn't even close."
With his dreadlocks, surfer wardrobe and profoundly mellow ways, Williams is right at home in Hawaii - both on its beaches and in its football stadiums.
In his first Pro Bowl, Williams won his second MVP award in a Hawaii all-star game. In 1999, he capped his Heisman Trophy-winning senior season at Texas by dominating the Hula Bowl.
Hawaii suits his famously detached personality, but his effort was anything but mellow.
"What's fun is how laid-back everything is," Williams said. "It's always great to get in the end zone, but it's especially great to do it against the best players in the world with millions of people watching."
Williams, who led the NFL in rushing for the Dolphins after three tough seasons in New Orleans, also caught three passes as the AFC jumped to a 28-6 halftime lead and eliminated the tension - already minor at best - from this good-natured exhibition.
"I always like coming here, because it's a free vacation," said Oakland safety Rod Woodson, who had two interceptions in his 11th Pro Bowl appearance. "We were able to jump on top early with some big defensive plays, and that's all you need in this game."
Gannon, the MVP of the regular season and the previous two Pro Bowls, went 12-for-18 for 102 yards and two TDs. Drew Bledsoe passed for 122 yards, and Peyton Manning had 100.
The AFC nearly broke the Pro Bowl record of 51 points set by the NFC in 2000. But Buffalo's Eric Moulds was ruled out of bounds in the end zone with 1:24 left after a 36-yard pass from Manning.
The coaching staffs from Philadelphia and Tennessee made sure the game was decided in the air. The teams set records for most combined pass attempts (101) and combined interceptions (8).
A sellout crowd at Aloha Stadium enjoyed another blowout victory for the AFC, which has dominated the matchup in recent years. Each of the AFC's players earned $30,000 for the win, with the NFC's stars receiving $15,000 apiece.
Jerry Rice, the oldest starter in Pro Bowl history, had four catches for 36 yards in his 13th appearance - his first representing the Raiders with the AFC. Manning made several attempts to throw to Rice in coverage, trying to live his dream of throwing a TD pass to football's greatest receiver.
Gannon appeared to be recovered from his Super Bowl malaise, though facing only a few players from Tampa Bay's punishing defense probably helped.
Asked if the AFC was seeking revenge for the Buccaneers' Super Bowl triumph, safety John Lynch said: "It seemed like Rich Gannon did. I don't know what it is. They've been getting the better of us in this game."
Jeff Garcia, making his first Pro Bowl start, threw three interceptions in the first 17 minutes. Donovan McNabb wasn't much better for the NFC, and New England's Ty Law returned one of Buccaneers QB Brad Johnson's passes for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
The NFC's best performance might have come from its kicker. Philadelphia's David Akers set a Pro Bowl record by kicking a 53-yard field goal against a strong crosswind in the second quarter.
The Super Bowl champions were well-represented, with six Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the lineup. Linebacker Shelton Quarles was a last-second addition; he already was in Hawaii for a vacation when Atlanta's Keith Brooking dropped out.
The AFC had a balanced effort, but Williams won the MVP Cadillac with several key plays. In the second quarter, Williams even forced a fumble while playing on the kickoff coverage team for the first time since the eighth grade.
"I had a great time this whole week hanging out with the guys," he said. "I got a chance to see this beautiful island and relax. Hopefully I'll be able to come back many, many more times."