Orlando’s first Pro Bowl rated a success by players

  • Tue Jan 31st, 2017 12:28am
  • Sports

The sun was shining, but there was a slight chill in the air as Drew Brees smiled and pointed down the field.

“My kids are having a ball,” the New Orleans Saints quarterback said. “Look, they’re over here right now throwing a ball on the side, playing tackle football with [Carolina Panthers tight end] Greg Olsen’s boys.”

That scene may not have happened if the Pro Bowl was held in Hawaii as usual. It was easier for Brees’ wife and children to travel to Florida — one of the reasons he and other NFL players agreed having the annual All-Star Game in Orlando, Fla., for the first time was a family- and fan-friendly experience.

It also added another major-league event to the city’s resume.

“Overall, I thought it was exceptional,” said Steve Hogan, CEO of Florida Citrus Sports. “I’m really proud of what we all did here, including the number of fans and local people who turned out and were loud during the game. We really showed everyone involved this is a big-event town.”

A week of events — a skills showcase, fan experiences, open practices, community service projects and more — was capped by the AFC beating the NFC 20-13 at Camping World Stadium in front of an announced attendance of 60,834. The crowd ranked fifth largest among Pro Bowls since 1970.

All those people, players and events were handled without major snags, Hogan said. Some areas will be improved in the near future, such as enhanced wireless internet for fans at the stadium. That will be in place for the WWE’s WrestleMania 33 on April 2.

“There’s not a ton I would point to as huge sore spots,” Hogan said, although he would have like it to be about 10 degrees warmer on game night. “It was more of a learning experience about how our community can work together with the NFL community to put on an even more spectacular Pro Bowl next year.

“Just top to bottom, it’s a very accessible destination. … That’s really where it was a home run. What the NFL wanted to do was amplify this whole Pro Bowl week. Orlando had to score amazingly high in that aspect.”

Detroit Lions kicker Matt Prater walked through Disney World’s ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex after a practice session Saturday, signing autographs while he recapped the week in his former college town.

“It’s a lot of fun and always nice to get back to where you started, come to UCF,” Prater said. “I went through all the football facilities and caught a basketball game. It was awesome. Saw [7-foot-6] Tacko [Fall] in person, he is ginormous. I think he dunked and then jumped after he dunked it. It was pretty crazy.”

Prater also mentioned it was a stress-free trip for his parents, who drove from Fort Myers, Fla., and a shorter flight for his 1-year-old son.

Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce, who was chosen the Pro Bowl’s offensive MVP on Sunday night, hit every country in Epcot and spent quality time with his mother, who lives in downtown Orlando, Fla.

Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi beamed as he described his first Pro Bowl experience.

“I’m just taking it in, every moment,” Ajayi said. “I can’t lie. I’m having a great time out here and definitely grateful to be here.”

Sunday’s game marked Brees’ 10th Pro Bowl appearance.

He praised Orlando, Fla., for the hordes of fans who watched open practices, the organization and quality of the fields at Disney World. He said he spent three days in a row at theme parks with his family.

“Hawaii doesn’t have a team,” Brees said, noting the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Jacksonville Jaguars, Dolphins and the Atlanta Falcons are within driving distance for Orlando’s NFL fans. “Hawaii, ya know, ya gotta fly to the mainland. So you get the feeling they really appreciate having NFL guys there. I hate that they don’t have that, and that was one of the great aspects of being there.

“Obviously everybody loves Hawaii, but I didn’t realize just how good a Pro Bowl here in Orlando could be.”