With a gleam in his eye, a beer in his hand and a voice so loud
it could shake a high-rise hotel, veteran NFL tackle Scott Adams
stared out at the moonlit Pacific and assessed his maiden voyage
to the Pro Bowl. Waikiki Beach was nearly deserted at four in
the morning last Friday, and Adams, a 6'5", 315-pound monolith
with a thick Southern accent, was the toast of the coastline.
"This is my first day on the islands," he said, "and so far
we've seen some unbelievable scenery, laid on the beach in
80-degree weather, sucked down Mai Tais at sunset, eaten sushi
that melts in your mouth and been treated like kings because
we're football players. I'm having a terrible time."
Before the sarcasm had settled, Adams pulled off his shorts and
stumbled into the ocean for a...we'd like to call it a
skinny-dip, but his physique makes such a term incongruous.
Still, give the 31-year-old Athens, Ga., resident credit for
gumption: After nine NFL seasons with seven teams--not to
mention a one-year stint with the Barcelona Dragons of the World
League--Adams, most recently of the Atlanta Falcons, was letting
it all hang out in Hawaii. "This is an awesome experience for
me," he said 12 hours later, while enjoying happy hour at Duke's
Canoe Club along the same strip of sand. "You talk about a
journeyman--my picture's underneath the word in the dang
"And my picture's right next to it," added Ralph Tamm, a Kansas
City Chiefs backup lineman. "I've been with seven teams."
"Me, too," Adams said, "and this is my second turn with the
Falcons. You know you're a journeyman when you start coming back
to teams you've already played for."
At this point a question had to be raised: What the heck was
Adams doing in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, a game featuring the
NFL's elite players? The answer was that he was a guest of
Tamm's. Which leads to an even more relevant question: Who was
Tamm to invite anyone to the Pro Bowl? The 31-year-old has never
come close to being voted all-anything, yet this was the sixth
straight year he had gone to Honolulu to enjoy the spoils of
Initially lured by opportunities to make money through
autograph-signing appearances, Tamm, who aspires to be the NFL
Players Association's events coordinator, is among a growing
legion of nonparticipating players who make the Pro Bowl party
scene. Free to frolic without being distracted by details like
practices or a game, Tamm and his counterparts are poseurs in
paradise, and loving every minute of it. "This is the ideal way
to end a long season," Tamm says. "The local people treat us
like gold, and then we take off on game day and explore the
other islands." Tamm does not mean that he takes off after the
game. "I always plan to go to the game," he says sheepishly,
"but I've never made it."
What triggered this wave of unabashed party crashing? To
investigate, we spent 72 hours seeking answers.
"In the old days this game was for the All-Pros," said John
Wilbur, an agent who played for nine years for three NFL teams
and has lived in Hawaii since his career ended in 1974. "Now
it's become a convention that all players can enjoy."
Perhaps the additional traffic can be blamed on the Bus. In
1993, during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams,
running back Jerome Bettis told teammate Tim Lester, "If I make
it to Hawaii, you're coming with me." Bettis ran for 1,429 yards
that season, and Lester, Bettis's blocking fullback, indeed went
along the next January. "There was a big to-do about it, because
I was really the first guy to bring someone out here like that,"
Bettis said as he and Lester sat at a table overlooking the pool
at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki last Thursday
afternoon. "My philosophy was that he did a whole lot to get me
there, and I wanted him to enjoy the fruits of his labor."
Within seconds, Lester was enjoying a fruity cocktail. Both men
now play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and are well-versed in
poolside etiquette (Bettis being a four-time Pro Bowl selection,
and Lester a four-time tagalong). Together with two other
recipients of Bettis's largesse--Steelers halfback Fred McAfee
and former NFL safety Deral Boykin, most recently of the
Philadelphia Eagles--they were surveying some of the scantily
clad female vacationers who inevitably appear. "It's amazing how
many women show up," says Chiefs cornerback Mark McMillian,
whose trip came courtesy of Pro Bowl teammates Dale Carter and
Lester was voted the AFC's first alternate at fullback this
season behind the Chiefs' Kimble Anders. Though disappointed,
Lester rebounded quickly. "I like it better this way, because I
can kick it," he says. "Jerome gets jealous because he has to go
to practice while I sit around in a robe all day. My goal is to
play in the Pro Bowl, but if I don't, I've always got access
through the back door."
Now there are legions of backdoor men. Thanks to the combined
efforts of Pro Bowl defenders Chad Brown, Levon Kirkland and
Carnell Lake, most of the Steelers' starting defense showed up
at last year's Pro Bowl; also present was Pittsburgh's defensive
backs coach, Tim Lewis, a guest of Lake's. Another '97 crasher,
wideout Andre Rison, made this year's game and promptly invited
the rest of the Chiefs' receiving corps, quarterback Elvis Grbac
and assistant coaches Paul Hackett and Al Saunders. Many of the
invitations were politely declined; Grbac took a rain check.
Says Rison, "Elvis couldn't make it, but he still took me up on
the ticket. He's coming next week."
Just before the sun went down at Duke's last Friday, the Pro
Bowl Convention concept received its ultimate stamp of
legitimacy. It happened as Adams was assessing his first 36
hours in Hawaii. The previous evening he had attended a party at
Nick's Fishmarket hosted by Denver Broncos owner Pat Bowlen.
(Adams was the player cut by the Broncos in September after
tackle Gary Zimmerman ended his retirement.) Later at Scruples,
Honolulu's most player-laden nightspot, Adams was approached by
two attractive women, one of whom asked, "Are you in the Pro
Bowl?" "No," he replied, "I play for the Atlanta Falcons." The
women nodded and walked away.
At Duke's, despite the fact that Adams and Tamm had a prime
table, they were being ignored. But suddenly everything changed.
Without warning, Broncos quarterback John Elway and coach Mike
Shanahan appeared at the table. Several rounds of Mai Tais
followed, not to mention an endless stream of fans soliciting
autographs and photos. "This trip just keeps getting worse and
worse," Adams said, as two women brushed up behind him in an
attempt to greet Shanahan.
On Saturday, after a convertible ride to Oahu's North Shore, the
two linemen headed back into the funky village of Haleiwa for
chicken burritos and the day's first beers. Palm trees and soft
clouds and pineapple fields extended as far as the eye could
see. "I can't believe you brought me here," Adams said to Tamm.
"This place sucks. There's no way I'm coming next year."
A beat-up van filled with surfboards pulled up next to the
convertible at a stoplight. "You guys are football players," a
skinny, well-tanned passenger decreed. Tamm and Adams nodded.
"You Pro Bowlers?" the passenger asked.
Adams hesitated, then smiled proudly. "What the hell do you
think?" he yelled as the car accelerated down the road.
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO "I always plan to go to the game," says Tamm, left, with Adams, "but I've never made it." [Ralph Tamm and Scott Adams floating on surfboards]
COLOR PHOTO: V.J. LOVERO BUS FARE Bettis takes care of those who've helped get him to four Pro Bowls in his first five seasons. [Jerome Bettis in practice]