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Friday, February 8, 2002
Updated: February 12, 4:12 PM ET
Why the Pro Bowl went Hawaii

By Locke Peterseim
Special to Page 2

It's not easy for NFL players, coaches, and sports media folk, having to trudge all the way down to Honolulu every February for the Pro Bowl. They have to put up with the sun, the beaches, the poi, and, of course, the inevitable "Wanna get lei-ed?" and "Book 'em, Danno!" jokes.

Jon Gruden
A trip to the Pro Bowl in Hawaii can take the edge off NFL tough guys like Raiders coach Jon Gruden, pictured with his son, Jon II.
So why Hawaii? Why suffer such hardship just for an all-star game? Why travel more than 2,300 miles to a place that wasn't even a state until someone decided in 1959 that American men's shirts were sorely lacking in gaily colored flowers and so something must be done? (That's right: the 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor did not technically take place in the United States. However, "Blue Hawaii," Elvis' 1960 attack on Angela Lansbury and cinematic taste, did.)

The postseason NFL all-star game began in 1939, when the New York Giants -- who had lost 27-0 to the Packers in the NFL championship game -- played a team of all-stars comprising NFL players and standouts from independent West Coast pro teams. (In the 1930s, several pro leagues had formed in California but had quickly fallen apart. By 1939, the big attractions out West were the Los Angeles Bulldogs and independent player Kenny Washington, the former UCLA All-America tailback and teammate of Jackie Robinson. The NFL had banned Washington for his failure to be Caucasian, though later he would join the NFL the year before Robinson would break the color barrier in Major League Baseball.)

That first version of the Pro Bowl, which was short-lived (ending in 1942), was played in South Central L.A., at the other Wrigley Field, the home of chewing-gum emperor William Wrigley's Pacific Coast League Angels, which was modeled down to the ivy-covered outfield wall after the "Friendly Confines" a couple thousand miles to the east.

The Pro Bowl returned in 1951, this time as a matchup between the NFL's American and National Conferences, renamed the Eastern and Western Conferences in 1954. Following tradition, the Pro Bowl games between 1951 and 1970 were played at Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles.

The merger of the NFL and AFL in 1970 ushered in the modern era of Pro Bowls. The game was played in Los Angeles from 1971 to 1973, and then drifted around the country for a while, avoiding winter wonderlands like Buffalo and Green Bay for milder clime such as Tampa, New Orleans, Miami, and Dallas.

In 1980, Hawaii was giddy about its role as the original host of the Superstars competition, but realized that to be truly American, it needed a meaningless NFL game. So, the plucky young state (just turned 21!) wooed the NFL with leis and Jack Lord in a Speedo, and got the Pro Bowl the same year that "Magnum, P.I." debuted. Hawaii's tourism officials sure earned their poi that year.

And there the Pro Bowl has remained for 22 years. Will it be forever? Maybe. The Hawaii Tourism Authority paid the NFL $19.5 million to host the game from 2002 to 2005, but Orlando bid to host the game during the 1990s, and will likely do so again.

"Closer Look" will be a regular Page 2 feature, exploring a hot sports topic in greater detail. Locke Peterseim is a contributing editor at Britannica.com. He has never been to Hawaii, but he has watched many episodes of "Hawaii Five-0."