PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Thousands of military service members and their families crowded a small field at Pearl Harbor to catch a glimpse of their favorite NFL stars as they practiced in the rain in preparation for Sunday’s Pro Bowl.
Downpours didn’t stop kids and adults Thursday from shouting toward their favorite stars like Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson as they did light drills, then signed autographs.
New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead toyed with fans as he punted balls from one sideline toward fans behind a barrier on the other side of the field — each ball stopping well short of the crowd.
The practice at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam was held at a field named for famed aviator Amelia Earhart, near three large military transport planes.
The practice served as a reminder of why the Pro Bowl is important to keep around, Fitzgerald said.
“It’s an honor to be out here and to be able to meet all the servicemen and women — it makes it special,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s important that we come out and play well this year. We want to continue to have the Pro Bowl game and obviously want to keep it here.”
Earlier Thursday, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reiterated at a preview event for the 2014 Super Bowl that the Pro Bowl is in danger of going away.
“This is something we’ve got to deal with,” Goodell said. “And if we can’t improve on the quality of the game, it’s something we’re not going to do in the future.”
Service members on Thursday were thinking less about the future and more about snagging autographs and special moments with their favorite stars in the present.
Air Force Maj. Alan Partridge, a 33-year-old Seattle Seahawks fan, said the practice is special for military families, especially kids. He said he hopes the tradition continues.
“I think it’s still worth it to have (the game) even if they don’t play at 100 percent,” said Partridge, part of a crew that flies Boeing C-17 Globemaster III transport planes.
The NFC, which practiced first, got in more practice time than the AFC squad because of the rain, which intensified to a downpour by midday.
Buffalo running back CJ Spiller said the moment was a special part of a week spent celebrating being among the NFL’s best.
“Those guys do a lot for our country and they sacrifice private life to try to help make sure that we have a better country,” Spiller said. “It means a whole lot to come back here and be with these guys.”