HONOLULU - Rich Gannon doesn't care what anyone says, the Pro Bowl means something.
And not just for the $30,000 you get if you win. Yet the Oakland quarterback understands why it's easy to think of the Pro Bowl as anything but a sporting event.
It is billed as a weeklong party in paradise for the NFL's elite, and that's fairly accurate. Players talk coaches into cutting short practice, and an afternoon of beach bowling on popular Waikiki is the newest featured event.
Still, Gannon's mind is made up.
"I think this is taken seriously," he said. "Everyone wants to play their best, especially when you get to the fourth quarter."
The opportunity to shine in this game is short. Gannon will play in his third Pro Bowl today (4:30 p.m., ABC-Ch. 6) at Aloha Stadium, starting for the AFC. He expects to last about a quarter.
Coach Bill Cowher of the Steelers hadn't made a final decision on playing time Friday morning, when both teams canceled practice because of a downpour. Super Bowl MVP Tom Brady and Pittsburgh's Kordell Stewart will relieve Gannon in the game, which tends to favor the offense.
Kurt Warner of Super Bowl runner-up St. Louis will start for the NFC, followed by San Francisco's Jeff Garcia and Philadelphia's Donovan McNabb.
NFC coach Andy Reid and others say it's hard to predict Pro Bowls, though his team was the slight favorite.
"We're going to go out there and kick their butts," joked Brady. "There's a lot of talent on this team from what I see. But I don't know how they could even pick a line for this game."
Keyshawn Johnson turned to Tampa Bay teammate John Lynch this week and asked him if they could bring a Super Bowl title to the Buccaneers with such an all-star roster.
"I was telling John I wish we could always play with this team," Johnson said, smiling.
Johnson, Lynch and Tampa's two other Pro Bowl representatives found out Friday they still don't have a new head coach after talks broke off between the team and Baltimore defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis. The two sides appeared headed toward an agreement.
The players did not want to talk about the coaching situation.
Johnson said for now Reid is his coach. And the receiver could use a good showing Saturday because he needs the extra money - players on the losing squad leave with $15,000.
"Everyone does talk about the money, but one thing that does kick in is pride," Cowher said. "These are good players and it comes down to them wanting to win the game."
Dallas linebacker Dexter Coakley compares the Pro Bowl to the season. This is Coakley's second trip.
"The first quarter is like the preseason, the second and third quarters are like the regular season," he said. "And the fourth quarter is going to be like the regular season and the playoffs, because everyone realizes they have to pay for hotel rooms so they're trying to play for the bigger checks."
It depends on the player as to how much emphasis they place on the Pro Bowl.
"It's not the Super Bowl, that's for sure," said seventh-year Pro Bowl player Aeneas Williams of the Rams. "With the atmosphere, it's hard to get in a serious mode."
Ahman Green is convinced the game means more to younger players and to first-timers like himself.
"I take it pretty seriously," said the Packers running back, who dresses next to veteran Pro Bowl players Marshall Faulk and Mike Alstott in the locker room. "To those guys it's routine. They'll probably play five or 10 minutes in the first quarter."
Don't tell that to Seattle's John Randle.
"Lots of players thrive on competition," the seven-time Pro Bowl player said. "At the beginning of the week guys are talking and messing around and laid back. But once the game is being played, you're back in the regular-season mode."
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