WAHIAWA, Hawaii -- Welcome to the 2016 Pro Bowl.
The NFL's All-Star festivities have returned to the only American state in geopolitical Oceania after spending a season in Arizona as a preamble to the Super Bowl in 2015. The move seems to have gone over well, especially here at the Wheeler Army Airfield, which graciously played host on Wednesday night.
Hangar 2 was packed with servicemen and women from across the country, including a Chargers fan and Packers fan from the Air Force who provided tours through one of four Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks on display. The 22,000-pound tactical transport copters are flying every day here in Wahiawa, and have even served in some emergency response situations around the island. The copters can carry enough water to fill two very large swimming pools, which was welcome information for the Dole fruit plantation nearby when a fire broke out.
The sprawling base, bookended by forest and wildlife reserves on either side, was the perfect venue for the large-scale meet and greet, as well as Michael Irvin's near-constant grunts and emotional outbursts after finding out that a player he wanted was already picked. Sorry Mike, Khalil Mack isn't lasting into the third round.
Here are a few takeaways:
1. NFL players almost always have to be on guard and while some still grasped tightly to their public relations attaché on Wednesday, so many were open and freely mingling with the troops. Much of the evening allowed for a no-holds-barred autograph session, and one of my favorite moments was watching Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert walk around with a helmet which he used to collect autographs of his own -- from the military personnel on site.
"It was awesome because a lot of them were surprised," Eifert told Around The NFL. "They're the real superstars. Honestly, the stuff they do, the sacrifices they make so that we can do our jobs -- it's unlike any other. I don't have the courage to do that stuff and so being able to talk to them was pretty cool."
2. Some other endearing moments: Eli Manning and Nick Mangold flinging footballs to servicemen -- and Giants kicker Josh Brown -- on the turf field out behind Hangar 2. Mangold secretly has incredible touch on his fade passes. Manning nailed a deep ball to a member of the Navy who specifically wanted to run a stop-and-go. It was also fun to see Khalil Mack playing pool with a few members of the Army and Browns tackle Joe Thomas throwing his feet up on the table and having a soda with a member of the Air Force.
Eli dropping dimes. Another day in the life... https://t.co/Jif7PAuKB1â NFL (@NFL) January 28, 2016
3. Russell Wilson was the first player not named Andrew Luck to go No. 1 overall in the new format. The Seahawks quarterback will be paired with an extremely strong offense on Team Irvin that includes A.J. Green, Julio Jones, DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson and Todd Gurley. Team Irvin is unquestionably the early favorite.
4. How did Charles Woodson last that long? Woodson, who told those in attendance that he's still young enough to party, ended up getting placed on team Rice after the other players at his position were all selected. It was a major coup for Team Rice, who receives an extremely motivated three-way player participating in his final football game late in the draft. Team Rice also features fellow Raiders Derek Carr, Amari Cooper and Khalil Mack.
6. If this was an actual knuckle-busting football game, imagine the hype surrounding these offensive lines. Team Irvin is boasting Branden Albert, Tyron Smith, Andrew Whitworth, David DeCastro, Zack Martin, Marshal Yanda and Alex Mack, while team Rice has Joe Staley, Joe Thomas, Kyle Long, Nick Mangold and a few others.
7. In what is undoubtedly the least surprising development of the evening, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham are teaming up again. Beckham got into the ear of legend Jerry Rice, convincing him to pick his former LSU teammate. Beckham also had a hand in making Manning -- a replacement for Ben Roethlisberger! -- the No. 2 overall pick after Wilson. It feels like both general managers are expecting a shootout.
8. A sign of the times: Wednesday's event featured a selfie lane, where people could waltz down a line of Pro Bowl athletes and snap pictures. Who takes the most awkward pictures? Time will tell...