Pro Bowl is cure for what ails NFL stars after disappointing year

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- The sun melted into the ocean on a flawless Thursday evening as a cool breeze brushed the burnt skin of everyone near the pool. This is supposed to be perfect, and in many ways it is, a sense validated by the laughter coming from the bar area.

Yet underneath these smiles, behind the T-shirt worn by Denver Broncos coach John Fox that reads, "It is what it is," there's a lingering feeling that these men here just can't kick. It throbs. And it's fresh. And it just won't go away.

"Coming to Hawaii might be the best cure for the sting I feel," said Fox, taking a breath between stories that he's been telling a circle of men that includes his quarterback, Peyton Manning. "I still have my stitches in. My scar is going to be there, and these guys probably feel very similar to me."

These guys, as Fox calls them, include a wide range of players and coaches, from New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning to Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy to Seattle Seahawks rookie Russell Wilson, each one using this week at the Pro Bowl as an attempt at therapeutic relief from a season that none believe should be over for them.

Some people come to places like this and lose all motivation. But how can you lose motivation when a television in the background of the bar is airing sports news from the mainland, where the Baltimore Ravens and San Francisco 49ers are preparing for the Super Bowl?

"I'm very happy for Coach (Jim) Harbaugh," said Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who was mentored by the 49ers coach during their time at Stanford together. "But I wish I was the one getting to play against him in the Super Bowl."

Maybe it's true for every year, but this postseason's obituaries seem to read particularly harsh. And as a result, these men are having a particularly tough time letting this season go.

"All of us have had major disappointments in our seasons," Fox said.

From the Packers falling short of their Super Bowl anticipations to the Seahawks' season coming to an end despite a 20-point comeback against the Falcons to Atlanta's meltdown against the 49ers in their own season-ending loss, the league's top names can all look back on this season with very legitimate "what if" questions.

For the Broncos, whose sting might be the worst of the bunch, especially after that double-overtime loss to the Ravens, they are at least in this together. Manning flew his two backup quarterbacks, Brock Osweiler and Caleb Hanie, to Hawaii for this week's festivities. It has allowed all of them, with Fox included, to talk about the aftershock of a season fallen short.

So while it might look like Fox is far from unhappy (he looks more like the Mayor of Honolulu around these parts), he is nonetheless quietly finding more desire to get his team to the Super Bowl next season.

"When you get to hang out with Pro Bowl players that have had outstanding seasons, when you get to talk to them socially, as well as in the meeting rooms, it reenergizes you as a football coach," Fox said.

On Monday, Manning urged the NFL to move the Pro Bowl to after the Super Bowl so the Pro Bowl selections from both of the final two teams can also make this trip. Whether that happens remains to be seen -- an unlikely scenario given the league's desire to benefit from the ratings of a week when interest in the NFL is high.

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And as a result, there will remain a strange and interesting dynamic in Hawaii. While everyone here is most certainly making the most of their time, nobody really wants to come back. That's nothing against the game or the week or the paradise where it all happens.

Instead, the reason is very simple, a sentiment shared by everyone.

"We'd much rather be playing in the Super Bowl," Fox said. "And we'll do whatever we can to try to make that happen next season instead."

Follow Jeff Darlington on Twitter @jeffdarlington