KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- The pain doesn't go away. No amount of sun, sand, or surf will change that.
The six New England Patriots here for the Pro Bowl have plenty to distract them from their loss to the New York Giants in Super Bowl XLII -- the one that kept them from a record-breaking season of perfection.
But not even a week in paradise, preparing for the league's annual all-star game, is going to make them feel better about what happened last Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Ariz.
"This gets you away and it allows you to not think about it," said center Dan Koppen. "But it doesn't lessen it or dull it whatsoever. You just try and enjoy the week."
|Kirby Lee / Image of Sport|
|New England linebacker Mike Vrabel is one of six Patriots participating in the 2008 Pro Bowl.|
Mankins, Koppen, offensive tackle Matt Light, defensive tackle Vince Wilfork, linebacker Mike Vrabel, and cornerback Asante Samuel comprise the Patriots' Pro Bowl contingent. Quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Randy Moss also were selected to the AFC squad, but pulled out of the game.
After making an impromptu decision to shave his beard during a lengthy wait on a bus carrying players to their hotel after the Super Bowl, Mankins found himself trying to sort out how it had all gone so wrong against the Giants. The Patriots' offense, which set an NFL record for scoring during the regular season, was unable to accomplish much of anything against a punishing defense that sacked Brady five times and hit him repeatedly.
Mankins slept through much of the six-hour flight Monday from Phoenix to Honolulu, although he occasionally was jabbed awake by what took place against the Giants.
"It comes in your mind sometimes, like, 'How did we let that one get away?'" he said. "But that's how it goes sometimes. They played better that night. They made the plays when they had to and we didn't."
Mankins will get over the loss. It might not be this week or next week or next month. It might not be until deep into the offseason. But he'll get over it.
"Oh, yeah," he said. "There are a lot more important things than football.
"But we'll be working all offseason thinking about that one game, just like last year when we lost (to Indianapolis in the AFC Championship Game). A lot of guys still thought about that game as this season was going on. Those are the kind of games that drive you to be better."
"Congratulations to them, they deserved it," Wilfork said. "To go through what they went through in the first part of the season, everybody doubting them … I think they shut up a lot of people, especially a lot of people who doubted Peyton Manning's brother, Eli. I was telling Peyton today (during the AFC practice) I was very proud of what he did. He showed what a true champion's all about. He took in all of the criticism and turned it around."
"It's hard, but the Giants played really well and they deserved to win," Koppen said. "They made more plays than us."
Were the heavily favored Patriots guilty of being overconfident?
Koppen didn't think that was the case at all.
"We go into every game with the same mentality," he said. "We don't have those types of players that look past teams, and this definitely wasn't the case. We were going into the biggest game of our careers, against a really good football team that earned and deserved everything that they got, so no one was taking them for granted whatsoever."
"When you lose a game like that, it's hard to put into words what all goes through your mind," Light said. "But, hey, we had a great season. We've got a lot to be proud of and lot of things that went really well for us. It just didn't happen there at the end."
"Going 18-1, a lot of people look at it as a great year," he said. "We accomplished a lot, but at the end of the day, I'd rather be 10-6 with a Super Bowl ring than 18-1 without one. To me, 18-1 doesn't mean anything. You play this game for one reason and one reason only, and that's to get to the Super Bowl and win it. We came up short."
Wilfork probably has had the easiest time keeping the Super Bowl loss from gnawing at his psyche. As a first-time Pro Bowler and visitor to Hawaii, he is treating this week as a much-anticipated vacation.
"After we walked off the field, my mind was already on Hawaii," Wilfork said. "Now that it's here, I'm going to make the best of it."
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