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Don't dismiss this year's Pro Bowl without giving it a chance

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. -- This is a unique year, with the Pro Bowl being held one week before the Super Bowl in the same city. There were many skeptics about this game, but after watching both teams practice for two days and interviewing 22 players, I came away with a different story. Players really like South Florida, the nightlife and the fan enthusiasm.

Many players said they were able to bring more family and friends because of the reduced cost of travel and hotels. Tennessee Titans defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch had his three children wrapped around his legs while we talked football, and he said practice was the only time they haven't been in the pool playing. The offensive linemen say they love the private section of beach and the Tiki Bar, where they can just sit around with each other and talk football and food. The young, unmarried guys love the South Beach nightlife, so all in all, the Pro Bowl away from Hawaii is much more of a success than a failure now that the players have given it a chance.

As for Sunday night's game, it really is an exhibition, but as San Francisco 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith said, "Once someone punches me in the mouth, this will turn into a competitive football game."

Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Roddy White believes that as long as the game is close at halftime, both teams will turn it up in the second half, trying to win the prize money and the bragging rights.

Cleveland Browns special-teams ace Josh Cribbs told me that he has stopped by to see his NFC friends and warn them he's "taking one to the house" and that they better be ready for him.

Said Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo: "It just felt good to get some football in and finish off the year on a good note after the disappointing end to the season."

As good-hearted and loose as Jared Allen can be, the Minnesota Vikings' defensive end convinced me that he's looking for a few sacks and a chance to do his calf-tying dance for the fans.

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson took time to talk with the high school guys in the USA-World game being played Saturday. Jackson looked smaller than most of the guys he was talking to, but he had a big message about reaching your dreams by staying focused and out of trouble. He will put on a show for those young men Sunday.

Titans running back Chris Johnson told me that he wasn't as interested in racing Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Chad Ochocinco as he was in boxing him. I asked Johnson if he ever lost a fight, and he said his last loss was in 1985 (the year he was born).

Denver Broncos safety Brian Dawkins was so proud of the fact that he made the Pro Bowl on a new team in a new conference, and as always, he will play with that familiar intensity. I'm sure he'd like to remind the Eagles of what they let go.

There's no doubt of Washington Redskins linebacker London Fletcher's enthusiasm when I talked to him about his first Pro Bowl after many years of being ignored. That emotion will spill over onto the field at Sun Life Stadium on Sunday, and he's going to let the AFC running backs get a little taste of Fletcher tackling.

Sure, the game would have more appeal if Peyton Manning and Drew Brees were playing in it. However, on the dead weekend before the hype of the Super Bowl starts to mount, this will be an entertaining game. But it might not be as entertaining as watching Vikings running back Adrian Peterson run after the buses that pulled away from the practice field without him Friday. Peterson took off like a bullet through the crowds and down the street in his cleats until he caught that bus, with Redskins rookie Brian Orakpo behind him yelling, "Catch the bus, AP!"

I think the Pro Bowl will return to South Florida a lot sooner than people believed a few weeks ago.

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