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Lynch cherishing Pro Bowl experience, working harder than ever

KAPOLEI, Hawaii -- Denver Broncos safety John Lynch went to work out before dawn and discovered a familiar foe in the hotel's fitness center: San Diego Chargers fullback Lorenzo Neal.

Lynch and Neal are 15-year veterans and the oldest AFC players participating in Sunday's Pro Bowl. Lynch is 36 and has been invited to Hawaii nine times. Neal is 37 and is a four-time Pro Bowler.

"Some of the young cats are sleeping in and we're up in the gym working before breakfast," Lynch said. "Only the 15-year guys are in there. I think that says something."

It certainly says a lot about the dedication and hard work it takes to have a long, successful career in the NFL. It may also say something about Lynch's desire to come back for another season.

While most players are in vacation mode, soaking up the sunshine and mai tais, Lynch is working harder than ever.

He wasn't ready to say whether he'll return or retire, but spending a week with the league's top talent will help Lynch make that decision.

"Coming over here, it gives you a good gauge," he said. "Hopefully that provides some insight. But we're just enjoying it right now. When the time is appropriate, we'll make a good decision."

Lynch took his time coming off the football field at Kapolei High School on Wednesday. He joked around with fellow defensive backs, including Broncos teammate Champ Bailey. He exchanged greetings with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell and did an interview with the high school's TV crew, which wasn't able to nab Peyton Manning.

He said he has never taken for granted the opportunity to play football. So that's why he's cherishing every moment in Hawaii.

"Knowing that this possibly could be the last, yeah," he said. "Just like I did in my last regular-season game, it was special when I walked off the field. But who knows? We'll see."

His nine Pro Bowls rank second among safeties in NFL history, trailing only Ken Houston's 10 from 1970-79 with the Houston Oilers and Washington Redskins.

Lynch has made it to Hawaii in each of his four seasons in Denver following a standout career in Tampa Bay, where he won a Super Bowl. This year, he was a late addition, replacing an injured Bob Sanders of Indianapolis.

"When your peers let you know they respect the way you play, that's always humbling to me," he said.

Lynch realizes his peers are getting younger every year.

There are 39 players making their Pro Bowl debuts this year, including 25 for the AFC. Many of them were born in the 1980s and some were in grade school when Lynch was a third round-pick in 1993 out of Stanford.

"I tell you what, all the younger guys are extremely respectful. They've conducted themselves well," he said. "You hear 39 first-timers and you say, 'Uh oh. This could be a long week.' But they've been great."

The hard-hitting defender said he loves the game, which is why he's been able to compete for so long.

"We're tireless workers," he said. "We understand, the way you create longevity is work. You never stop working."

And he hasn't. Even if these are his final days in football, he's still working out before practices, which are hardly a workout.

Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, also making his ninth trip to the Pro Bowl, said Lynch has brought "pure passion" to the game.

"There's one way to play the game and he plays it the right way," Lewis said. "So if he does walk away, you know what? I tip my hat to him because he's one of the greatest players to ever play this game."

Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press

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