Paradise is far from perfect

Pro Bowlers bring letdown to Hawaii

Email|Print| Text size + By Pat Bigold
Globe Correspondent / February 6, 2008

HONOLULU - Like the Patriots' offensive line last Sunday, the Hawaiian weather was not at its best as the AFC held its first practice for the Pro Bowl yesterday.

The sky above the Kapolei High School football field, 24 miles west of Waikiki Beach on Oahu's leeward coast, was thick with gray clouds. There wasn't a hint of the subtropical sun that has earned Hawaii the nickname "paradise."

But it didn't rain, and temperatures did hover in the mid 70s.

But the shirt-sleeve climate was no consolation for the several Patriots who are now in Hawaii.

"I don't think there's any consolation for losing the Super Bowl," said Patriots center Dan Koppen, dismissing the importance of his first selection to the Pro Bowl. "We've been looking forward to coming out here . . . but I wish we could have come out here with a win on Sunday."

Five of the six Patriots who will play in Sunday's all-star game at Aloha Stadium participated in the practice, which was closed to the public.

Joining Koppen were linemates Logan Mankins and Matt Light (the most Patriot offensive linemen selected to the same Pro Bowl since 1966), along with linebacker Mike Vrabel and nose tackle Vince Wilfork. Cornerback Asante Samuel was due in last night.

Fans crowded outside the gate to the high school parking lot as dozens of orange-shirted NFL security hires monitored the practice area. The only spectators besides coaches and media were students of Kapolei High, who were allowed to sit in the bleachers but not to approach the players for autographs or handshakes.

None of the offensive linemen was willing to offer a postmortem for the game, in which they allowed Tom Brady to be sacked five times. (The Patriots allowed only 21 sacks during the regular season.)

But they readily expressed respect for the opponent that dashed their chance to become the first 19-0 team in NFL history.

"[The Giants] played good," said Mankins. "They played hard all night and did a lot of good stuff."

Asked if he saw anything he didn't expect, Mankins said, "No, nothing. They just played better than we did that night."

Light adamantly refused to break it down.

"I'm not going to stand here and try to analyze something that we really haven't had time to go back and look over," he said. "Give a lot of credit where credit is due. Those guys executed very well and we obviously didn't do the job we needed to do."

How did he feel leaving the field Sunday?

"It's tough to put into words," said the two-time Pro Bowler. "I've been on the winning end of three of them and now I know what it's like to walk out of that stadium not completing the season the way we wanted to."

Koppen said he just didn't have an explanation.

"I've been thinking about it, but . . . I just don't know what to think about it," he said.

"They played well in the last game of the season and they played well on Sunday. We just didn't play as well as we wanted to play."

He said loved ones helped him blunt the pain of disappointment.

"My fiancée was very good and understanding," said Koppen. "I think she was just as disappointed as I was and she was just as anxious as I was before the game."

Asked about the pressure to finish perfect, Mankins said, "We wanted it bad."

Being the first NFL team to go 18-1 was good, said Mankins, "but that is the one game you don't want to lose."

Light said the memory of what happened Sunday will weigh heavily on the mind of every player.

"We'll be thinking about this one until next season," he said. "But we had a great year, a lot to be proud of, and a lot that we accomplished this season. We made it to the Super Bowl. We're disappointed, but that's life."

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