Pro Bowlers re­mem­ber Kobe

AFC tops NFC for fourth straight Pro Bowl vic­tory

Antelope Valley Press - - SPORTS - By MARK LONG

OR­LANDO, Fla. — Green Bay line­backer Za’Dar­ius Smith hastily or­ga­nized an homage to Kobe Bryant min­utes be­fore the Pro Bowl.

Smith and his NFC team­mates learned about Bryant’s death while they were in the locker room get­ting ready for the NFL’s all-star game Sun­day. Smith sug­gested the best way to pay trib­ute the late NBA great was to mimic his fade­away jumper af­ter big plays.

So they did — re­peat­edly.

It was one of sev­eral ways NFL play­ers re­mem­bered Bryant dur­ing the cel­e­bra­tory event, which the AFC won 38-33 for its fourth con­sec­u­tive vic­tory in Or­lando.

“I don’t even want to talk about it any­more,” Smith said in the locker room hours later. “I don’t want to get emo­tional.”

Detroit cor­ner­back Dar­ius Slay didn’t duck his feel­ings. Slay grew up idol­iz­ing Bryant so much that he had a cus­tom Lak­ers hoodie made to warm up in be­fore NFL games. Slay also got to meet Bryant a few years back.

“It’s heart-wreck­ing,” Slay said with tears in his eyes. “There’s not any words you can say. I’m in shock. I just imag­ine him grow­ing old, be­ing part-owner of the Lak­ers and hav­ing a fu­ture son I could cheer for next. It’s just shock­ing. Me say­ing the words ‘Kobe’s gone,’ that’s just crazy.”

Bryant died in a he­li­copter crash early Sun­day near Cal­abasas, Cal­i­for­nia, and the news spread shortly be­fore the game. It put a damper on the NFL game held on the other side of the coun­try.

Play­ers checked cell­phones on the side­lines for up­dates, all of them look­ing for in­for­ma­tion and an­swers.

“It shocked the whole locker room,” Philadel­phia de­fen­sive tackle Fletcher Cox said. “No­body thought it was true, but it was. It’s a sad day for sports.”

Smith, Slay and Tampa Bay’s

Shaq Bar­rett got to­gether fol­low­ing a sec­ond-quar­ter sack and de­liv­ered their first “Kobe J.” Even more NFC team­mates per­formed the rou­tine fol­low­ing a fum­ble in the third.

Green Bay re­ceiver Davonte Adams pointed to the sky and flashed the No. 24 on his fingers as an ode to Bryant’s jer­sey af­ter a touch­down catch in the third.

Seat­tle quar­ter­back Rus­sell Wil­son led a prayer for Bryant and his fam­ily be­fore the game.

The NFL also held a mo­ment of si­lence for Bryant at the 2-minute warn­ing in the first half, show­ing the re­tired NBA star’s pic­ture on the score­boards while an­nounc­ing his death at age 41.

Sev­eral guys re­moved their hel­mets dur­ing the break. Oth­ers

took a knee and prayed. Fans broke the si­lence by chant­ing “Ko-be! Ko-be!”

“I felt hurt,” Chicago safety Ed­die Jack­son said. “It’s sad. I don’t know how it feels to lose a hus­band and a child, so I don’t un­der­stand what the fam­ily’s go­ing through. It’s got to be tough.”

Aside from the Bryant tributes, the NFL’s an­nual all-star game went as ex­pected. There were big plays ev­ery­where and few tack­les any­where. The teams com­bined for 834 yards and 10 touch­downs.

The play of the day was Pitts­burgh line­backer T.J. Watt’s 82-yard fum­ble re­turn in the fourth. Jack­sonville’s Calais Camp­bell beat Dal­las’ Travis Fred­er­ick and sacked Kirk Cousins on a fourt­hand-goal play from the 9. Camp­bell stripped the ball, which Watt scooped up and went un­touched the other way to put the AFC ahead 38-27.

The NFC had a chance to rally late and tried to take ad­van­tage of a new rule that al­lows the scor­ing team to re­tain pos­ses­sion by fac­ing a fourth-and-15 play from its own 25-yard line. Cousins threw a deep ball that Bal­ti­more safety Earl Thomas in­ter­cepted.

Camp­bell was named the AFC’s de­fen­sive player of the game. Bal­ti­more’s La­mar Jack­son was the of­fen­sive MVP.

The win­ners earned $70,000 each. The losers got $35,000 apiece.

Jack­son threw for 185 yards and two touch­downs. He also threw an in­ter­cep­tion. Hous­ton’s De­shaun Wat­son threw for 148 yards, with a touch­down and a pick.

STAND­OUT DAY AFC quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son, of the Bal­ti­more Ravens, looks to pass, dur­ing the first half of the NFL Pro Bowl on Sun­day in Or­lando, Florida. Jack­son was named the of­fen­sive MVP.

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