Pro Bowl teams will pit teammate against teammate
PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck is disappointed he's not teammates with Robert Mathis during the Pro Bowl.
But the Colts linebacker says if he gets a shot at Luck during Sunday's game, he'll take it.
"I'm going to bust him," Mathis said Thursday after practicing for Team Rice, drawing laughs from a crowd of fans while signing autographs.
Luck versus Mathis is just one of several head-to-head matchups made possible by a new Pro Bowl format modeled after fantasy sports and schoolyard pickup games. The teams were drafted by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.
Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald could line up against teammate Patrick Peterson. Chicago's wide receiver tandem of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery might have to face off against cornerback Tim Jennings. And Kansas City quarterback Alex Smith could be sacked by linebacker Tamba Hali or defensive tackle Dontari Poe, or intercepted by safety Eric Berry.
Nearly 30 of 88 players in the Pro Bowl have a reasonable chance of facing their NFL teammates on Sunday during the game at Aloha Stadium.
Marshall said practicing against Jennings throughout the season has given him inside information he plans to use during the game.
"I know what he likes, I know what he doesn't like," Marshall said. "I know what he bites on so I'm going to give him some double moves, give him some triple moves and I'm going to run right by him a few times."
Asked if Jennings could say the same about him, Marshall said: "I don't think so, man. I don't give away a lot."
"I'm a good actor out there," he said.
Rice and Sanders split up the Pro Bowlers in an "unconferenced" format earlier in the week. Players on six NFL teams — Baltimore, the New York Jets, Houston, New Orleans, Tampa Bay and Washington — ended up with their teammates only on the same Pro Bowl side.
All five New Orleans Saints players ended up on Team Rice, which he built around quarterback Drew Brees.
"I love having my guys — I know they can all play," Brees said Thursday. "And I definitely don't want to go up against any of them."
His teammate, tight end Jimmy Graham, said Brees was the mastermind behind makings sure the Saints ended up together.
The players practiced in front of a military crowd on Thursday at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, next to an airfield with a Boeing C-17 Globemaster on the tarmac and service members and their families in a crowd on a track and field named for Amelia Earhart.
"You made my day," 12-year-old Sam Grazzini shouted toward Brees after the Saints' quarterback posed for a picture with him and signed an autograph in a spiral notebook.
Sanders, after trading barbs with Rice many times in the weeks leading up to the game, practiced with his team's cornerbacks, wearing football gloves and doing positional drills.
"I feel good, man. This is fun," said Sanders, who has pushed to square off against Rice in the game.
Rice did not appear to be at his team's practice. He was scheduled to appear at a mall opening in west Oahu with Eddie DeBartolo, Jr., the mall's developer and former 49ers owner.