GREEN BAY – The first Pro Bowl practice on Thursday was an odd one for the Packers.
As Green Bay’s players and coaches arrived at the Honolulu facility, they headed for opposite locker rooms. The Packers’ coaching staff is leading Team Irvin, while Green Bay’s four players – Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews, Josh Sitton and John Kuhn – are all on Team Rice.
“I’m not quite sure how that all worked out,” Packers safeties coach Darren Perry (pictured) said in a phone interview with packers.com following Thursday’s opening practice. “It’s surprising to say the least.
“We’ve seen Julius, Clay, Kuhn. They all couldn’t believe it either. It’s just strange. We’ll have to go out there and get after them, keep everybody healthy and have some fun.”
Strategically, it’s not likely either side will gain an advantage based on the arrangement. Pro Bowl game plans are pretty simple, but there could be some bragging rights on the line for 2016 upon returning to Green Bay. Those can carry a lot of weight once the offseason program begins.
Be that as it may, Green Bay’s coaches are looking to get the job done without their head man, Mike McCarthy, who did not travel to Hawaii due to a stomach illness. Winston Moss is in charge, and though Team Irvin got the Packers’ coaching staff by default after Team Rice chose Kansas City’s, that has worked out nicely for a couple of former college teammates.
“They get to reminisce a little about their Miami days,” Perry said, referring to Moss’ and Michael Irvin’s alma mater, where they played together in the mid-1980s. “In our team meeting, you could feel the passion and intensity that Mike brings along, and Winston is the same way, just probably not as vocal as Michael. But they got the players’ attention.”
That wasn’t too difficult a chore, apparently. While this year’s Pro Bowl has received criticism for the number of players who have backed out and been replaced, the fallout from that could be positive come Sunday evening.
“We have a lot of first-timers and the energy level is a lot higher than I’m accustomed to from prior Pro Bowls,” said Perry, who has coached at the event in the past. “I think the competitive part of it may be the best that I’ve seen, and I think it’ll carry over to Sunday’s game.”
For both players and coaches, a trip to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl is a consolation prize that no one wants to win. Everyone would prefer to be preparing for the Super Bowl instead, but taking a Pacific Ocean vacation isn’t a bad way to decompress with countless others who are processing similar emotions.
Perry enjoys getting to see “another side” of the players around the league, particularly ones he’s coached against over the years. Team Irvin’s defensive backs include multi-time Pro
Bowler Richard Sherman from Seattle and first-timer Adam Jones from Cincinnati, an 11-year veteran never selected previously.
The off-field time is enjoyable as well, of course. Perry’s entire family is with him, and they were planning a Segway tour along the north shore. Some golfing is also on the agenda along with beach time that includes 80-degree temps and “20- and 30-foot waves coming in,” Perry said.
The players and coaches also will work in two more practices before Sunday’s game at Aloha Stadium (6 p.m. CT) and catch up with friends and colleagues around the league while they can.
“When you come out here, it’s a great reward to get a chance to work with the best of the best,” Perry said. “It’s also been good to unwind a little bit and relax, just enjoying the atmosphere and the ability to have some fun.”