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Postcard from Hawaii

Say Hawaii. Now say February. Now say Hawaii in February. Now do it without smiling.

Didn't think you could. And neither can Denver Broncos safety John Lynch.

"I think everything here is just perfect," Lynch said Thursday morning after the AFC practice under a heavy blanket of sun.

Well, yeah. This is paradise, after all.

But paradise might be without the Pro Bowl after next season. The contract the league has with Hawaii to host the game runs through 2009, the 30-year anniversary of the game in its present location.

"We've had a lot of discussions," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said Wednesday at an impromptu press conference. "We have great friends and partners here in the state and we want to continue to have a presence here in Hawaii.

"We want to try to do that in a reasonable way. We also want to do what we can to make sure this game turns into the kind of platform it should turn into. We want to make sure we do everything possible to make sure it's a great promotion for our players."

Which is part of the problem. Seventeen players this year have backed out, most for legitimate health reasons, but others -- including Brett Favre, Tom Brady and Randy Moss -- have declined for "personal reasons." No one's saying if 17 is a record, but the high number of backouts is certainly a trend.

A bothersome trend for traditionalists like Lynch, who attended his first Pro Bowl after the 1997 season, the first of nine Hawaii appearances.

"Here all the time," said Lynch when asked about his preference for the game site. "This is special. This is incredible coming over here, the way people treat you. This is an unbelievable trip.

"I understand there are players who don't want to come, but believe me, that has nothing to do with Hawaii. The way it is is fine. Somehow they've got to find a way to stop guys from dropping out, and I'm not sure how to do that."

There are a couple of ideas being floated. The first, and most likely, is a rotation of sites from year to year. Goodell, who did not identify the sites, said that Hawaii would remain in the rotation if that plan was chosen. There has been talk of playing the game at the site of the Super Bowl the week leading up to the NFL title game, which would preclude players on the Super Bowl teams from participating. A third plan, and least likely, would be to scrap the game altogether.

Super-agent Drew Rosenhaus thinks the Super Bowl rotation plan makes the most sense for players, if not for himself.

"There would be more opportunites for the players if it were the week leading up to the Super Bowl, in terms of more endorsement opportunities for them," said Rosenhaus, who was attending Thursday's practice with several of his clients participating. "They've got to find a way to make this game more important."

"I'd be in favor of moving it to the host Super Bowl city. It would make it a more meaningful game. It would be more relevant. The season's still hot, and it wouldn't be an afterthought."

Baseball wanted to make its all-star game more meaningful. So it tied the outcome of the game into homefield advantage in the World Series.

Sometimes, things are better off left alone.

"I like it out here," says Chargers linebacker Shawne Merriman, echoing a sentiment by most players in attendance. "Tradition has always been that the Pro Bowl is in Hawaii. When you think of the Pro Bowl, the first thing you think of is Hawaii."

Say it: Hawaii in February. See, you can't do it, can you?

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