With a gleam in his eye, a beer in his hand and a voice so loud it could shake a high-rise hotel, veteran NFL tackle Scott Adams stared out at the moonlit Pacific and assessed his maiden voyage to the Pro Bowl. Waikiki Beach was nearly deserted at four in the morning last Friday, and Adams, a 6'5", 315-pound monolith with a thick Southern accent, was the toast of the coastline. "This is my first day on the islands," he said, "and so far we've seen some unbelievable scenery, laid on the beach in 80-degree weather, sucked down Mai Tais at sunset, eaten sushi that melts in your mouth and been treated like kings because we're football players. I'm having a terrible time."
Before the sarcasm had settled, Adams pulled off his shorts and stumbled into the ocean for a...we'd like to call it a skinny-dip, but his physique makes such a term incongruous. Still, give the 31-year-old Athens, Ga., resident credit for gumption: After nine NFL seasons with seven teams—not to mention a one-year stint with the Barcelona Dragons of the World League—Adams, most recently of the Atlanta Falcons, was letting it all hang out in Hawaii. "This is an awesome experience for me," he said 12 hours later, while enjoying happy hour at Duke's Canoe Club along the same strip of sand. "You talk about a journeyman—my picture's underneath the word in the dang dictionary."
"And my picture's right next to it," added Ralph Tamm, a Kansas City Chiefs backup lineman. "I've been with seven teams."
"Me, too," Adams said, "and this is my second turn with the Falcons. You know you're a journeyman when you start coming back to teams you've already played for."
At this point a question had to be raised: What the heck was Adams doing in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, a game featuring the NFL's elite players? The answer was that he was a guest of Tamm's. Which leads to an even more relevant question: Who was Tamm to invite anyone to the Pro Bowl? The 31-year-old has never come close to being voted all-anything, yet this was the sixth straight year he had gone to Honolulu to enjoy the spoils of celebrity.
Initially lured by opportunities to make money through autograph-signing appearances, Tamm, who aspires to be the NFL Players Association's events coordinator, is among a growing legion of nonparticipating players who make the Pro Bowl party scene. Free to frolic without being distracted by details like practices or a game, Tamm and his counterparts are poseurs in paradise, and loving every minute of it. "This is the ideal way to end a long season," Tamm says. "The local people treat us like gold, and then we take off on game day and explore the other islands." Tamm does not mean that he takes off after the game. "I always plan to go to the game," he says sheepishly, "but I've never made it."
What triggered this wave of unabashed party crashing? To investigate, we spent 72 hours seeking answers.
"In the old days this game was for the All-Pros," said John Wilbur, an agent who played for nine years for three NFL teams and has lived in Hawaii since his career ended in 1974. "Now it's become a convention that all players can enjoy."
Perhaps the additional traffic can be blamed on the Bus. In 1993, during his rookie season with the Los Angeles Rams, running back Jerome Bettis told teammate Tim Lester, "If I make it to Hawaii, you're coming with me." Bettis ran for 1,429 yards that season, and Lester, Bettis's blocking fullback, indeed went along the next January. "There was a big to-do about it, because I was really the first guy to bring someone out here like that," Bettis said as he and Lester sat at a table overlooking the pool at the Hilton Hawaiian Village in Waikiki last Thursday afternoon. "My philosophy was that he did a whole lot to get me there, and I wanted him to enjoy the fruits of his labor."
Within seconds, Lester was enjoying a fruity cocktail. Both men now play for the Pittsburgh Steelers and are well-versed in poolside etiquette ( Bettis being a four-rime Pro Bowl selection, and Lester a four-time tagalong). Together with two other recipients of Bettis's largesse—Steelers halfback Fred McAfee and former NFL safety Deral Boykin, most recently of the Philadelphia Eagles—they were surveying some of the scantily clad female vacationers who inevitably appear. "It's amazing how many women show up," says Chiefs cornerback Mark McMillian, whose trip came courtesy of Pro Bowl teammates Dale Carter and James Hasty.