Aloha, PFATS from the Pro Bowl!
By, Kevin King
Assistant Athletic Trainer, Carolina Panthers
The National Football League possesses an amazing history of exceptional people, memorable games, legendary stadiums and rich traditions. As athletic trainers, we work diligently with our organizations to make the goal of reaching the Super Bowl a reality. However, when this goal falls short, a few fortunate players and staff have the opportunity to participate in the Pro Bowl. This all-star game highlights many of the exceptional athletes in the National Football League. In addition, it is an opportunity to reward coaches and support staff for their best efforts throughout the year. The Indianapolis Colts and Carolina Panthers staffs had the honor of working the Pro Bowl this year. As a participant, I provided daily blogs regarding the activities of the week.
Paradise is an adjustment
The responsibilities of day one in Hawaii for the staffs are light. This is helpful due to the significant time change and long journey many had just to get to the island. In addition, it allows us to organize with our families, who were able to travel with us, and become familiar with the surroundings.
Athletic training and equipment staffs meet with NFL officials to review facilities at the team hotel. League officials and local individuals were extremely helpful and friendly in this effort. The area that we utilized could be described as a large divided hotel ball room, that serves as both locker rooms for players, coaches and staff of the two groups (AFC and NFC staffs). The equipment staffs had the added challenge this year of rearranging players’ gear after the draft mid-week.
When we arrived to the space, all of the trunks and bags we packed and shipped from the mainland were complied in the middle of the room. After we took inventory of our trunks and supplies, several youthful native Hawaiians assisted us in moving our supplies. Next, we setup our taping stations and athletic training room area. Lastly, we began the process of discussing practice facilities and logistics. The remainder of the day was spent with family enjoying Hawaii.
Enthusiasm builds with the Draft
The focus on Wednesday was the player draft. This televised event feature NFL luminaries Jerry Rice and Dion Sanders selecting from the assorted talent assembled for the game while fans cheered under the tropical sun. It was held over several hours in the afternoon. Shortly afterward, the head coaches of each team meet with the players and performed staff introductions, discussed schedule and reviewed expectations for the week and game. This created a great opportunity to converse with players from other teams that you may have known from previous experiences.
Practice in the Shadows of Planes
The morning began with a light continental breakfast before taping and practice preparation. I enjoyed the challenge of applying various taping preferences to the many seasoned veterans that we had the opportunity to work with during the week. The experience gave me a greater appreciation for the military barbers who provide the new enlistees with standard servicemen haircut. After the player preparation period, the teams meet with coaches and boarded bus for practice at Joint Base Pearl Harbor Hickam.
The experience of arriving at the military base was impressive and humbling. I was excited to be amongst some of our country’s finest, selfless and committed individuals. The practice field had bleachers on the far-side holding an estimated 2,000 military personnel, fans and media. An end zone opened to a runway, which featured two parked, very large military planes. Our athletic trainer liaison on the island, Nate, greeted us with supplies in place and ready for practice. EMS was also on-site in case of an on-field emergency. The practice was uneventful but very useful in beginning the transition from the winter climates of the mainland to exercising in the humid, tropical temperatures of the island.
Each day provided an unfamiliar, unique event. Friday, we had the honor to participate in picture day. We really appreciated the opportunity to be apart of history with our staff, team and members of the organization. Beautiful models provided the athletes and staff with the fresh Hawaiian leis as members of media looking on. This, like so many other experiences during this week, will be a great memory with a few photo souvenirs.
The practice of the day was at a local high school. It was another opportunity to interact with welcoming community out there. The activity was held in the outfield of a baseball field. Practice was not open to the public but our families were able to attend which I found to be a bonus.
Friday was also a transition day. When we returned to the hotel after practice, the trunks and athletic training room supplies were secured and transported to the stadium. The locker room, meeting rooms and athletic training space at the hotel were no longer needed since the practices were complete. Therefore, we began transitioning the remaining items for game day preparation.
Walk Thru at the Stadium
Saturday, we arrive at the stadium and set up the athletic training supplies. The organizers of the game provided the staff with an ideal space. The stadium walk thru was very festive due to the several thousand fans in the bleachers, cheerleaders and music on the public address system. The walk thru provided a great opportunity for us to become familiar with the facility before the game. It may seem to be a trivial task but things tend to move quickly on game day.
Sunday are typically special days in the National Football League in the fall and this Sunday was no exception.
The Pro Bowl is the most unique game I’ve experienced. I have never gone into 60 minutes of gridiron competition with athletes that I’m unfamiliar. The groups of athletes were professional and very competitive for 60 minutes.
Injury is inherent to competitive football. The NFL was prepared with a fully assortment of personnel to deal with medical emergencies. In addition, the medical staff provided standard care and communicated with player’s home clubs for players with significant injuries.
The competitive spirit is very contagious. I found myself desperately wanted to beat Team Sanders with every cup of Gatorade and water we distributed and issue we addressed. We had success and Team Rice won the 2014 Pro Bowl. As our staff celebrated the thrilling win, I thought about: how blessed I am to be a certified athletic trainer in the National Football League; how great it is to work with the Carolina Panthers organization, and how wonderful it is to have had the co-workers and mentors to be successful.