Williams runs away with Pro Bowl MVP

AFC wins for third consecutive year

Posted: Monday, February 03, 2003

HONOLULU -- Ricky Williams' first trip to the Pro Bowl was worth the wait.

The Miami Dolphins' star running back rushed for 56 yards, scored two touchdowns and forced a fumble on special teams to earn the MVP award in the AFC's 45-20 victory over the NFC on Sunday.

The AFC had six interceptions while beating the NFC for its sixth victory in the last seven Pro Bowls.

Starting quarterback Rich Gannon, the MVP of the regular season and the previous two Pro Bowls, went 12-for-18 for 102 yards and two TDs as the NFL wrapped up its season with another high-scoring, entertaining all-star game.

Williams, who led the NFL in rushing after three tough seasons in New Orleans, also caught three passes as the AFC jumped to a 28-6 halftime lead and eliminated the tension -- already minor at best -- from this good-natured exhibition.

''What's fun is how laid-back everything is,'' Williams said. ''It's always great to get in the end zone, but it's especially great to do it against the best players in the world with millions of people watching.''

The AFC nearly broke the Pro Bowl record of 51 points set by the NFC in 2000. But Buffalo's Eric Moulds was ruled out of bounds in the end zone with 1:24 left after a 36-yard pass from Indianapolis' Peyton Manning.

A sellout crowd at Aloha Stadium enjoyed another blowout victory for the AFC, which has dominated the matchup in recent years. Each of the AFC's players earned $30,000 for the win, with the NFC's stars receiving $15,000 apiece.

Neither team took the annual post-Super Bowl event too seriously, however. Buffalo guard Ruben Brown took a camera onto the field during pregame warmups, snapping pictures of himself joking around with players on both teams.

Williams got the AFC off to a fast start. After Miami teammate Jason Taylor intercepted Jeff Garcia's pass near midfield on the opening possession, Williams broke an 18-yard run on the AFC's first offensive play before scoring easily three plays later.

In the second quarter, Williams even forced a fumble while playing on the kickoff coverage team. Williams also scored with 47 seconds left in the first half to give a 28-6 lead to the AFC -- though he ran the wrong direction on the play before simply bowling over Washington's Champ Bailey.

Garcia, making his first Pro Bowl start, threw three interceptions in the first 17 minutes. Donovan McNabb wasn't much better for the NFC, and New England's Ty Law returned one of Buccaneers QB Brad Johnson's passes for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

The Super Bowl champions were well-represented, with six Buc-caneers in the lineup. Linebacker Shelton Quarles was a last-second addition; he already was in Hawaii for a vacation when Atlanta's Keith Brooking dropped out.

Philadelphia's David Akers set a Pro Bowl record by kicking a 53-yard field goal against a strong crosswind in the second quarter. Morten Andersen held the previous record with a 51-yarder that was matched by Jason Hanson in 2000.

There was even a shoving match, something rarely seen in the friendly exhibition. San Francisco center Jeremy Newberry got a personal foul for shoving New England's Richard Seymour in the face during the final minute of the first half, hurting the NFC's hopes for a late score.

On the final play of the half, Oakland's Rod Woodson intercepted McNabb's pass near the goal line and started a return featuring several laterals, a fumble -- and at least one illegal forward pass, negating it all. The return stretched 97 yards before Taylor flopped into the end zone for a touchdown that didn't count.

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