The Pro Bowl, as was the entire sports world and beyond, was overshadowed Sunday by the death of NBA legend Kobe Bryant and his daughter in a helicopter crash earlier in the day.
NFL players began learning of it shortly before kickoff in Orlando, Fla., and according to Green Bay linebacker Za’Darius Smith, it was Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson who gathered the NFC team for a prayer as the news began to sink in.
“He called us up and said a prayer for his family,” Smith said during the ESPN telecast of the game, which was won 38-33 by the AFC.
The NFC team was coached by Seattle’s staff, and Pete Carroll told players before the game to play in a style that would honor Bryant.
“Go play and go play hard because if he was here that’s what he would do,” Carroll said, according to Tampa Bay’s Shaquil Barrett, via ESPN.
After the game, Carroll told the NFL Network that when the news began to circulate “our guys were crushed. They all were.”
Carroll said that initially playing the game “didn’t seem like the right thing to do.”
But he said that if Bryant “would have had a say in it, he would want us to go play.”
Carroll said he crossed paths with Bryant regularly when he was coach at USC from 2001 to 2009 and Bryant played for the Lakers and said he has “cited” Bryant to his own players many times.
“We have used his stuff a lot,” Carroll said, adding “it’s a very crushing loss.”
Wilson was one of two Seattle players to take part in the game, the other being cornerback Shaquill Griffin.
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SOURCE: The Seattle Times, Bob Condotta