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Sideline Tweets to Debut at Pro Bowl


HONOLULU – Tweeting will be allowed Sunday for National Football League players participating in the 2012 Pro Bowl. As a result, the so-called "No Fun League" acronym can go to the wayside.

The decision was an easy one to make according to NFL Vice President of Football Operations Merton Hanks, who played eight seasons as a safety for the San Francisco 49ers.

"The Pro Bowl has traditionally been an opportunity for us to try new things, try new technologies, whether it's equipment, uniforms or the style of play," said Hanks, who went to four Pro Bowls as a player representing the 49ers. "I'm looking forward to seeing how this experience comes out."

With so many characters on both the NFC and AFC rosters using Twitter, the social media platform which sends out messages in 140 characters or less, many expect players to be lining up to send out messages to their supportive fans.

The Twitter conversation was talked about frequently on Thursday as both teams practiced back-to-back at Hawaii's Hickam Air Force Base.

The messages could range from competitive trash-talking to special messages to friends and family, according to 49ers five-time Pro Bowler Joe Staley, who tweets under the handle @PatrickWillis52.

"I think it'll probably be a little bit of both. Somebody will be saying something crazy to spark something, but for the most part, I think it'll be chill," said Willis who now has more than 130,000 followers. "It should be funny."

One of San Francisco's most outspoken social media spokesmen, Pro Bowl tackle Joe Staley, isn't quite sure what type of messages he'll send out on Sunday. But the Pro Bowl rookie is up for suggestions to be sent to his @jstaley74 account.

"I need more followers," said Staley, who's now past the 22,000-follower mark. "I need to get my name out there in the tweet world... I know it's early, but if the fans have something they want me to tweet about, feel free to give me suggestions."

Both sidelines will have standup computer stations with a league staffer typing in the tweets from the various players.

Hanks doesn't think the technology will detract from the game. Instead, he figures it'll enhance the in-game experience for all parties involved.

"The players will be able to share their thoughts in that area throughout the game. And at the end of the day, our guys are professionals," Hanks said. "When it's time to play, their attention will be there. Sure, they'll get a chance to sneak a tweet in, but it'll be fun. I think we'll all be interested in seeing how this thing works out."

Veteran Pro Bowl defensive end Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings doesn't use Twitter very often; he uses the platform to share information about his foundation. Still, one of the league's prominent pass-rushers thinks the new age media will serve a good purpose on Sunday.

"I think social media is a good thing," Allen admitted. "It's going to drive the game, so it should be fun."

For players like Willis who use the social tool to interact directly with fans, the chance to do it while competing amongst the league's best players is an experience he'll truly enjoy.

"Tweeting is a big thing right now," said Willis, who appreciates the league taking the initiative to involve it within the Pro Bowl game. "It's a way for the fans to get involved, they're a part of the game and it'll allow them to talk directly to us. It's neat."

Pro Bowl Etc.Two Joes have been spending some quality time in Hawaii this week. Those being Staley and Cleveland Browns left tackle Joe Thomas, who's made five Pro Bowl appearances in five seasons. The reason for the connection, according to Staley, is one that makes sense on many fronts: "His wife and my girlfriend get a long," Staley said. "That's big."

Staley has also enjoyed getting to know his fellow teammates on the offensive line and has even had fun with Green Bay Packers center Scott Wells, who Staley thinks looks like one of the actors in Aaron Rodgers' "Discount Double-Check commercials." "I told him he's the guy banging on the windows in the discount double-check commercials," Staley said of Wells. "He looks like that guy."

Staley's college teammate, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, said he's a big fan of Staley's work on and off the field. Not only was Brown supportive of the strides San Francisco and Staley made this year which included a 20-3 win over Brown's team on "Monday Night Football," he also complimented the 49ers tackle on his hit show, "The Joe Show."

"I love it," Brown said. "It's funny… "He's passionate. Fun dude, who loves to have fun and he's exciting. You gotta' watch him 'cause he plays a lot. But that's my guy, he's a good dude."

Maurice Jones-Drew of the Jacksonville Jaguars was disappointed 49ers running back Frank Gore didn't make the trip to Hawaii after being selected to play in the game. But that didn't stop the Danville, Calif., native from giving Gore a shout out to TV49 cameras. "Frank got to play in the playoffs. I was very happy," Jones-Drew said. "I actually wanted to go to the game, but I couldn't build myself to go all the way from Danville to San Francisco. I know Frank should be out here, but Frank, I'll see you training in Miami in a couple of months."

Marshawn Lynch, the first running back to score a rushing touchdown against the vaunted 49ers run defense all season (they allowed three rushing scores on the year) said he respects his 49ers teammates on the Pro Bowl roster. Being on the same side as Justin Smith and Willis isn't a bad thing in his mind. "They're my guys," Lynch, an Oakland native said. "I always have fun with Justin and I've worked out with Patrick. So I've got relationships with those guys as well. I get to rock with them for a minute and that's what it's going to be, just for a minute."

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