AFC comes up winner on Blanchard's FG 37-yarder in overtime overtakes NFC, 26-23


HONOLULU -- Who says the Pro Bowl isn't exciting?

A wild, wacky finish at Aloha Stadium finally culminated with 6 minutes, 44 seconds remaining in overtime when Indianapolis Colts kicker Cary Blanchard made a 37-yard field goal to give the AFC a 26-23 victory last night.

There were four lead changes in the fourth quarter and two missed field-goal attempts that could have won the game -- one by the Carolina Panthers' John Kasay for the NFC with six seconds remaining in regulation and one early in overtime by Blanchard.

All that was at stake was pride and $10,000 -- players on the winning team get $20,000 and the losers get $10,000 each -- but the two sides fought as if it were the regular season.

"These guys are ultra-competitive," said NFC coach Dom Capers of the Panthers. "Obviously, it was a great game. It shows that these guys don't play the game for money. What you saw out there was a group of guys who love the game and hate to lose."

But losing last night wasn't as painful as a regular-season game. After all, this was for fun.

Carolina quarterback Kerry Collins was still smiling about the experience despite throwing an interception on the second play of the fourth quarter that the Cincinnati Bengals' Ashley Ambrose returned 54 yards for a touchdown to give the AFC a 16-15 lead.

Up until then, the NFC had led the entire game. It was the longest interception return for a touchdown in Pro Bowl history.

Collins, who finished 4-for-8 for 30 yards, was trying to throw to Philadelphia Eagles receiver Irving Fryar, but Ambrose stepped in front of Fryar and ran down the right sideline untouched for the score.

"It was an out [pattern]," Collins said. "When you haven't had much time to work together, the timing isn't there. But the guy made a good play.

"But, hey, I've just practiced twice in the past three weeks and I'm definitely not worried about this. What I'm taking away from this was that I was able to play in the Pro Bowl in my second season. It's a real honor to be selected."

Collins' day had a bright spot, too. He led the NFC on a 59-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter, completing his only pass on the possession.

After Wesley Walls caught a 32-yard pass from Washington Redskins quarterback Gus Frerotte to put the NFC in field-goal position with six seconds remaining in the game, Kasay lined up to try a 39-yarder to win the game.

The score was tied at 23.

But Kasay missed the field goal low and short. He apparently wasn't able to get a clean kick because of a low snap. Frerotte, the holder on the play, had to reach to catch the snap and then wasn't able to get the ball in place correctly for Kasay, who had to kick into the laces of the ball.

"I was focusing on the ball, so I didn't see any of those other things," Kasay said when asked about the snap. "But it was a fun game. The main thing was nobody got hurt."

Kasay also had a chance at the end of the first half to try a 66-yard field goal, three yards longer than Tom Dempsey's NFL record. Kasay's attempt fell well short.

But Kasay did have a happy moment at halftime when a fan he helped tutor, Lance Alstodt of New York, won a $1 million check from Hershey's when he successfully kicked a 35-yard field goal.

"At least somebody made a field goal today," Kasay said.

Alstodt, an investment banker, got one chance at a 35-yarder for $1 million, the climax of a nationwide contest. He drilled it.

About his million-dollar kick, Alstodt said: "I think the only way to go with something like this is that you believe you can drill it.

"It was just a matter of blocking out the crowd and sticking it," he added. His fiancee, Deborah Zimmerman, said, "I don't think he was nervous at all. I was."

A 3-yard touchdown run by Curtis Martin pulled the AFC within 15-10 with 5: 55 left in the third quarter.

The NFC had led for the first three quarters, but the excitement didn't begin until the fourth quarter.

After Ambrose intercepted Collins to put the AFC ahead 16-15, two long passes and Walls' two-point conversion catch gave the NFC the lead.

A 53-yard touchdown pass from Frerotte to Minnesota Vikings receiver Cris Carter with 4: 07 remaining put the NFC back ahead. Walls' two-point conversion catch gave the NFC a 23-16 lead.

That stood until lightning struck for the AFC when Brunell -- named the game's MVP -- connected with the Oakland Raiders' Tim Brown on a 70-yard touchdown pass with 44 seconds remaining.

The extra point by Blanchard tied the score at 23.

Kasay then missed his field goal at the end of regulation and Blanchard missed earlier in overtime before hitting the game-winner.

Pub Date: 2/03/97

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