HONOLULU – Along the fence that separated the fans from the Pro Bowl players they had come to see was Jason Higashionna.
In a crowd estimated at 1,500 that gathered for today’s practices by the NFC and AFC teams that will participate in Sunday’s game, Higashionna was front and center. He was wearing a No. 91 Chris Clemons jersey and standing underneath a 12th Man flag.
Let’s just say that Hawaiian-born-and-raised Higashionna has not only connections, but a friend who was willing to show up at 2 a.m. at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to insure their prime viewing spot and also, well, here’s what Higashionna had to say about his flag.
“The Sea Gals gave me that flag when they came through for a Pacific Rim tour,” he said, smiling despite the rain that started to fall as the NFC squad took the field and turned into soaking showers by the time the AFC got its turn.
Higashionna then pulled out his phone and produced a picture of him surrounded by members of the Seahawks’ dance team.
“They gave me that flag,” he said. “And it was an awesome experience.”
Higashionna was among the largest pocket of several groups of Seahawks fans who turned out to see the Sea-Six – the team’s Pro Bowl contingent that includes left tackle Russell Okung, center Max Unger, running back Marshawn Lynch, quarterback Russell Wilson, kick returner Leon Washington and free safety Earl Thomas.
But he is no 12th Man-come-lately.
“I’m diehard Seahawks fan,” he said. “I fell in love with them when I watched (Hall of Fame wide receiver Steve) Largent play.”
He then turned to several others in his group and offered with a laugh, “I appreciate all these guys jumping on the bandwagon. They see the light, and I’m happy to see that.”
They also detected the lightheartedness of his comment, as it was greeted by a rowdy round of laughter.
But while half a dozen members of his team came to Higashionna this week, Matt Darlington and Ryan and John Towner came from the Mainland to see the Seahawks’ Pro Bowl Six.
“We flew over just to support our guys,” Darlington said.
After their on-field session was completed, the players “worked” the fence. They signed autographs on everything from jerseys, to Pro Bowl helmets and footballs, to a baby – yes, one fan had Wilson autograph his child. They posed for pictures. They chatted with the fans who must have felt like they were watching a practice in Renton rather than Paradise.
One fan frustrated by his inability to get Wilson’s attention broke into his best Tom Hanks’ impersonation from “Cast Away,” as he repeatedly bellowed, “Wil-l-lson-n-n. Wil-l-lson-n-n.”
“This is a great experience,” Wilson said as he was walking back across the field to the buses that were waiting to take the NFC squad back to its resort – and as the drenched fans continued to call his name.
“It’s a privilege to be here.”