Rivera expects Pro Bowl to be more intense

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera isn't making any promises, but he believes Sunday's Pro Bowl will be more than just a pillow fight as last year's game has been described.

Rivera and his staff will coach a team selected by honorary captain Jerry Rice in the first-ever Pro Bowl draft against a team coached by the Indianapolis staff with Deion Sanders as the honorary captain.

Rivera said the mixing of AFC and NFC players for the first time should help add intensity to a game that has lacked it in past seasons.

"The players understand what's at stake in terms of we need to come out there and we need to show who we are as far as being football players," Rivera said by phone on Friday from Hawaii. "It's been a heck of an experience. I'm excited about it.

"I just hope it's a good show."

Rivera wasn't all that thrilled about having to make the trip after Carolina lost 23-10 to San Francisco in an NFC divisional playoff game two weeks ago. He was more eager about looking to the future.

But the trip's been fun, and he realizes it's an honor and tribute to the organization and his staff for what was accomplished during a 12-5 season that surpassed many expectations.

Rivera's only regret now is that he'll be coaching Sunday against his two signal-callers in quarterback Cam Newton and middle linebacker Luke Kuechly.

Kuechly already has been assigned with calling defensive signals for Sanders' team. Newton will be the second quarterback out for Team Sanders after Indy's Andrew Luck.

"The thing that's disappointing to me is having my two signal callers on opposite sides," Rivera said. "But the one thing that does please me is Greg Hardy is on the opposite side, so I don't have to worry about him running into Cam."

Hardy, who led Carolina with 15 sacks, was also selected by Sanders. That means Newton won't have to avoid being tackled by the player who calls himself "The Kraken," a player who earlier in the week told me he doesn't plan to take it easy on anybody.

Long snapper J.J. Jansen also is on Sanders' team, but Rivera does have three of his own players in left tackle Jordan Gross, fullback Mike Tolbert and center Ryan Kalil.

"It's going to be different," Rivera said of the game. "But I look forward to it."