The AFC-NFC Pro Bowl is the National Football League’s yearly all-star game. The event takes place every year on the weekend after the playoffs and before the Super Bowl. So who plays in the game, are the rules different from a regular game, and more? Find out the answers to these questions in this blog post!
How Do you Select Players to the Pro Bowl?
Players are selected for the Pro Bowl roster based on votes by players, coaches, and fans, with each group’s nominations making up about one-third of the roster. Currently, five players have the most Pro Bowl nominations, with 14 apiece. This list includes Tom Brady (New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Tony Gonzalez (Kansas City Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons), Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos), Bruce Matthews (Houston Oilers, Tennessee Titans), and Merlin Olsen (Los Angeles Rams).
What are the Rules of the Pro Bowl?
The Pro Bowl game has several rules that set it apart from regular NFL football games. The rules are slightly different to ensure safety on the field and help encourage scoring to entertaining players and fans. For example, each play must have a running back, a wide receiver, and a tight end in each formation. Limited contact is allowed during the game, with blitzing prohibited to avoid any injuries. Also, the defending team tends to hold off on big tackles to reduce injuries on the field.
What is the History of the NFL Pro Bowl?
Before adopting the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl as the yearly all-star game, the NFL had a formal all-star game. This tournament was only held between the years 1939 and 1942 and had a unique formula. The competition paired the winner of the previous season’s Super Bowl against a team of all-stars picked from the rest of the league. The New York Giants won the first NFL All-Star game 13-10.
In 1950, the league held its first Pro Bowl at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in California. The AFC beat the NFC 28-27, with Otto Graham, quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, being named the first Pro Bowl MVP. For the next 22 years, the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum would host the Pro Bowl, until 1972 when the game moved to the Texas Stadium in Dallas.
The Pro Bowl Today
In 1979, the Pro Bowl moved to its semi-permanent home at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. Aloha Stadium was the home of the Pro Bowl, until 2016 when the league moved the game to Orlando, Florida, to try and make the event more relevant.
COVID-19 made the 2021 Pro Bowl much different than previous seasons. Initially, the Las Vegas Raiders were going to host the event at their new NFL stadium. However, the game did not happen, and their bid got moved to January 2022. Instead, the league opted to partner with EA Sports and hold a virtual Madden NFL 21 game sponsored by Verizon due to COVID-19.
The game was between many celebrities and Pro Bowl players, including Deshaun Watson (Houston Texans) and Keyshawn Johnson (New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Dallas Cowboys, and Carolina Panthers) playing for the AFC team. In contrast, Kyler Murray (Arizona Cardinals) and Jamal Adams (Seattle Seahawks) played for the NFC team. The players used rosters of the intended Pro Bowl roster, including Patrick Mahomes and Russell Wilson. At the end of the virtual contest, the NFC team beat the AFC team 32-12.
Criticism of the Pro Bowl
NFL players skip the Pro Bowl for several reasons. Some reasons to skip the Pro Bowl are due to avoiding unnecessary injuries. Other times, a player might skip the Pro Bowl to go on vacation or rest up after a football season.
Many football fans are rather dismissive about the Pro Bowl. Some reasons include players not participating in the game to the game action not being exciting. As a result, the NFL has spent a lot of time and effort to make the game relevant again. Rule changes and financial bonuses reward famous players for playing in the game to boost the relevancy of the match.
One major problem with the Pro Bowl is that fans vote for their favorite player, which sometimes means the best players don’t make the roster. Most big markets like LA and NY have a more extensive fan base to vote their players into the Pro Bowl, unlike a small market like Jacksonville, for example. While most Hall of Fame players has at least one Pro Bowl appearance in their career, some critics believe that a Pro Bowl roster placement is more a popularity contest than an achievement.
Many pundits have suggested adding a skills tournament, like other sports, to bring interest to the game. For example, MLB uses a Homerun Derby a day before the All-Star Game, which sometimes has more interest than the actual game. Also, the NBA promotes the Slam Dunk content during their All-Star break, which is just as exciting as the home run derby for baseball.
Conclusion About the Pro Bowl in Football
In summary, the Pro Bowl is the only all-star game the NFL has. The premise of the game is for the best NFL players to square off against each other. However, the league is constantly changing the format of the game to increase excitement and participation in the game.
Finally, the Pro Bowl has ratings reasonably similar to other sports all-star games. The virtual Pro Bowl in 2021 matched the viewership of the 2019 NHL All-Star Game with 1.8 million viewers. The contest averages about 6 million viewers when broadcast between ESPN and ABC.