Pro Bowl's new format is pretty absurd — and also kind of promising
LAS VEGAS — Absurd. Silly. Fun. That’s the best way to describe the inaugural Pro Bowl Games that the NFL put together this year in lieu of an actual game.
The week started with the most coordinated athletes in the world tossing water balloons to each other and playing dodgeball and ended with a series of flag football games where not a lick of defense was played until the final game in the three-game series.
Welcome to the new Pro Bowl. The facemasks have been exchanged for sunglasses and T-shirts replaced the jerseys. Embrace it, shun it. It’s here to stay.
There has been a certain charm watching the players be the most relaxed, childlike versions of themselves. There were players who preferred to play in an actual game with helmets and shoulder pads, but everyone was having a good time competing with lowered stakes and most important, lowered injury risks — well, outside of Jalen Ramsey decking Tyreek Hill as Hill crossed the goal line for a touchdown.
.@jalenramsey needs a #ProBowlGames rules refresher asap 😂 pic.twitter.com/rI2anedtkQ
— NFL (@NFL) February 5, 2023
Ramsey wasn’t the only player to struggle with the flag football rules. Geno Smith ran for a touchdown which didn’t count because the quarterback can’t run with no blitzers in his face.
As one might imagine, there was a whole lot of scoring in the flag football games with the NFC beating the AFC by a score of 35-33. The field spanned only 25 yards in each direction, making the entire field 50 yards for the guys to play on. Ravens quarterback Tyler Huntley kicked off the scoring for the day with a touchdown pass to his teammate Mark Andrews while Smith and Justin Jefferson showed some unusual chemistry for guys who haven’t played much together.
This version of the Pro Bowl felt more like a party than an event that was centered on the sport of football. Snoop Dogg and Pete Davidson were active participants in the broadcasts. LaDainian Tomlinson interviewed Jefferson on proper "Griddy" techniques. Rae Sremmurd had an uninspired halftime performance. Hill got some reps on defense in the flag football game and even deflected a pass from Jared Goff on the goal line to force a turnover on downs.
Most players were wearing either shades or hats while they were in the game and everyone just enjoyed being in each other’s company. However, there were a couple moments when the natural competitiveness took over for these players and they made some spectacular plays. Patrick Surtain II perfectly timed an interception that was meant for Jefferson and brought it back for a pick 6.
In between the flag football games, there were an assortment of skill challenges. One of them included NFC head coach Eli Manning getting pushed across the field on a sled by Tristan Wirfs and Cam Jordan, who have spent more time battling in the NFC South than they ever have working together. Still, they did enough to win the gridiron gauntlet and stack points for the NFC team in that particular section of the day. Myles Garrett suffered a dislocated toe during an obstacle course challenge, but outside of that, it was a healthy day for everyone involved at the Pro Bowl.
The NFL deserves some credit for trying something completely different and coming up with a watchable product at the end of the day. Not every activity was a hit (glaring at you, catching contest), but the league was able to manifest a level of engagement that the previous iterations of the Pro Bowls failed to capture. That’s really what is important about the Pro Bowl. Even with the opt-outs and replacement players, it’s fun to watch these world-class athletes give effort at any athletic task.
There are things that need to be cleaned up as far as structuring the week, but the first version of the Pro Bowl Games certainly wasn’t a failure for the NFL. In a game as serious and intense as football, it’s good to kick back and realize that sometimes a game really is just a game.