Tyreek Hill avoids the defense in the 2023 flag football Pro Bowl game. Photo courtesy of WPTV.
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Overtime, or “OT”, is an opinion column series where the Collegian takes national sports headlines or polarizing topics and gives them a Butler-centric angle.
History of the Pro Bowl
One week a year fans around the country get to watch the best of the best in the NFL go up against each other in the Pro Bowl. So why is the perception of this game so negative?
Fans have been begging for years for the Pro Bowl to become an intense game between the best players in each conference. Instead, fans have been treated to mini-games and flag football, leaving the public with little to no interest in the Pro Bowl.
In 1938 football’s first “all-star” game was brought to life as the Pro All-Star Game, where league champions faced off against a team of all-stars chosen throughout the league. This game lasted until 1942, and it would not be revived until 1950 as the Pro Bowl.
From 1951 to 1972, the Pro Bowl was played in Los Angeles and held the week after the Super Bowl. For the next seven years, the game’s location alternated before it found a home in Hawaii for 30 years. Since 2010, the game’s location has changed once again as it now alternates between cities.
Pathway to irrelevance
In the late 1990s, the Pro Bowl gained popularity due to the “Quarterback Challenge.” The league’s best quarterbacks would compete against each other to see who had the strongest arm, accuracy and overall quarterbacking skills. The Pro Bowl traditional football games themselves were also fun to watch in the late 90s and into the early 2000s, as players were not hesitant to hit each other. The league’s best players never opted out of the honor, and it was a true opportunity for fans to see the best go against each other.
In the early 2000s, the Pro Bowl kept the quarterback challenge and incorporated a “Strongest Man” competition to see which linemen could bench press the most weight, leading to a significant increase in viewership.
Many attribute the turning point for players not treating the Pro Bowl as an important game in 2007 when legendary safety Sean Taylor decked Bills punter Brian Moorman. Players took notice of the hit and became apprehensive about going full throttle due to injury risk.
The gradual decline in player participation and interest in the Pro Bowl came to a head in 2016. The number of players voted in who were added to the game as alternates totaled an NFL high of 133. The only quarterback originally voted in by fans to actually play in the game was Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. Stars like Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers had little interest in participating, and they all backed out.
Junior accounting major Katie Harkwell said that despite growing up an enthusiastic football fan, she has never had an interest in watching the Pro Bowl.
“The game is not even competitive,” Harkwell said. “I do not plan to watch it at all.”
Since the exodus of players opting out in 2016, there has been nothing short of a steady decline in participation. The ongoing reduction in effort level and player participation in the Pro Bowl has resulted in ongoing complaints by fans. NFL commissioner Roger Goodell finally stepped in and made a change to the Pro Bowl festivities in 2023.
Modern-day Pro Bowl:
In the 2023 Pro Bowl, participating players competed against each other in a series of mini-games throughout the week. The games started on Thursday and finished on Sunday. The events included precision passing, dodgeball, a field goal kicking competition, best catch, a strength competition and a series of three flag football games.
Each of the events had a certain point total that was added to the total week score. The three flag football games were all played on Sunday. All of the events leading up to the last flag football game counted toward the end week score. In 2023, the American Football Conference (AFC) led 21-15 entering the game, but the National Football Conference (NFC) was able to storm back and win the game and the week.
Gone are the days of only one event before the Pro Bowl game. With the new format including mini-games and other events before the players take the field, the NFL was hoping to get both the players and fans excited.
Despite the new creative format, not all players were impressed. Cleveland Browns star Myles Garrett suffered a dislocated toe in one of the games and made it clear he would decline any future invitations to the festivities. Garrett also stated he would like to see the fans be more involved during the week.
Not all fans have taken to the new format either. Despite the changes, the 2023 Pro Bowl ranked outside of the top ten most-watched Pro Bowls since 2000. Gavin Arkinstall, a junior marketing and finance double major, has one idea that may draw more viewers.
“It’s just silly … we want to watch real football,” Arkinstall said. “Just make it [the] AFC playing against the NFC.”
The 2024 Pro Bowl games on Feb. 1-4 will follow the same exact schedule and events as the 2023 games. Sophomore exploratory business major Max Andes did not mince words when it came to his thoughts on the upcoming Pro Bowl.
“I think it’s a waste of time,” Andes said. “It’s a waste of money. It would be a waste of my hours watching it. It should be gone.”
Many viewers feel the same way, and soon Goodell will have a decision on his hands whether to continue a largely unpopular tradition.