AFC middle linebacker C.J. Mosley of the New York Jets, left, grabs a flag off NFC return specialist KaVontae Turpin (9) of the Dallas Cowboys during the Pro Bowl flag football at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sun Feb 5, 2023 (AP News photo)
By Daniel Dullum
Sunday, February 5, 2023
In the December 1964 issue of Sport magazine, Jim Brown was asked to select what he thought were his five greatest games. One of them was the 1962-63 Pro Bowl, in which he led the Eastern Conference to a 30-20 win over the West while gaining 144 rushing yards on 17 carries and a touchdown.
Moments like that are truly buried in history.
Way back in the day, the winners’ share in the pro football all-star games was sometimes more than some of the participants made for the season. Therefore, they went out and got after it. It wasn’t until the last 30 years or so that the annual all-star game started being compared to touch football, and not in a complimentary way.
This year, the NFL decided to head in that direction anyway.
The NFL came up with a plan to revamp its all-star game for this season. It involved three segments of flag football mixed in with skills competitions. In the end of the festivities at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas on Sunday, the NFC prevailed over the AFC 35-33.
In the final flag football segment, Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins threw three touchdown passes. That’s the spot NFC coach Eli Manning wanted Cousins in, and the veteran delivered, completing 15 of 19 passes for 150 yards.
The AFC, coached by Peyton Manning, had built a 20-15 lead going into the final flag football session, based on points from the first two flag games and the skills competitions which included rec league-type games for kickers, punters and long-snappers, and the linemen. The games were played on a 50-yard field with no goalposts.
Even with the idea of keeping injuries to a minimum, there was still at least one injury – Cleveland defensive end Myles Garrett suffered a dislocated toe. X-rays were negative.
Cousins said he hopes youngsters watching this year’s Pro Bowl Games will be encouraged to participate in flag football, and there’s a good chance of that, with growing safety concerns about football at the youth level.
The skills competitions seemed like a reach, they’re not as good as the NHL skills competition, but it’s something that can be reevaluated. Frankly, if the league had, say, a $2 million pot for a winner-take-all situation, you could go back and play real football and forego the gimmicks. That is unlikely to happen, as the players seemed to enjoy an afternoon in the park playing schoolyard ball and the fans didn’t seem to mind watching.
It will be interesting to see what the ratings were for this experiment. As bad as the Pro Bowl usually is, the ratings were usually solid. And attendance was good in Vegas – the announced crowd of 58,331 was 2,000 more than last year’s attendance, also in Las Vegas.
Ticket prices for this year’s Pro Bowl Games ranged from $37 to $1,335. There’s no word yet on where next year’s event will be held, since the league doesn’t like to have the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl in the same venue. Allegiant Stadium is the host of next year’s Super Bowl.