The Past, The Present, and The Future of The NFL Pro Bowl
While the three other major American professional sports leagues features its best stars in a mid-season exhibition game that they simply refer to as the “All-Star Game,” the National Football League features its best players from the preceding season in a year-end all-star game they refer to as “the AFC–NFC Pro Bowl,” or simply “the Pro Bowl.”
The Pro Bowl first took place in 1970, after the merger of the old American Football League (AFL) and National Football League (NFL) into one consolidated National Football League; the two merging parties simply changed the word “league” to “conference” as part of this new unified National Football League. Until 2014, the Pro Bowl featured the best players in the American Football Conference (AFC) taking on the best of the National Football Conference (NFC). While players from both conferences are awarded a bonus for their selection and participation in the game, members of the winning team will receive a larger cash bonus, thus providing a monetary incentive for the players. As of 2017, members of the winning team received $61,000 while members of the losing team earned $30,000.
Between 1980 and 2014, the Pro Bowl was held at Aloha Stadium in Halawa, Hawaii for all but one year. In the spring of 2014, in a bid to drum up more interest in the game, the NFL changed the date of the Pro Bowl from the weekend after the Super Bowl to the weekend prior to it, and moved the venue of the game itself. In 2015, the game was played at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, and after returning back to Aloha Stadium for the 2016 edition, the NFL moved the 2017 game to the newly renovated Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. The 2018 Pro Bowl will take place there as well.
Between 2000 and 2012, after which the NFL changed the format of the game, the conferences were very evenly split in terms of the on-field results, with the AFC holding a 7-6 advantage over the NFC in that 13-game span. In 2014, in further efforts to garner more interest in the game, the NFL Players Association selected two NFL alumni as team captains who would “draft” players nominated to the Pro Bowl to their respective team. For instance, in 2014, Hall of Fame wide receiver Jerry Rice and Hall of Fame cornerback Deion Sanders built their own Pro Bowl teams out of the players nominated to the game, with “Team Rice” proving victorious over “Team Sanders” by a 22-21 score. In 2015, the NFL repeated the process with Hall of Fame wide receivers Michael Irvin and Cris Carter selecting teams (Irvin’s team won 32-28). In 2016, in a championship game of sorts, Irvin squared off against Rice, with Irvin’s team winning 49-27.
The NFL returned back to the NFC vs. AFC format in the 2017 edition of the game, but in the upcoming 2018 game, Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson will serve as one of the captains who will be picking a team; the other captain is currently yet to be determined.
Regardless of whoever is picking opposite of Tomlinson, they’ll have plenty of stars to choose from, comprising some new and some very familiar names. To the latter, expect guys like quarterback Tom Brady, wide receivers Antonio Brown and Julio Jones, and running back Le’Veon Bell to be among those chosen to the game. But there should also be a large influx of players making their first-ever appearance in the game, like second-year quarterback Carson Wentz, rookie running backs Alvin Kamara and Kareem Hunt, and young veterans like wide receiver Keenan Allen and tight end Zach Ertz.
The 2018 Pro Bowl will be played on Sunday, January 28th, at 3:00pm EST.