Reimagined Pro Bowl Games Signals that the NFL has its Sights Set on the Future
Stefon Diggs grabbing the camera and snapping a photo of his fellow AFC All-Stars after his 45-yard touchdown catch.
George Kittle flossing in the end zone with Amon-Ra St. Brown and Justin Jefferson.
The trick plays, dance moves, pick-sixes, and bombs. That was the best way to summarize the afternoon at Allegiant Stadium at the 2023 Pro Bowl Games.
The NFC beat the AFC by two points in what turned out to be an exciting afternoon. Still, the NFL was the biggest winner of the day. The reimagined Pro Bowl Games struck a positive chord with the 58,331 fans in attendance today and the players on the field.
If you didn’t like it, chances are, the NFL wasn’t thinking of you when they redesigned their annual all-star event.
See, the NFL wasn’t trying to regain fans they’ve lost after years of non-competitive Pro Bowl stinkers. Instead, the reimagined Pro Bowl Games were designed to capture the next generation of fans. The entire week has been laying the groundwork for it.
Seven-on-seven youth flag football games throughout the Las Vegas area communities all week. The youth NFL Flag Championships at Allegiant Stadium this morning. Then the pros, the stars that the next generation of football fans adore and emulate, played a backyard style of football. Football like it was when we were kids. Football was accessible to everyone. All you needed was a ball and some bodies for some seven-on-seven sandlot-style football.
And guess what? It was damn fun. It was skill-on-skill, and it was some excellent old-fashioned back yard football.
But Patrick, it’s the NFL, I want to see some real football!
Calling any version of the Pro Bowl “real football” is using the definition pretty loosely. It’s an exhibition. An all-star game. It’s a vacation event. So I think it was tough to watch the traditional format through that lens because the game was trying to look like something it wasn’t, from the field dimensions to the pads and flags.
The Pro Bowl attempted to be a competitive NFL football game. It failed miserably. It lost a generation of fans by failing to adapt for many years. If this week’s event was any indication, they’re not willing to make that mistake again. Even if it means that the generation they lost never tunes into a Pro Bowl again.
Guess what? The players loved the new format too.
After the game, Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson raved about how much he enjoyed the new format.
“Oh yeah, the new format is good. Definitely better, more entertaining for the fans and for us. I feel like it was a great first year [with the new format].”
Jefferson played in last year’s Pro Bowl under the old format and said that he wasn’t a fan of playing in a tackle game after the season was over. He also said that the NFL should keep things the same next season.
“I think so, I think it’s better than the actual game.”
Of course, nothing is perfect, and Jefferson had a suggestion for the NFL:
“I feel like we should play the games faster. We should do them back-to-back-to-back instead of waiting it out in between. We got tired and a little stiff with all of the waiting around.”
But Jefferson was just one of many. Every player that I spoke to today enjoyed the new format and wants the NFL to stick with it moving forward.
Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb said that he felt like the game was “more competitive” than the previous versions. Lamb also echoed Jefferson’s sentiments regarding tackling in the offseason. “Tackling is dead [after the season],” Lamb said.
Packers cornerback Jaire Alexander called the new format “probably one of the coolest experiences that the NFL has brought.” Alexander said that the players loved not having to take a physical beating in an exhibition game. He also agreed that this format is excellent for younger NFL fans.
Even Raiders running back Josh Jacobs, who was said that “this sh*** sucks” on Saturday had a change of heart today.
“I thought that today was cool,” Jacobs said. “I didn’t like a lot of the other stuff we did, a lot of obligations that fans don’t get to see that we have to do. But I think it was more competitive this way.”
The NFL has work to do, but they’re heading in the right direction.
Today was a win for the NFL in the grand scheme of things.
Sure, there’s work to be done. For example, a few players mentioned they could do without the wait time between the three games. They also commented on the officiating, which was an issue even at the Pro Bowl.
But the overall consensus was that the players enjoyed the format, felt more competitive as a result, and want it back next year.
Getting the players to a) want to play in the event and b) play competitively in the event were the two things the NFL could not get from the players under the old format. Those two things led to the stale product that NFL fans deem dead. Today, the NFL took a step in the right direction.