Supriya Ghosh (Editor)

Pro Bowl

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First played  1951
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Instances  2017 Pro Bowl, 2016 Pro Bowl, 2015 Pro Bowl, 2014 Pro Bowl, 2013 Pro Bowl

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The Pro Bowl is the all-star game of the National Football League (NFL). From the merger with the rival American Football League (AFL) in 1970 up through 2013 and resuming in 2016, it is officially called the AFC–NFC Pro Bowl, matching the top players in the American Football Conference (AFC) against those in the National Football Conference (NFC). Between 2014 and 2016, the NFL experimented with an unconferenced format, where the teams were selected by two honorary team captains (who are each in the Hall of Fame), instead of selecting players from each conference. The players were picked in a televised "schoolyard pick" prior to the game.

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Unlike most major sports leagues, which hold their all-star games roughly midway through their respective regular seasons, the Pro Bowl is played around the end of the NFL season. Between 1970 and 2009, it was usually held the weekend after the Super Bowl. Since 2010, the Pro Bowl has been played the weekend before the Super Bowl. Players from the two teams competing in the Super Bowl do not participate.

Observers and commentators expressed their disfavor with the Pro Bowl in its current state. It draws lower TV ratings than its regular-season games, although the game draws similar ratings to other major all-star games, such as the Major League Baseball All-Star Game. However, the biggest concern of teams is to avoid injuries to the star players. The Associated Press wrote that players in the 2012 game were "hitting each other as though they were having a pillow fight".

Between 1980 and 2016, the game was played at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii, save for two years. On June 1, 2016, the NFL announced that they reached a multi-year deal to move the game to Orlando, Florida as part of the league's ongoing efforts to make the game more relevant. For years, the game has suffered from lack of interest due to perceived low quality. The 2017 Pro Bowl will also mark a return to the AFC–NFC format.

History of the Pro Bowl

The first "Pro All-Star Game", featuring the all-stars of the 1938 season (as well as three players from the Los Angeles Bulldogs and Hollywood Bears, who were not members of the league), was played on January 15, 1939 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles. The NFL All-Star Game was played again in Los Angeles in 1940 and then in New York and Philadelphia in 1941 and 1942 respectively. Although originally planned as an annual contest, the all-star game was discontinued after 1942 because of travel restrictions put in place during World War II. During the first five all-star games, an all-star team would face that year's league champion. The league champion won the first four games before the all-stars were victorious in the final game of this early series.

The concept of an all-star game was not revived until June 1950, when the newly christened "Pro Bowl" was approved. The game was sponsored by the Los Angeles Publishers Association. It was decided that the game would feature all-star teams from each of the league's two conferences rather than the league champion versus all-star format which had been used previously. This was done to avoid confusion with the Chicago College All-Star Game, an annual game which featured the league champion against a collegiate all-star team. The teams would be led by the coach of each of the conference champions. Immediately prior to the Pro Bowl, following the 1949 season, the All-America Football Conference, which contributed three teams to the NFL in a partial merger in 1950, held its own all-star game, the Shamrock Bowl.

The first 21 games of the series (1951–1972) were played in Los Angeles. The site of the game was changed annually for each of the next seven years before the game was moved to Aloha Stadium in Halawa, Hawaii for 30 straight seasons from 1980 through 2009. The 2010 Pro Bowl was played at Sun Life Stadium, the home stadium of the Miami Dolphins and host site of Super Bowl XLIV, on January 31, the first time ever that the Pro Bowl was held before the championship game (a decision probably due to increasingly low Nielsen ratings from being regarded as an anti-climax to the Super Bowl). With the new rule being that the conference teams do not include players from the teams that will be playing in the Super Bowl. The Pro Bowl then returned to Hawaii in 2011, but was again held during the week before the Super Bowl, where it remained for three more years.

The 2012 game was met with criticism from fans and sports writers for the lack of quality play by the players (see below). On October 24, 2012, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell had second thoughts about the Pro Bowl, telling a Sirius XM show that if the players did not play more competitively [in the 2013 Pro Bowl], he was "not inclined to play it anymore". During the ensuing off-season, the NFL Players Association lobbied to keep the Pro Bowl, and negotiated several rule changes to be implemented for the 2014 game. Among them, the teams will no longer be AFC vs. NFC, and instead be selected by captains in a fantasy draft. For the 2014 game, Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders were chosen as alumni captains, while their captains were Drew Brees and Robert Quinn (Rice), along with Jamaal Charles and J. J. Watt (Sanders).

On April 9, 2014, the NFL announced that the 2015 Pro Bowl would be played the week before the Super Bowl at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona on January 25, 2015. The game returned to Hawaii in 2016, and that the "unconferenced" format was its last.

For 2017, the league is considering a bid to host the game at Maracanã Stadium in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which if approved will be the first time the game has been hosted outside the United States. The NFL is also considering future Pro Bowls in Mexico and Germany. The NFL hopes that by leveraging international markets with the star power of Pro Bowls, international popularity and viewership will increase. A report released May 19, 2016, indicated that the 2017 Pro Bowl would instead be hosted at a newly renovated Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida; Orlando beat out Brazil (which apparently did not make the final round of voting), Honolulu, Super Bowl host site Houston, and a bid from Sydney, Australia for the hosting rights. On June 1, 2016, the league announced that it is restoring to the old conference format.

Player selection

Currently, players are voted into the Pro Bowl by the coaches, the players themselves, and the fans. Each group's ballots count for one third of the votes. The fans vote online at the NFL's official website. There are also replacements that go to the game should any selected player be unable to play due to injuries. Prior to 1995, only the coaches and the players made Pro Bowl selections.

In order to be considered a Pro Bowler for a given year, a player must either have been one of the initial players selected to the team, or a player who accepts an invitation to the Pro Bowl as an alternate; invited alternates who decline to attend are not considered Pro Bowlers. Being a Pro Bowler is considered to be a mark of honor, and players who are accepted into the Pro Bowl are considered to be elite.

Players whose teams advanced to the Super Bowl do not play in the Pro Bowl, and they are replaced by alternate players.

From 2014 to 2016, players did not play according to conference; instead, were placed in a draft pool and chosen by team captains. Since 2017, players per conference are placed into separate draft pools and chosen by their team captains.

Coaching staffs

When the Pro Bowl was held after the Super Bowl, the head coaches were traditionally the head coaches of the teams that lost in the AFC and NFC championship games for the same season of the Pro Bowl in question. From 1978 through 1982, the head coaches of the highest ranked divisional champion that lost in the Divisional Playoff Round were chosen. For the 1983 Pro Bowl, the NFL resumed selecting the losing head coaches in the conference championship games. In the 1999 Pro Bowl, New York Jets head coach Bill Parcells, after his team lost to the Denver Broncos in the AFC Championship Game, had to decline due to health reasons and Jets assistant head coach Bill Belichick took his place.

When the Pro Bowl was moved to the weekend between the Conference Championship games and the Super Bowl in 2009, the team that lost in the Divisional Playoff Round with the best regular-season record would have their coaching staffs lead their respective conference Pro Bowl team returning to the format used from 1978–1982. It remained that way through 2013; it resumes in 2017. If the losing teams of each conference had the same regular season record the coaches from the higher-seeded team will get the Pro Bowl honor. From 2014 to 2016, the Pro Bowl coaches came from the two teams with the best records that lost in the Divisional Playoffs. (In the 2015 Pro Bowl, when John Fox left his coaching job with Denver after his playoff loss to Indianapolis that year, John Harbaugh of Baltimore took over. The next year saw Green Bay's assistant coach Winston Moss took over as Mike McCarthy resigned from coaching due to illness.)

Game honors

A Player of the Game was honored 1951–56. 1957–71, awards were presented to both an Outstanding Back and an Outstanding Lineman. In 1972 and since 2014, there are awards for both an Outstanding Offensive Player and an Outstanding Defensive Player. 1973–2007, only one Player of the Game award was honored (though three times this award has been presented to multiple players in a single game). In 2008 the award was changed to Most Valuable Player (MVP).

Players are paid for participating in the game with the winning team receiving a larger payout. In 2011 and 2013, $50,000 went to victors versus $25,000 for the losers. In 2012, this was increased to $65,000 and $40,000, respectively. In 2014, the winners took $53,000 and the losers $26,000. In 2015 and 2016 winners earn $55,000 while losers got $28,000, while the 2017 Pro Bowl pays out $61,000 to the winners and $30,000 to the losers.

Rule differences

The Pro Bowl has different rules from other NFL games to make the game safer.

  • No motion or shifting by the offense
  • Offense must have a tight end in all formations
  • Offense may have 1 or 2 receivers on the same side
  • Intentional grounding is legal
  • Defense must run a 4–3 at all times, though the Cover 2 is permitted
  • No press coverage except inside the 5-yard line
  • No blitz
  • Not allowed to rush a punt, PAT or FG attempt
  • Two timeouts per period. If team has one unused timeout left over at end of the odd period they can carry over to next period; however they can't carry over from one half to next, nor from 4th period into first overtime.
  • Teams trade possessions after each period (except at the start of 3rd period/3 OT, when the team that lost the coin toss has the choice to receive or defer to other team)
  • Kickoffs are eliminated (including free kicks)
  • Teams will start on their own 25-yard line after any score or at the start of each period
  • 2-minute warning in every period
  • 35-second play clock (rather than 40 seconds) to run plays
  • Clock won't stop on sacks outside last 2 minutes of regulation/4th overtime
  • Clock stops in last 2 minutes of each period when team with ball can't gain any yardage
  • 43-player roster per team
  • Clock starts after incompletions on referee's signal outside last 2 minutes of 2nd period/2 OT or last 5 minutes of 4th/4 OT
  • In case of a tie after regulation, multiple 15-minute OT periods will be played (with each team receiving two time outs per period; maximum of three per even period), and in the first overtime teams receive one possession to score unless one of them scores a touchdown/safety on its first possession. True sudden death rules apply thereafter if both teams have had their initial possession and the game remains tied. The Pro Bowl is not allowed to end in a tie, unlike preseason and regular season games. (In general, beyond the 1st overtime, whoever scores first wins. The first overtime starts as if the game had started over, like the NFL Playoffs.)

    Pro Bowl uniforms

    The teams are made of players from different NFL teams, so using their own uniforms would be too confusing. The players each wear the helmet of their team, but the home jerseys and pants are either a solid blue for the NFC or solid red for the AFC, with white jerseys with blue or red accents, respectively, for the away team. While it had been speculated that the color of Pro Bowl jerseys was determined by the winner of the Super Bowl—as it had been played post-Super Bowl for many years—this is untrue. The design of Pro Bowl uniforms is changed every two years, and the color and white jerseys are rotated along with the design change. This has been Pro Bowl tradition since the switch to team specific helmets, which started with the January 1979 game. The two-year switch was originally created as a marketing ploy by Nike, and was continued by Reebok, which won the merchandising contract in 2002. Nike subsequently won the contract back in 2011.

    The early Pro Bowl, contested by the National Football League's Eastern and Western Division stars and played at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, featured the same uniforms from the 1950s to mid-1960s; the Eastern team wore scarlet jerseys with white numerals and a white crescent shoulder stripe, white pants with red stripe, red socks, and a plain red helmet. The Western team wore white jerseys with royal-blue numerals and a Northwestern University-style Ukon triple stripe on the sleeves, white pants with blue stripe and socks and a plain blue helmet. Perhaps oddly, the Eastern team wore home dark jerseys, although the host city team, the Los Angeles Rams, were members of the Western Conference. From January 1967 to January 1970 both teams wore gold helmets with the NFL logo on the sides; the Eastern helmets featured a red-white-red tri-stripe and the Western a similar blue-white-blue tri-stripe. In fact, the players brought their own game helmets to Los Angeles, which were then spray-painted and decorated for the contest. For the 1970 game the helmets featured the '50 NFL' logo, commemorating the league's half-century anniversary.

    In the earliest years of the AFC–NFC Pro Bowl, the players did not wear their unique helmets, as they do now. The AFC All-Stars wore a solid red helmet with a white A on it, while the NFC players wore a solid white helmet with a blue N on it. The AFC's red helmets were paired with white jerseys and red pants, while the NFC's white helmets were paired with blue jerseys and white pants.

    Two players with the same number who are elected to the Pro Bowl can now wear the same number for that game. This was not always the case in the past.

    The 2008 Pro Bowl included a unique example of several players from the same team wearing the same number in a Pro Bowl. For the game, Washington Redskins players T Chris Samuels, TE Chris Cooley, and LS Ethan Albright all wore the number 21 (a number normally inappropriate for their positions) in memory of their teammate Sean Taylor, who had been murdered during the 2007 season.

    On October 7, 2013, Nike unveiled the uniforms for the 2014 Pro Bowl, which revealed that the red, white and blue colors that the game uniforms bore throughout its entire history will no longer be used for this game. As the NFC–AFC format was not used between 2014 through 2016, team 1 sported a white uniform with bright orange and team 2 sported a gray uniform with volt green. The new uniforms received mixed reviews from fans and sports columnists alike, one even mentioning that the game would look like an "Oregon vs. Oklahoma State" game.

    For the 2017 Pro Bowl, with its return to the conference format, the league took an approach similar to the NFL Color Rush initiative, in which jerseys, pants, and socks were all a uniform color (red for the AFC, blue for the NFC).

    NFL All-Star Games (1939–1942)

    No Most Valuable Player awards were presented during these games
  • 1943–1950 – No games
  • Stadiums that have hosted the Pro Bowl

  • Wrigley Field, Los Angeles (1939)
  • Gilmore Stadium, Los Angeles (Jan and Dec 1940)
  • Polo Grounds, New York (Jan 1942)
  • Shibe Park, Philadelphia (Dec 1942)
  • Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (1951–1972, 1979)
  • Texas Stadium, Irving, Texas (1973)
  • Arrowhead Stadium, Kansas City, Missouri (1974)
  • Miami Orange Bowl (1975)
  • Louisiana Superdome, New Orleans (1976)
  • Kingdome, Seattle (1977)
  • Tampa Stadium (1978)
  • Aloha Stadium, Honolulu (1980–2009, 2011–2014, 2016,)
  • Sun Life Stadium, Miami Gardens, Florida (2010)
  • University of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, Arizona (2015)
  • Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida (2017-present)
  • Records

  • Jeff Blake holds the record for the longest completion: 93 yards.
  • Peyton Manning (Colts/Broncos), Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs/Falcons), Merlin Olsen (Rams), and Bruce Matthews (Oilers/Titans) were each selected to 14 Pro Bowls, Olsen and Matthews in consecutive seasons. Olsen played in 14 consecutive Pro Bowls beginning his rookie year.
  • In the 20 seasons prior to the AFL–NFL merger, the Western/National Conference won both the Pro Bowl and the NFL Championship game nine times, while the Eastern/American won both two times. In the years they have split, the East won the Pro Bowl and West won the NFL title five times, while the reverse has occurred four times. Also, in this era, the National/Western Conference won 13 of 20 games played against the American/Eastern Conference.
  • In the 37 seasons since the AFL–NFL Merger, both conferences have swept the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl 9 times. In the 19 years they have split, the NFC has won the Super Bowl 10 times.
  • Baltimore/Indianapolis Colts players have won seven MVP awards, more than any other team. Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams players have won six MVP Awards. Chicago Bears and Minnesota Vikings players have won five MVP awards. Pittsburgh Steelers, Buffalo Bills and Cleveland Browns players have won four MVP awards. 10 teams have won two, and 14 teams have won one each. The Baltimore Ravens and Carolina Panthers have never had a player win an MVP award.
  • Quarterbacks have won 16 MVP awards; wide receivers are second with eight.
  • Only two AFC–NFC Pro Bowls have gone to overtime. Both have been won by the AFC in overtime with field goals.
  • Due to the rescheduling of Super Bowl XXXVI in the wake of the terrorist attacks in the northeast United States on September 11, 2001, the 2002 game was moved from Sunday to the following Saturday, one week later.
  • Sean Taylor was voted to the 2007/08 NFC Roster as a starter at free safety, shortly after he was fatally shot in his home by armed intruders. This was the first time in Pro Bowl history that a player was named as a Pro Bowler posthumously. The NFC took the field on defense for their first series with only 10 players on the field. He was later replaced by Roy Williams.
  • Andy Reid has coached in the most Pro Bowls (six).
  • Pittsburgh head coaches Bill Cowher and Chuck Noll have the most and second-most wins Pro Bowl history, respectively, with Cowher having four victories and Noll with three. Chuck Knox also three victories, all coming when he was head coach of the Los Angeles Rams.
  • The 2007–08 Dallas Cowboys have the most selections in one season with 13.
  • The most points in a single game was 62, achieved by the NFC (2013). The 2004 Pro Bowl also featured the most points by the losing team (the AFC scored 52).
  • Marshall Faulk and Adrian Peterson are the only rookies in NFL history to win both the Offensive Rookie of the Year Award and the Pro Bowl's Most Valuable Player Award in the same season.
  • In 2010, DeSean Jackson became the only player to be named to the Pro Bowl at two different positions in the same year (wide receiver and kick returner).
  • In 2016, there was a new record set for fake punt completions with two. Also there were the most declined invitations ever, making 2016 the most players to be on the Pro Bowl teams.
  • Appearances

    This is a list of players with most Pro Bowl selections. Players listed in bold type are currently active as of the 2016 season.

    Television

  • Under the prior NFL television contract which was in effect through the 2014 Pro Bowl, the network which aired the Super Bowl also aired the Pro Bowl. The 2007 game on CBS was held on the Saturday after Super Bowl XLI because of the 49th Grammy Awards. The 2008 game was on Fox, broadcaster of Super Bowl XLII. Likewise, the 2009 game was on NBC, broadcaster of Super Bowl XLIII. CBS sold off their rights to the 2010 game to ESPN, which was played a week before the Super Bowl at the Super Bowl site, Sun Life Stadium. CBS also declined to broadcast the 2013 game, which was instead shown on NBC. The 2014 game, also shown on NBC, was the final Pro Bowl on network television for the foreseeable future, as exclusive broadcast rights moved to ESPN in 2015.
  • The Pro Bowl was originally broadcast on an alternative basis by CBS and NBC 1971–1974; the other network broadcast the Super Bowl. Later, the game was broadcast as part of the Monday Night Football package on ABC 1975–1987 and again 1995–2003. In 2004–2006, ABC sold its rights to the Pro Bowl to sister network ESPN (who had shown it 1988–1994). In those years, the ESPN Sunday Night Football crew covered the game.
  • In the early 2000s, after suffering through several years of dwindling ratings ABC considered moving the game to Monday night. The idea was scrapped, however, when ABC decided to sell off the rights to sister network ESPN.
  • Throughout his broadcasting career, John Madden declined to be part of the announcing crew when his network carried the Pro Bowl due to his aviatophobia and claustrophobia (a joke referencing both is made in the Madden NFL '97 video game before the beginning of the Pro Bowl in season mode, where Madden quips that he drove his "Madden Bus" to Hawaii, rather than flying). Until Madden's retirement from broadcasting after the 2009 Pro Bowl, it had only occurred twice: former San Diego Chargers quarterback and MNF personality Dan Fouts, whom Madden had replaced, took his place on ABC in 2003, and Cris Collinsworth took his place on NBC in 2009 (Collinsworth ended up replacing Madden permanently upon the latter's retirement).
  • ESPN will hold exclusive rights to the Pro Bowl from 2015 through 2022.
  • Blackout policy

    The Pro Bowl is still subject to the NFL's blackout policies, requiring the game to be blacked out within 75 miles (121 km) of the stadium site if the game does not sell out all of the stadium's seats.

    Quality

    For decades, the Pro Bowl has been criticized as a glamour event more than a football game. This is due to two causes: the voluntary nature of the game, and the fear of player injury.

    While players are financially compensated for participating in the Pro Bowl, for a star player, the pay can be less than 1% of their salary. Many star players have excused themselves from participation over the years, meaning that the very best players are not necessarily featured. Not having the best players in the Pro Bowl was exacerbated by the introduction of fan voting (see section below).

    Another criticism of the game is that the players—particularly on defense—are not playing "full speed". This is because player injury plays a much greater part in a team's success in the NFL as compared to the other major American sports. For this reason, unlike the NBA, NHL, and MLB (which host their all-star events as a mid-season break), the Pro Bowl was historically held after the completion of the season and playoffs. This means that a player injured in the Pro Bowl would have at least six months to rehab before the next season begins. However, starting in 2010, the Pro Bowl was moved from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl. Because of the above-noted fear of injury, players from the two teams participating in the Super Bowl were banned from participation, meaning that the absence of star players was only increased.

    With the dearth of stars making the game the subject of much derision (Sports Illustrated website refused to even include one pre-game story on the event in 2012), the players on the field appear to be taking it less seriously as well. In the 2012 game, the lack of defensive effort was apparent, not only to anyone watching, but to anyone who saw the score of 100 points. One NFL player watching the game said, "They probably should have just put flags on them," indicating that the quality was about on the level of flag football. Commissioner Roger Goodell stated that the game needed to improve, otherwise it would be eliminated. It is worth noting that entire teams have declined to participate after losing the conference championship, like the 2015 New England Patriots, which had seven starters on the Pro Bowl roster. This, among other factors, caused the 2016 Pro Bowl to be more of a game featuring emerging players, with a record of 133 players selected overall (including those who were absent), and ended up including rookie QB Jameis Winston instead of recognized veterans Tom Brady and Carson Palmer, who were both in the conversation for the 2015 NFL season MVP before losing in their respective conference finals.

    Selection process

    Fan voting has increased criticism of the Pro Bowl. Voting by fans makes up 1/3 of the vote for Pro Bowl players. Some teams earn more selections of their players because fans often vote for their favorite team and not necessarily the best player. In the 2008 Pro Bowl, the Dallas Cowboys had thirteen players on the NFC roster, an NFL record. "If you're in a small market, no one really gets to see you play", said Minnesota Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield, who spent much of his early career with the small-market Buffalo Bills. "If you're a quiet guy, it's hard to get the attention. You just have to work hard and play." Winfield made the Pro Bowl in 2008 after ten seasons of being shut out.

    The player voting has also been subject to significant criticism. It is not uncommon for players to pick the same players over and over again; former offensive lineman (and Sports Illustrated analyst) Ross Tucker has cited politics, incumbency, personal vendettas, and compensation for injury in previous years as primary factors in players' choices. Thus, players who have seen their play decline with age can still be perennially elected to the Pro Bowl due to their popularity among other players, something particularly common among positions such as the offensive line, where few statistics are available. For example, in 2010, Baltimore Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs admitted voting for Ryan Fitzpatrick (then the backup quarterback of the Buffalo Bills) over eventual league most valuable player Tom Brady not because he thought Fitzpatrick was the better player but as a vote of disrespect toward Brady's team, the New England Patriots.

    Some players have had a surprisingly small number of Pro Bowl selections despite distinguished careers. Hall of Fame running back John Riggins was selected only once in his career from 1971 to 1985. He was not selected in the year after which he set the record for rushing touchdowns in a season and his team made it to the Super Bowl (although he did make the All-Pro team). Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Nitschke only made the Pro Bowl once, despite being named All-Pro seven times and being the MVP of the 1962 NFL Championship Game. Defensive back Ken Riley never made the Pro Bowl in his 15 seasons, even though he recorded 65 interceptions, the fourth-highest total in NFL history at the time of his retirement. Former Jacksonville Jaguars halfback Fred Taylor, who is 15th in all-time rushing yards, was elected to his only Pro Bowl in 2007, despite averaging 4.6 yards per carry for his career, better than all but five running backs ranked in the top 30 in all-time rushing.

    Long snappers are picked by the coaches and not voted on at all. They are not allowed to play on their own coach's team.

    References

    Pro Bowl Wikipedia


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