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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 2017, 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.
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.
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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, with the new rule 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.
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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.[by whom?]
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. Starting in 2017, players in each conference are placed into separate draft pools and chosen by their team captains.
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.)
NFL Pro Bowl Live
AFC–NFC Pro Bowls
Date: January 29, 2017
Venue: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Florida
AFC vs NFC Live
AFC: Andy Reid, Kansas City
NFC: Jason Garrett, Dallas
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.
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