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NFL to Replace Pro Bowl with Skills Competition, Flag Football Game

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Steelers Pro Bowl RB Najee Harris

The Pro Bowl is no more. 

The NFL announced on Monday that the league is replacing its annual Pro Bowl game with a series of player skills competitions and an AFC vs NFC flag football game.

The events will be held in Las Vegas once again in 2023, and players will still be selected to participate in the events in the traditional combination of fan, player and coach voting. The NFL will call the new week-long event The Pro Bowl Games.

The specific event schedule has not yet been announced. The flag football game will be aired on ESPN and ABC on Sunday, Feb. 5, the week in between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.

Peyton Manning and his Omaha Production team will parter to help produce the event and Manning will be a host.

“We’ve received invaluable feedback from players, teams and fans about reimagining the Pro Bowl, and as a result, we’re thrilled to use The Pro Bowl Games as a platform to spotlight Flag football as an integral part of the sport’s future while also introducing fun, new forms of competition and entertainment that will bring our players, their families and fans closer than ever before,” said NFL vice president Peter O’Reilly. “Building on the success of the 2022 Pro Bowl and 2022 Draft, as well as our strong partnership with the Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority (LVCVA) and Las Vegas Raiders, we look forward to bringing The 2023 Pro Bowl Games to the capital of world-class sports and entertainment.” 

The Pro Bowl began in 1950 as the NFL’s postseason all-star game, with Cleveland Browns quarterback Otto Graham winning the MVP award in front of 53,676 at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The game was played exclusively in Los Angeles until after the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, moving around the country for the next decade. In 1979, it was played at Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium for the first time, and that remained the game’s home for 40 years. 

For most of that time, the game was played the Sunday after the Super Bowl. In 2010, it was moved to the Sunday before the Super Bowl, meaning players on the competing teams needed to be replaced on Pro Bowl rosters.

The game had meant progressively less as time went on, with players unwilling to risk injury for the game and the rules prohibiting any variety in offensive or defensive scheme. Though the game became notorious for a lack of quality football, it remained well-watched through much of its history. The 2011 Pro Bowl set a ratings record with 13.4 million viewers.

The Pro Bowl was not played after the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 version, which will be the final game, saw the AFC win, 41-35. Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert and Las Vegas Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby shared MVP honors. The AFC won each of the final five AFC-NFC Pro Bowls.

Steelers Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, Cam Heyward and T.J. Watt played in that game,  Heyward in his fourth Pro Bowl, Watt in his third and Harris and Johnson in their first. Johnson caught a two-point conversion in the game. Minkah Fitzpatrick (2020, 2021) is the only other active Steelers player to have participated in the game.

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