The NFL is replacing the Pro Bowl with weeklong skill contests and a flag football game, The Associated Press has learned.
The new event will replace the full-contact show begun in 1951. Renamed The Pro Bowl Games, it will feature AFC and NFC players demonstrating their soccer and non-soccer skills in challenges spanning multiple days. The 2023 games will be played in Las Vegas and the flag football game at Allegiant Stadium will be on February 5th.
Peyton Manning and his company Omaha Productions will be programming and promoting the content of the event throughout the week. Manning, a 14-time Pro Bowl pick during his Hall of Fame career, will provide his perspective and also be part of the flag game coaching staff.
“The Pro Bowl is something that we’ve been looking at for a while and really evolving,” NFL manager Peter O’Reilly told The Associated Press. “After last year’s game, we really made the decision based on a lot of internal conversations, getting feedback from GMs and coaches, getting a lot of feedback from players. We believe there is a real opportunity here to do something different and switch away from the traditional game of tackle football. We decided the goal was to celebrate 88 of the NFL’s biggest stars in a truly positive, fun, yet competitive way.
“The very direct feedback from people who have been to the Pro Bowl recently has been to keep the construct of the week and make sure you have that multi-day element. It was overwhelmingly positive from both players and clubs.”
The Pro Bowl debuted in Los Angeles in January 1951 and stayed there for 21 seasons before the game was moved to different cities from 1972 to 1980. Hawaii hosted from 1980 to 2009, and the game has had multiple homes since then, including Miami. Phoenix, Orlando and Las Vegas.
The quality of play in the Pro Bowl has often been criticized. Players, understandably concerned about getting injured, treat it as more of an exhibition than a competition. A game of flag football could increase competition while avoiding potential injuries from tackling, blocking, and hitting.
The NFL has a keen interest in flag football. The league has partnered with the International Federation of American Football to bring flag football to the World Games in July with a view to the 2028 Los Angeles Olympics.
“They use all of the things that feel great about Pro Bowl week, the skills, the helmets off, the commitment, and then while maintaining the AFC-NFC construct, culminate in something that really matters, which is flag Football and this opportunity to have the best athletes in the NFL out there playing this game that is so about the future of our sport,” said O’Reilly, the league’s executive vice president, club business and league events. “It was an evolution, but coming out of Las Vegas last year, we really focused on how we could reinvent our All-Stars and celebrate even better.”
The league plans to announce the new format on Monday.
“The Pro Bowl has always been a time to retire and celebrate the game of football with teammates, fans and family,” Manning told the AP. “I’m grateful to continue to be a part of the week as we all at Omaha Productions work with the NFL to remake the Pro Bowl Games. It’s great to see Sunday’s game turned into a flag football game. Youth football has been extremely important to me and knowing that NFL FLAG will help grow this sport, I hope boys and girls can see that they play the same game as the best players in the world.”
Fan voting will continue to help determine the AFC and NFC team rosters. Tom Brady has the most Pro Bowl invites at 15. Four players received 14 invites, including Manning. The East-West Shrine Bowl takes place on February 2nd at Allegiant Stadium.
In 1999, Patriots rookie running back Robert Edwards suffered knee ligament damage and cut an artery in his left leg while playing an NFL-sanctioned beach flag football game during Pro Bowl week. He missed the entire 1999 and 2000 season while rehabilitating the knee.