A Swift Look Back at the History of the Pro Bowl
The Pro Bowl is the NFL’s form of an all-star game. From the times when the AFL and the NFL merged in 1970, it was called the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, featuring the top players from each conference against each other. However, since 2014, the teams have not played each other on the basis of conference but instead were chosen by two captains (Hall of Fame players who are honorary captains) in a televised draft much like picking sides in a school yard on the Wednesday before the game.
— New York Giants (@Giants) January 22, 2016
The Pro Bowl is played near the end of the NFL season. Between 1970 and 2009, it took place the weekend after the Super Bowl, but in 2010 it was moved to the week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. Players who are taking part in the Super Bowl do not appear in the Pro Bowl.
The history of this game goes all the way back to 1939, when the all-stars from the 1938 NFL season (joined by three players from the Los Angeles Bulldogs and the Hollywood Stars, teams not in the NFL) took the field on January 15 at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles (a scaled-down version of Wrigley Field in Chicago which was knocked down in 1969). The game took place again in L.A. in 1940 before moving to New York City in 1941 and Philadelphia in 1942. Travel restrictions during World War II caused a hiatus in the game, but the format featured the NFL champion against a group of all-stars from the other teams. The league champion won four of the first five games, with the all-stars winning the last one of the five.
The idea of a “Pro Bowl” didn’t come about until 1951, when the Los Angeles Publishers Association sponsored a game featuring all-star teams from the two divisions in the NFL. From 1951 to 1972, the games were played in Los Angeles; after that, the game moved each season, and then the game found a home in Hawaii’s Aloha Stadium from 1980 until 2009. In 2010, the Pro Bowl took place in Miami, where the Super Bowl was set to take place as well, the week before the title game. That was the first time the Pro Bowl happened before the Super Bowl and without Super Bowl team members.
The Pro Bowl remains a bit of a challenge as far as promotion and competition go. The fact that some of the best players in the league won’t be there, as they are still preparing for the Super Bowl, is a factor. Also, as the NBA and NHL have also found, the competitive spirit is not there, particularly on defense. In the NBA and NHL, that isn’t as much of an issue, as basketball fans don’t mind seeing games that finish 150-145, because they like seeing their favorite stars rack up the points. However, the NHL has had to shuffle formats after games in which both teams scored in the double digits for goals. In the NFL, the ferocity of the hitting for competitive defenses simply doesn’t happen in Pro Bowl games, as the players seem to be just out there to have fun rather than try to knock each other down as hard as they can, and that feeling affects the entertainment value of the game. To continue to make the game more exciting, the NFL is considering having the 2017 Pro Bowl in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, which would make it the first international Pro Bowl, and may have other Pro Bowls in Europe and Mexico, in order to broaden the international popularity of the game.