The New (and Improved) Pro Bowl

I admit it. I always watch the NFL Pro Bowl. Mostly because football is ending and I’ll get my fix wherever I can.

But, I was skeptical when I heard the new format for the game this year: no conferences, a player draft, and teams managed by Hall of Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders.

A Pro Bowl where guys on the same team play against each other? Why would they hit their own teammate? In the Pro Bowl? And what are they playing for anyway?

Come on, man…

It all started with a draft earlier in the week. With some reluctance, I turned on the Pro Bowl draft on Tuesday night. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But, I was pleasantly surprised. And judging by twitter, I was not alone.

Most everyone said they enjoyed the fun, laid back approach, as well as the opportunity to see some of our favorite players in a different setting.

Team Rice and Team Sanders, along with their chosen captains, drafted their teams playground style. The setting was tropical and relaxed, but with trash talking, hurt feelings, and a behind the scenes green room complete with a confessional cam.

Saints quarterback Drew Brees gave a thumbs up to the new format, saying it gave players an opportunity to play with guys they would otherwise never get the chance to.

And guess what? As it turns out, Pro Bowlers are competitive. So much so, that proving themselves is enough motivation for them. There was also a prize of $56,000 riding on it for the winners and $23,000 for the losers. A nice bonus to some. Pocket change to others.

On the field, it played out as the best Pro Bowl we’ve seen in years. Many years. Maybe as many years as I’ve been watching.

There were more quarterback sacks in the first half of the Pro Bowl than I remember in the first half of any Sunday Night Football game all season.

I pictured many a coach (Sean Payton in particular), pouring a stiff drink and looking away as the face of their franchise was hit and grounded repeatedly.

There was friendly fire…on a few different occasions. And it wasn’t exactly friendly. Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson thought nothing of taking out running back Jamaal Charles, who was recovering from a recent concussion. I’m sure coach Andy Reid had something to say about that. After he could talk.

It was a close game…won by Team Rice on a gutsy two point conversion, and then a missed last-ditch, 67-yard field goal by Justin Tucker for Team Sanders.

All in all, the new and improved Pro Bowl gets a thumbs up. From the players, from the fans, from everyone, except…maybe, some coaches.

Also, can we keep the confessional cam? I think that would be a nice addition to the regular season sideline. After all, sports is the original reality TV.

It was worth asking, anyway.