Pro Bowl Games had electric competition, but there was a notable gripe — ‘I’d rather be playing football than doing this’
LAS VEGAS — For the first time, the NFL purposefully scrapped the Pro Bowl game in favor of a series of games that the players selected to the Pro Bowl competed in on Thursday. The first Pro Bowl Games were held at Raiders Headquarters in Las Vegas with a wide range of challenges for players to participate in. Dodgeball, kick tac toe, precision passing and splash catch were some of the activities held on the field.
The unorthodox nature of the activities led to some really competitive moments. New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley had an incredible last stand in dodgeball, making elusive moves that should be studied if “The Matrix” decides to continue on the reboot wave that’s taking over streaming services.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson was probably the MVP of the day, being able to catch punts with two and three footballs already in his hand and he threw the final ball to dump a bucket of confetti on Eli Manning.
The atmosphere was fairly electric once everyone started competing, but the precision passing event might have been the most pivotal event because of who was featured in it.
Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley was awarded his first Pro Bowl selection despite not being a full-time starter. NFL fans and analysts weren’t the only people surprised at Huntley making the Pro Bowl as Huntley himself was stunned he got selected.
“I was at home down in Florida when I got the call,” Huntley said. “I went to running around my pool after that. I wasn’t expecting that, I only played in six games! I feel like it’s a blessing, it’s crazy.”
Even in the watered down selection process of the current Pro Bowl, backup quarterbacks don’t make the roster. Being able to participate in the games isn’t the only advantage for a player like Huntley, it’s an opportunity to embrace being around the best talent that the NFL has to offer.
“Just meeting all the different ballplayers, the old ballplayers and just different people that I never expected to meet before and making new relationships with some pretty legendary people,” Huntley said.
Outside of the dodgeball match, the precision passing event was the most competitive event Thursday. Each of the three quarterbacks on the AFC and NFC teams took turns trying to hit a combination of moving and stationary targets through the air. The more difficult the perceived throw was, the more points were awarded to each team. Huntley joined Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence and soon to be former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr on the AFC. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins and Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff represented the NFC.
Carr and Huntley spearheaded a victory for the AFC and all of the quarterbacks who participated had a wide range of views on which throw was the most difficult.
Smith thought the most difficult pass was the 10-point bucket at the back of the end zone. Carr thought it was the 5-point pad that was connected to a drone being flown across the field. Lawrence said the 4-point goal that was attached to a way-too-fast robot gave him trouble while Huntley said the motorized 1-point practice dummy had the highest degree of difficulty.
Of course the stakes weren’t particularly high here, but the mood and attitude around the games created a different kind of competitive environment. Houston Texans tackle Laremy Tunsil said he preferred this version of the Pro Bowl compared to an actual game, especially coming off a grueling 17-game season. However, there were varying opinions on if this new format for the Pro Bowl was better than the previous iteration.
“I’d rather play football,” Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby bluntly said.
Crosby added that he’s one of the few players who treats the Pro Bowl game like any other. “You got to …I’d rather be playing football than doing this, but it is what it is. It’s fun out here, we’re having a blast, it’s all good.”
All good in Vegas for the first version of the Pro Bowl Games and if the inaugural event was any indication, it’s here to stay.