Column: Watch the Pro Bowl, especially this year

The final football game of the year will be the culmination of a disastrous season for Giants fans. After a brutal 3-13 season that saw Lord and Savior Odell Beckham Jr. go down with an injury, Super Bowl LII will feature the two teams I hate the most in a game of evils with no “good” to root for.

With no desire to see either of these teams win, the NFL season is essentially over (or at least I wish it was). Fortunately, we can look forward to next week’s Pro Bowl for one more day of football.

The NFL Pro Bowl is highly-critiqued among most sports fans. While the NBA All-Star Game is notoriously played without any defense, football faces a tougher battle for its all-star event. The lack of hitting from defenses ruins the physical game, leaving an event that resembles more of a track meet than a football game.

It’s a fair critique, but the NBA’s All-Star Game still works, and I think the NFL’s does too.

Before last year, the Pro Bowl went through a phase of being played in the style of a fantasy draft. Players selected to the game were drafted and there was no way to know which players were on which team. Team Rice may be winning 14-0 but if you don’t know what team your favorite player is on, it can be very confusing.

But last year’s first Pro Bowl in Orlando was actually really enjoyable. With the move from Hawaii, the NFL reverted back to the traditional AFC-NFC game, where fans actually know which teams have which players.

The NFL also added a skills competition last year. The inaugural “Pro Bowl Skills Challenge” included Best Hands, Power Relay Challenge, Drone Drop, Precision Passing and Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball. While some people saw this as the league’s final effort to get eyeballs on the Pro Bowl, it was an incredibly successful addition to a failing weekend.

Watching Odell Beckham catch passes dropped from a drone was weirdly entertaining and seeing linemen race through a relay is a spectacle I didn’t know I was missing. All of the five events were a lot of fun to watch and exceeded all of my expectations, carrying the Pro Bowl itself which frequently underwhelms.

The NBA All-Star Weekend’s “main event” plays second fiddle to the skills competitions like the dunk and 3-point contests. The minor events produce the majority of the hype for the weekend while carrying the low-effort game.

Pro Bowl Weekend could turn into the same thing. While the Drone Drop will never reach the fame level of the Dunk Contest, the events will likely become the main attraction of the weekend.

Even in the first year of the new format, we saw our favorite NFL athletes compete in a thrilling game of dodgeball reminiscent of our middle school gym classes. Ezekiel Elliot’s shirtless celebration after the NFC’s win last year was corny, but it showed that the players are putting in effort to entertain.

Perhaps the first year of the skills competitions intrigued and entertained me because they were all new. Every event was interesting and it was fun to see the creativity put into the competitions. The events of the NFL skill competition will never rival the historic elements that the NBA has, which could result in the events becoming less interesting.

However, the NFL will get even more creative with events in future years. As if throwing footballs off a drone isn’t creative enough, the league showed in its inaugural season that the skills competition isn’t just a throwaway. It’s here to stay and it can grow into an enjoyable event in the future.

Watch the Pro Bowl and the skills competition that preludes it. Enjoy your favorite athletes compete in fun, quirky mini-games before they “battle” on the field with the best players in the league. Soak in the good parts of football before Philadelphia and New England ruin your spirits on Feb. 4.


Josh Buser is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joshua.buser@uconn.edu.