courtesy @NFL on Twitter

Pro Bowl tackling rules cause upset among fans

Sports writer Ben Bowdon talks about the lack of competition in the 2022 Pro Bowl.

The annual NFL Pro Bowl has existed since the early 1950s. Players are elected by a combination of coaches, players and fans. The all-stars from either conference compete in an National Football Conference (NFC) versus American Football Conference (AFC) exhibition game. In the end, the true honor is the Pro Bowl selection rather than the quality of the game. Additionally, since 2016, the NFL has included a skills showdown in the Pro Bowl festivities. There are a variety of unique competitions where players from each conference team compete against one another. The 2022 Pro Bowl featured five self-explanatory competitions: Precision Passing, Thread the Needle, Best Catch, Fastest Man and Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball.

The skills showdown on Thursday before the Pro Bowl really exemplified the laid-back mood for the Pro Bowl. It was filled with laughter from the athletes, crowd and commentators alike. Many of the competitions are not taken seriously with smiles all around. The Best Catch competition, new this year, featured top wide receivers Stefon Diggs, Tyreek Hill and Justin Jefferson as well as Trevon Diggs, the cornerback for the Dallas Cowboys. Some of the highlights included a casual falling catch onto a folding table and a recreation of the famous “helmet catch” alongside a more technically challenging one-handed, under-the-leg grab by Trevon Diggs.

In the Pro Bowl game on Feb. 6, the AFC beat the NFC 41-35 at Las Vegas’s Allegiant Stadium, extending a five game win streak for the American conference. The game was full of defensive highlights, which is unsurprising due to the offenses lacking the requisite long hours of practice. The tone was set when Darius Leonard, the Indianapolis Colts linebacker, returned an interception for a touchdown in Kyler Murray’s opening drive. After six more interceptions, an amazing performance by Justin Herbert led the AFC to victory.

Every year, fans, the media and players complain about the state of the Pro Bowl. NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders took to Twitter this year, exclaiming, “Lord help me. I’m watching the @nfl Pro Bowl and I remember when we were so proud and appreciative of that accolade. We went to Hawaii to prove we were more than worthy so we competed at practice and in the game. I wanted u to know that PRIME was PRIME ! What Happened & When ?” The lack of tackling bothers fans who tune in expecting to watch competitive professional football similar to the regular season.

Those are legitimate complaints, but they are difficult to fix. Many of the objections to the Pro Bowl stem from the increased safety. There are strict tackling rules to limit hard hits and injuries. American football has one of the highest rates of injuries in organized sports worldwide. The NFL, and elite players themselves, do not want to risk a season-ending injury in one isolated game that has no bearing on the real season. The lower pay players receive for the game is not enough of an incentive. Moreover, even if every player performed with 100% effort, the lack of cohesiveness and practice severely limits the capabilities of the team. The Pro Bowl will not change significantly as long as it gets the same viewership numbers. If you want to watch “good” intense and competitive football, wait for the Super Bowl the following week.

Post Author: Ben Bowdon