On Jan. 31, one of the most unusual Pro Bowl games in the history of the NFL will be played between all-stars from the AFC and the NFC.
For the first time since the inception of the Pro Bowl in 1939, the game will actually take place before the Super Bowl.
The Pro Bowl has been the last game of every season since that year, and has featured players from both leagues since the AFC and AFL merged in 1970.
Not only is it being played at an odd time, but for the first time ever it also will not feature any players from the Super Bowl teams, because the coaches want to conserve their players for the game.
To make this an even more unusual bowl game, it will not be played at Aloha Stadium in Hawaii for the first time since 1979. This year, the game is being played at the same place as the Super Bowl — Sun Life Stadium, the home of the Miami Dolphins.
There is a logical reason for all of these changes, however. If the game were to be played the week following the Super Bowl like it usually is, it would conflict with the NBA All-Star Game, the Winter Olympics, and the Daytona 500. The game is normally aired on CBS, but this year ESPN will broadcast it, because CBS will be airing the Grammy Awards that night. On top of that, this is also the first time the game will legally be aired on internet radio, on NFL’s “Field Pass” program.
One would believe that a radical change to a game that has been played in the same place and the same way for so many years would cause some grumbling from fans and players, and that appears to be the case.
Many players and coaches dislike the changed method of the Pro Bowl. According to ESPN, when the decision was announced to change the game’s location and time, Hawaii governor Linda Lingle stated, “While I am disappointed the Pro Bowl likely will not be played in Hawaii in 2010, I respect the NFL’s decision to play the post-season all-star game in the same city as the Super Bowl, one week before the Super Bowl, on a one-year test basis.”
Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning raised issue by bringing up the fact that if this new trend continues, as early as the 2012 the Pro Bowl could be played at a cold-weather stadium (such as Indianapolis). Hall of Fame broadcaster Al Michaels was also skeptical of the change, telling the Honolulu Star-Bulletin that “the NFL thinks playing it before the Super Bowl will add to the buzz. It won’t.”
It will be very interesting to see how the ratings turn out for this most unusual of Pro Bowls, and if the concept will continue in the future.