Improving the Pro Bowl: A 5-Step Process to Fixing the NFL’s All-Star Game

One of the more interesting nuggets to emerge from Tuesday’s NFL owners’ meeting in Atlanta is that the league is considering changes to the Pro Bowl.

It’s an all-star game in name only, because the actual Pro Bowl produced is a watered-down product that’s not that fun to watch. Players don’t want to risk injury, and football isn’t fun when played at half speed with half-hearted attempts at defence.

In fact, it’s time to rethink the entire event. Here’s my five-step process for fixing the Pro Bowl and turning it into an event worth watching:

1. Start with a skill contest

Imagine field day, but bigger, stronger and faster. Elements of that are already built into Pro Bowl week, with dodgeball, a one-handed catch contest and a quarterback precision challenge. Taking place in the days leading up to the Pro Bowl, these events are just as entertaining as the game itself.

Insane competitive athletes playing kid games? Yes, please. The NFL should just drop the patronage of actual football and focus on having fun.

Definitely keep the dodgeball as well as the quarterback passing contest. Add a three-legged race, a HORSE play, and a 40-yard dash to finally determine who is the NFL’s fastest man.

My kid’s elementary school had something called Noodle Wars. Four teams, each with a different color of pasta. Beat opponents until you are the last team standing. The kindergarten kids loved it, and if you think I wouldn’t spend 15 minutes watching Aaron Donald, Trent Williams, and Josh Allen hit each other’s shit with pool noodles, you must be new here.

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Could we add an American Ninja Warrior themed obstacle course? Incorporate some soccer elements — footwork, pushing a sled, catching and throwing — turn it into a race and see how fast 250-pound edge rushers can scale a 14 1/2-foot warped wall.

How many times have you heard anecdotes about how fiercely competitive NFL players are? That they hate losing at checkers, billiards, table tennis or Connect 4?

Here’s a chance to prove it.

2. Turn it into a telethon

We know people watch the Pro Bowl. Even with a significant dip in ratings in 2022, the game still drew about 6.7 million viewers.

So if fixing the Pro Bowl starts with making it fun, the next step is to do something good with it, and the league doesn’t have to delve too far into its history to see how it might work.

When the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to hold a virtual draft in 2020, the NFL used one of its broadcast channels for “draft-a-thon,” eventually raising $7 million for COVID-19 relief.

The NFL may not be able to match this level of donations during the Pro Bowl, but this event would provide a great platform to raise money for a variety of charities large and small.

Players will certainly want to get paid for their performance at the Pro Bowl – the only thing that motivated players to even try was the bigger check for the winning team. But what if they could also raise money for their favorite causes or for their own foundations?


What could be better than a Pro Bowl “ManningCast” with Peyton and Eli? (Kent Nishimura/Getty Images)

3. Let the Manning brothers host it

I don’t think there is anyone in NFL history who loved and cherished the Pro Bowl more than Peyton Manning. He considered it an honor to be selected, sure, but he used the week as time to chat and chat about football with coaches and players from across the league. It was one of his favorite spots to pull pranks, enjoy some Bud Lights (league sponsor, of course) and pick out the brains of other smart footballers.

Now let him bring that enthusiasm to a Pro Bowl-a-Thon show.

ESPN discovered the magic when it brought Peyton and Eli Manning together for a Monday Night Football simulcast last season. This informal format, with a mix of analysis, celebrity interviews and fraternal banter, would be perfect for a non-traditional Pro Bowl show.

We’d love to see Peyton’s disappointment as the quarterbacks struggle in the passing challenge, and look forward to Eli’s wry humor as he tears down the dodgeball game.

And they have the cachet of inviting key guests, from retired NFL stars to actors like The Rock or musicians, to help with the fundraising effort.

4. Get the fans involved

Who wouldn’t enjoy a good old-fashioned Pros vs. Joes-style affair?

NFL Pro Bowlers makes all of these games look easy. But let’s allow some fans to remind us all how insanely strong, fast and skillful these players are.

Before we watch Russell Wilson attempt to defend his Precision Passing title ahead of the 2022 Skills Challenge, let’s look at a 34-year-old Denver accountant trying.

Want to see Tyreek Hill and DK Metcalf in a 40-yard dash? Let’s round up a 28-year-old math teacher from Miami and give him a head start.

The NFL might have to take out a pretty hefty insurance policy, but let’s throw some fans into noodle wars or dodgeball just to see what happens.

5. Let’s bet on everything

Let’s say the NFL wants to keep the Pro Bowl in Las Vegas. (And it should be, given the weather alone.)

Now, make every element of the Pro Bowl something we can play on, from pre-event prop bets for dodgeball MVPs, to the winners of each skill position challenge, to live odds from the Noodle War. Let’s bet on how many Bud Lights Peyton Manning will drink or how many times Eli will accidentally swear on live TV.

Even as the NFL chooses to retain more traditional elements of the Pro Bowl, whether it be a scaled down version of a real game or a Flag Football TournamentThe league needs to find a way to add live gaming to it to keep the millions of fans tuning in busy.

(Top Photo: Jeff Speer/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

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