At this point the Pro Bowl is functionally irrelevant. Very few people care, but does that make it worthless? Even though it often looks like a glorified flag football game, there are redeeming qualities. It can be fun as long as you correctly calibrate your expectations. I set out to prove this, so I kept a running diary of the game. All times are Eastern.
7:01: And we’re off! The crowd here is… sparse.
7:06: It’s tough to defend anything when not six minutes Train gets to perform a ukulele-heavy version of Hey, Soul Sister. No one should have told them they were in Hawaii.
7:10: It’s really too bad Imagine Dragons had to pull out with a strained hamstring. Train was not deserving.
7:23: Confirmed: Andrew Luck is the kind of guy who unironically says stuff is neat.
7:25: Brian McKnight just sang the national anthem. I still don’t know who he is.
7:26: There was an American flag superimposed over the crowd. So that’s cool.
7:31: First play from scrimmage and Adrian Peterson fumbled the handoff from Drew Brees. Can’t say I expected that.
7:33: 3rd and goal, and JJ Watt’s just came in at receiver. After being unsure of how to line up onside, he was unable to catch a slant in the end zone. This game’s fun.
7:45: JJ Watt just showed off his finger, from which blood was spurting. His uniform was covered, and I was disgusted.
7:58: Jeff Saturday, a Pro Bowler for the NFC, just snapped the ball for the AFC, because Peyton Manning is sentimental and his former battery mate is retiring. Farcical as it might be, I think it’s a nice moment.
8:02: Oh look, the Harbaughs are brothers.
8:14: Leon Washington just caught a punt, was immediately wrapped up, and threw a lateral to Earl Thomas. Thomas tried to get around the edge while making cuts that did not bear any relation to the position of the defenders he was trying to get around. He then reversed direction and lost more yards. Basically, it was a shitshow. And it was fantastic.
8:17: Larry Fitzgerald just caught a pass. We should keep the game around just so he can occasionally work with competent quarterbacks.
8:22: Not content to simply return things, Washington just faked the handoff on a reverse during the kickoff return. He didn’t go very far.
8:25: Turns out Ed Hochuli is today’s referee. He’s more about appearance than excellence, which is perfect here. There’s barely any officiating to do, why not have a fan favorite?
8:29: Victor Cruz just caught a touchdown pass, and NBC had salsa music queued up for his touchdown dance. That should happen every time he scores oh wait it actually does.
8:39: Kyle Rudolph, a tight end, was just egregiously open downfield for a 52-yard gain. A tight end!
8:43: Brees and Eli were just mic’d up, and it sounded like Eli was agreeing with everything Brees was saying despite not having any idea what Brees was saying.
8:44: Big moment for Hochuli. After the game’s first flag, he got to joke, “Yes, there are penalties in the Pro Bowl.”
8:50: On another punt return, Washington ran around here and there for a bit, went backwards, got hit, lateraled to Patrick Peterson, and Peterson got a few yards before going down. Washington’s here as a return man, and all he wants to do is get rid of the ball.
9:23: Collinsworth just felt the need to explain that getting hit from opposite sides at the same time can actually keep you from falling down. Not a physics whiz, that one.
9:28: Patriots special teamer Matthew Slater just caught a pass, which is nice, because he had one career catch coming into the game.
9:30: Josh Cribbs just made a questionable touchdown catch. There are no challenges or reviews, though, because no one seems to care. That’s not a good look for the league.
9:33: Dispensing with the handoff nonsense, Leon Washington just returned a kickoff to the 15. THAT’S WHY YOU’RE HERE.
9:46: After Vincent Jackson caught a touchdown pass, the Buccaneers’ mascot came running excitedly at him with a sword out. There was not nearly enough anxiety about this situation.
9:49: Attempting to pull off a kickoff return reverse of his own, Josh Cribbs threw a bad lateral that led to a recovery by the NFC.
9:54: Some nonsense here: on an attempted field goal, Antonio Cromartie was so far offsides that holder Thomas Morstead decided to throw the ball to the flat. It was intercepted by Eric Berry and brought back about 70 yards for a “touchdown,” with Morstead tackling Berry into the end zone.
10:04: Did you know the Screen Actors Guild Awards are on TNT at the same time? For one peculiar person, this was a tough choice.
10:06: Phil Dawson was just dancing around a kickoff before faking an onside kick with the front of his foot and kicking it the other direction with e back of his heel. Despite not going 10 yards or being recovered by the AFC, it was executed beautifully. What a play!
10:23: “Let’s listen to Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck talk about Cooper Manning’s kids” – someone on the production team.
10:33: Jason Pierre-Paul just dropped into coverage and intercepted a pass for the last real play of the game. The NFC won 62-35.
10:40: Kyle Rudolph was the game MVP, because why not? To close out the night, we have Rudolph’s reaction to winning: “I never would have dreamed this in my wildest dreams.” Interesting sentiment.
OK, don’t get me wrong: Pro Bowl football lacks the toughness and sense of purpose that is expected of a serious football game. In their place there is fun and room for personalities to shine. This makes for a sloppier game that has far more exciting and strange plays than normal. That’s not enough to watch for a sustained period of time, but for one game it is, at the very least, interesting.
The way to view the Pro Bowl is to focus on these peaks. Pro Bowl football offers fun moments like Jeff Saturday playing for the wrong team. It offers a looser version of football where reverses are a constant threat and Phil Dawson goes for an onside kick with the back of his foot. This kind of stuff wouldn’t happen in a normal game because it couldn’t happen in a normal game. Yeah, it’s packaged around sloppy play. That’s unfortunate. But even though the game doesn’t mean anything, it’s a chance to watch some of the best players in the world in their natural habitat, but… just having fun (and, in fairness, making some good plays here and there). If we completely lost that aspect of the game, well, that would be unfortunate too.
Photos via Getty