NFL Pro Bowl Downgraded to Flag Football Game

All contact will be eliminated from the Pro Bowl when it returns to Las Vegas next year. This morning, the NFL announced that it is replacing its annual all-star tackle football game, which began in 1939, with a weeklong skills competition culminating in a flag football game.

The Pro Bowl returns to Allegiant Stadium for the second year on Feb. 5, the Sunday before Super Bowl LVII.

The NFL’s Pro Bowl field will see a major change when it returns to Allegiant Stadium in Vegas this season. Flag football will now replace tackle football. (Image:

The change should come as no surprise to football followers. The players have long expressed their desire to avoid injuries in a game that doesn’t count toward team standings or individual player statistics. And, while being chosen to play in the Pro Bowl remains one of the highest honors an NFL player can receive — selection for it even figuring into Pro Football Hall of Fame nominations — the Pro Bowl is not taken seriously by most fans or players. It also draws lower television ratings than most regular-season games.

“I think the conclusion was that the game itself doesn’t work,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said at the league’s Spring League Meeting, “and that we needed to find a different way to celebrate our players.”

Planting a Flag

The Pro Bowl already experimented in recent years with different rules and formats. For three Pro Bowls beginning in 2014, the NFL abandoned the American Football Conference vs. National Football Conference format and instead held a fantasy draft captained by Pro Football Hall of Famers. And last season’s game limited tackling and eliminated kickoffs, transforming it into essentially a game of two-hand touch.

Flag football is already a key part of the NFL’s global expansion. The league partnered with the International Federation of American Football to bring flag football to The World Games in July with an eye on the 2028 Olympics in Los Angeles.

The weeklong skills competition will see 88 of the top AFC and NFC players showcasing their football and non-football skills in various challenges. The event will be co-produced by the NFL with 14-time Pro Bowl player Peyton Manning and his Omaha Productions company, and Manning will also be a coach in the flag game.

“Making Sunday’s game a flag football game is great to see,” 14-time Pro Bowl player Peyton Manning told the Associated Press. (Manning and his Omaha Productions Company will co-produce the event with the NFL, and Manning will serve as a coach in the flag game.)

“Youth football has been extremely important to me, and knowing NFL FLAG will help grow this sport, I hope boys and girls can see themselves playing the same game as the best players in the world,” Manning said.

Some Pro Bowl Traditions Continue

The Pro Bowl will still be played post-season, despite calls for it to be held mid-season — when most major North American sports leagues schedule their all-star games. And fan voting will still help determine the AFC and NFC team rosters. (Tom Brady has the most invitations to the Pro Bowl with 15, while four players received 14, including Manning.)

The Pro Bowl debuted in January 1951 in L.A., where it stayed for 21 seasons before the moving to different cities from 1972-80. Hawaii hosted the game from 1980-2009, before it skipped around from Miami to Phoenix, Orlando and, earlier this year, Las Vegas.

Sin City had also been set to host the 2021 Pro Bowl, but that was canceled because of COVID-19 restrictions.

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