LAS VEGAS – For the first time ever, the NFL deliberately scrapped Pro Bowl play in favor of a series of games in which players selected for the Pro Bowl competed on Thursday. The first Pro Bowl Games were held at the Raiders headquarters in Las Vegas with a wide variety of challenges players could participate in. Dodgeball, kick tac toe, precision passing and splash catching were some of the activities performed on the field.
The unorthodox nature of the activities led to some really competitive moments. New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley had an incredible last stand in dodgeball, making slippery moves that should be studied if “The Matrix” decides to continue on the reboot wave taking over streaming services.
Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson was arguably the MVP of the day, being able to catch punts with twos and threes already in hand AND he threw the last ball to unload a bucket of confetti on Eli Manning.
The atmosphere was quite electric once everyone started competing, but the precision passing event may have been the most pivotal event due to who was in it.
Baltimore Ravens backup quarterback Tyler Huntley received his first Pro Bowl selection despite not being a full-time starter. NFL fans and analysts weren’t the only ones surprised that Huntley made the Pro Bowl as Huntley himself was stunned that he was selected.
“I was at home in Florida when I got the call,” Huntley said. “After that I went for a run around my pool. I didn’t expect it, I only played six games! I feel like it’s a blessing, it’s crazy.
Even in the watered-down selection process of the current Pro Bowl, backup quarterbacks are not on the roster. Being able to attend games isn’t the only benefit for a player like Huntley, it’s an opportunity to accept being with the best talent the NFL has to offer.
“I’m just meeting all the different ballplayers and old ballplayers and just different people that I never expected to meet before and making new relationships with some pretty legendary people,” Huntley said.
Outside of the dodgeball game, the precision passing event was Thursday’s most competitive event. Each of the three quarterbacks on the AFC and NFC teams took turns attempting to hit a combination of moving and stationary targets in the air. The harder the shot was perceived, the more points were awarded to each team. Huntley joined Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback Trevor Lawrence and soon to be former Las Vegas Raiders quarterback Derek Carr in the AFC. Seattle Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins, and Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff represented the NFC.
Carr and Huntley rode to a victory for the AFC, and all the quarterbacks who attended had a wide range of opinions as to which shot was harder.
Smith thought the hardest pass was the 10-point bucket in the back of the end zone. Carr thought it was the 5-point pad attached to a drone flying across the field. Lawrence said the 4-point target that was attached to a robot that was too fast gave him problems, while Huntley said the 1-point motorized dummy had the highest degree of difficulty.
Obviously the stakes weren’t particularly high here, but the mood and attitude towards the games made for a different kind of competitive environment. Houston Texans forward Laremy Tunsil said he prefers this version of the Pro Bowl over an actual game, especially after a grueling 17-game season. However, there were differing opinions as to whether this new format for the Pro Bowl was better than the previous iteration.
“I’d rather play football,” Raiders defensive end Maxx Crosby said bluntly.
Crosby added that he is one of the few players who treats the Pro Bowl game like any other. “You have to… I’d rather play football than do this, but it is what it is. It’s fun out here, we’re having a blast, it’s okay.
All is well in Vegas for the first iteration of the Pro Bowl Games and if the inaugural event was any indication, it’s here to stay.