by Zack Peñalva, Sports Editor
After being much maligned as the “No Fun League,” the National Football League has finally made some decisions that will allow the players and fans a break from the league’s usual dryness. In an era under commissioner Roger Goodell that’s had fines and punishment for everything from celebrating to wearing the wrong kind of cleats, this year’s Pro Bowl weekend shows some signs of actually allowing players to have some kind of (gasp) fun.
The Pro Bowl by itself has struggled to stay relevant. The Washington Post reported that television ratings for the game have been continuously dropping for the past four years. In 2016, the game drew a Nielsen rating of 5.0. To give some context, that means that the NFL’s All-Stars were only able to draw an audience as big as TV “juggernaugts” like “Designated Survivor” and “Blue Bloods.”
But change is in the air. First off, the event has been moved from Hawaii, where attendance has been traditionally low, to a much larger market in Orlando. On top of that, the Pro Bowl has expanded from a single game to a whole weekend of festivities.
So what’s new on the schedule? Starting on Jan. 26, the weekend opens with skill challenges and relay races (ideas I suggested back in 2015, but genius is never understood in its own time).
According to NFL.com, the Power Relay Challenge will feature teams of four competing in a timed relay race. While wideouts and running backs will most likely star, we can only hope that one team will be made up entirely of lineman in order to maximize the amount of rumblin’, bumblin’ and/or stumblin’.
Quarterbacks will compete in the Precision Passing challenge where, according to NFL.com “two players on each team will battle it out, trying to hit moving targets of varying size and distance.” If one of the targets was some type of dunk tank for coaches or commissioner Goodell, this event could really take off.
The Best Hands competition will feature a quarterback throwing to a wide receiver, trying to complete the most passes in a set amount of time. This event seems like it has the biggest risk of turning into a snooze-fest without some jazzing up. Everybody likes dogs right? Let’s hope that the NFL decides to go “Air Bud” style in the future and let dogs play receiver. Problem solved.
But the crowning event of the whole weekend, even more than the Pro Bowl game itself, has to be dodgeball. Forget watching players run a glorified scrimmage on Sunday; watching some of the greatest athletes on earth hurl rubber balls at each other is the real draw for the weekend. Good work NFL, you might have some fun left in you yet.
All these events will be shown on ESPN on Jan. 26 at 7 p.m.