Last Sunday, the NFL’s best players from the AFC and the NFC collided in Orlando for the Pro Bowl. For the third straight year, the game was played at Camping World Stadium in downtown Orlando, and in close proximity to the Disney World parks, which allowed for all sorts of special events in the week leading up to the Pro Bowl.
In the week preceding the Pro Bowl, the players go through practices and compete in special events like the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown at the ESPN Wide World of Sports. In the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown, the players compete against the opposing conference in a series of competitions such as Precision Passing, the Gridiron Gauntlet, Best Hands Challenge, the 40 Yard Splash and Epic Pro Dodgeball to decide the winner of the Pro Bowl Skills Showdown. This year’s special contest was won by the NFC.
In their practices the teams run through drills and try to bond as a group, which can sometimes be interesting as these new teammates can often be regular season rivals. Players admit that playing against their rivals can make it interesting, but that sometimes friendships develop.
“It’s a little weird, I’m not going to lie,” Eagles safety Malcom Jenkins said. “Especially because the entire Cowboys staff are the coaches and I have to wear all this blue that’s making my skin itch. But these guys are the best of the best at what they do.” Olivier Vernon of the Giants added: “It’s great you get to see the division players and rivals. You might have a little bit of animosity towards them, but it’s all good fun. I’ve been warming up to Demarcus [Lawrence of the Cowboys]. It’s cool that we play the same position. He’s on our rival team, but he’s a good character guy.” Tedy Bruschi, a former Pro Bowler for the Patriots who was covering the event for ESPN, explained that it was a little different when he played. “When I went to the Pro Bowl the coaching staff was the loser of the AFC championship game, which was the Pittsburgh Steelers, so it was hard to say ‘Hey Guys’ after we won the Super Bowl and it was awkward at first but that all goes away after the first day or so.” Calais Campbell of the Jaguars probably summed up best the feeling of most players, saying: “Football is like a fraternity. You compete against guys and the emotions are flying high. But at the end of the day, you understand their work ethic and you really get to know the guys.”
The Pro Bowl also allowed the players to reflect on lessons they’ve learned along the way that helped them reach this level of success. Some, like Vernon, talked about his family. “My dad led by example,” Vernon said. “I saw him going to work every day. I try to do the same thing as my dad. And be tough.” Victor Cruz, the former New York Giants Pro Bowler on-site with ESPN, said that, “My mom always told me to finish what I start. No matter the ups and downs —always finish what you start.”
Ultimately the game took place on a rainy Sunday at Camping World Stadium with the AFC jumping out to a halftime lead of 17-0, and holding on to win 26-7. Patrick Mahomes of Kansas City was named the Offensive MVP for the game, while Jets safety Jamal Adams was named the Defensive MVP. Despite the gloomy gameday weather, it was a great week in Orlando celebrating the end to another successful NFL season.