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What is the Pro Bowl?

By Sherry Holetzky
Updated May 23, 2024
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The National Football League gathers the best players from the best teams each season for an All Star game. This contest is known as the Pro Bowl. Its official title is the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, since players from both the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference compete. It, not the Super Bowl, is the last game of every season.

There is some confusion as to when this tradition began, due to the fact that various versions of the contest were played over the years. Before the AFC and NFC even existed, All Star games were being played, which were called Pro Bowls. George Marshall is credited with the idea, according to the official NFL history site. He also created the concept of championship games.

The first game called the Pro Bowl occurred in 1939. It was a contest between All Stars chosen from throughout the league and that season’s NFL championship team. The New York Giants beat the All Stars. The tradition continued for the next five years, and in the final year's Pro Bowl, the All Stars beat the Washington Redskins.

It would be nearly a decade before the Pro Bowl once again became a standard part of each football season, in 1951. For nearly two decades after that, the best from the American Conference and the National Conference, or “East and West,” played each other in the Pro Bowl. However, during the American Football League's (AFL's) short span, they revived the older version once. The AFL champs, the Buffalo Bills, lost to the All Stars. A few years later, in 1970, the AFL and the NFL became one.

The first AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, the version still used today, was played in 1971, bringing a close to the 1970 season. The fact that the seasons begin and end in different years, may add to the confusion over which year is properly listed as the first year of play for the Pro Bowl. Many people also confuse the first year that the Pro Bowl was played in Honolulu, its location since 1980, as being the year of its inception.

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Discussion Comments

By Drentel — On Feb 02, 2015

@Laotionne - Without a doubt, the reason the Pro Bowl and other all-star games in general are not as popular as they once were is that the athletes who play in the games don't take them seriously. Watching the NBA All-Star Game is a bit like watching the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals. No one plays defense, and the players are more concerned with looking good and making the highlight reels than they are with winning the ballgame, and playing basketball the way the game should be played. I think the same thing can be said about pro football players and the NFL Pro Bowl.

By Feryll — On Feb 01, 2015

@Laotionne - I think one of the reasons the Pro Bowl might not be as well known about as you would think is because this football game is played after the regular season rather than in the middle of the regular season. Sports like professional baseball and professional basketball have their all-star games when their fans are still wrapped up in the sport because the season outcome is not yet decided.

The Pro Bowl used to be held after the Super Bowl, and everyone had moved on to watch other sports by the time it was played. Now that the game is played before the Super Bowl, I think it will receive a little more attention as the years go by and people get accustomed to watching. This is a good way to fill in the week between the final playoff games and the Super Bowl.

By Laotionne — On Feb 01, 2015

Why isn't the NFL Pro Bowl more popular? I didn't know the game existed until I was looking for the Super Bowl on my TV guide and saw that the Pro Bowl was being played that week. I was a week early for the Super Bowl.

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