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There will be no shortage of confusion among the millions of viewers tuning into watch the NFL Pro Bowl tonight. In a bid to revive the flagging institution, the NFL introduced a new format for its annual Hawaiian all-star match to create “the ultimate fan-friendly celebration of the game.”
The result will be a quicker, stranger, higher-scoring game. And since we’ve already figured out who is going to win all the Grammys tonight, here are a few crazy things to expect if you watch the game tonight.
First of all, you’ll be witnessing a contest that flies in the face of over 40 years of tradition.
If When football fans think of the Pro Bowl, they probably envision the best players from each conference—the AFC and the NFC—more or less locked in a half-battle for supremacy. This year, however, no more. Instead of dividing the league’s best players among conference lines, the Pro Bowl will resemble a massive fantasy football match-up with former NFL stars Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders as the team owners. Earlier this week, both Hall of Famers “drafted” their teams from the roster of players who were voted to the Pro Bowl this year. The most jarring upshot is that players will no longer automatically join forces with their most bitter rivals to play for the honor of their conference. Instead, teammates will now be lining up against each other.
“Alex Smith (Team Rice) said he hopes fellow Chief Tamba Hali (Team Sanders) won't hit him hard. Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict (Team Rice) already promised he won't hit his real-life teammate A.J. Green (Team Sanders): "If A.J. catches one over the middle, I'll let him go."
The wackiness doesn’t end there. The game itself will seem entirely different. For example, there will be no kickoffs (a play with a preternaturally high rate of injury). Instead, each team will simply receive the ball at the 25-yard-line after scoring plays and at the start of each quarter.
At the start of each quarter? That’s right. The new Pro Bowl will also feature a two-minute warning at the end of each quarter, making each period a game-within-a-game. Further complicated by a new set of timing rules, if a team fails to score by the end of the quarter, they lose the ball.
It's generally agreed that the league needed to throw a little bit of daring into its tired, increasingly irrelevant winter game. But this year's rule changes haven't come without detractors, some of whom see the new fantasy-themed Pro Bowl as a triumph of the NFL brand over the NFL game. As one sportswriter put it: “
If the NFL decided that the Pro Bowl should be played like a pickup football game -- with a keg on the sidelines, maybe, and players wearing no equipment at all, calling their own penalties and playing the sort of goonish tackle or two-hand-touch people play in parks -- it would probably be a blast to watch. Football is fun, after all, and it's more fun when the best football players are playing it."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.