Pro Bowl History Flashback: Five Things to Know

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The 65th edition of the Pro Bowl, the annual matchup between two teams composed of the best players in the NFL, will be on January 25, 2015 at University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, Arizona, the sight of this year’s Super Bowl. Before then, though, let’s take a look back at the past of the Pro Bowl and its components.

The First NFL All-Star Game

The first professional football All-Star game was held on January 15th, 1939, after the conclusion of the 1938 season, at Wrigley Field in Los Angeles, California, and featured the all-stars of the NFL versus the league’s champion of that season. The game was played again in Los Angeles the next two years (January 1940 and December 1940), then New York (1941) and Philadelphia (1942) before the game was discontinued due to travel restrictions set during World War II.

Origin of the Pro Bowl

From 1943 until 1950, no all-star game was played and no replacement game chosen, but the league approved the Pro Bowl in June of 1950. The game was sponsored by the Los Angeles Publishers Association and played in Los Angeles for the next 21 years (1951-1972), with two teams comprised of the best players from the league’s two divisions. When the AFL and NFL merged, conference squads from the AFC and NFC competed against each other in Pro Bowls from 1971-2013.

Honolulu Becoming An Annual Destination

Beginning in 1973, the venue and location of the game changed annually for seven straight years, being played in stadiums such as Texas Stadium, Arrowhead, and the Orange Bowl, before the game spent 30 straight years (1980-2009) at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. The 2010 game was played in Miami Stadium, while the most recent four Pro Bowls were played at Aloha Stadium; the game will return there in 2016.

Player and Coach Selection Process

Before 1995, only the players and coaches voted on who was selected to the Pro Bowl, but since then, the players have been voted on by players, coaches, and fans, with each respective group getting a third of the vote. Up until 2010 the Pro Bowl was played the week after the Super Bowl, but since 2011 has been played a week before the Super Bowl, with players from the Super Bowl qualifying squads exempted from playing in the Pro Bowl.

On the coaches side, the coaching staffs from the teams that lost in the AFC and NFC championship games were used from 1971-1977, but that changed in 1978, as then it was decided that the coaching staffs of the highest ranked divisional champion that last in the Divisional Playoff round would coach their respective conferences in the Pro Bowl, a format used through 1982. In 1983, the NFL returned to the losing coach from the conference championships until 2010, when it returned to the format used from 1978-1982, and has remained that way since.

Beginning with the 2014 Pro Bowl, the teams were no longer compiled using conference membership, but instead a pool of more than 90 players selected to play in the game are picked by NFL alumni captains, with 2015’s game captains being Hall of Fame receivers Cris Carter and Michael Irvin.

On Field Rules

The rules for the Pro Bowl have been made to not only make the game safe, but also allow it to flow:

  • The offense is not permitted to use motion or shifting
  • Every offensive formation must have a tight end
  • An offense may not have more than 2 receivers on the same side
  • A quarterback cannot be penalized for intentional grounding
  • The only defensive formation that can be run is a 4-3, although the Cover 2 scheme is allowed
  • There is no press coverage except inside the 5 yard line
  • A defense cannot blitz
  • Punts, PATs, and FG attempts cannot be rushed by the defense
  • No calls on the field can be challenged
  • At the end of each quarter, teams trade possessions, except at the start of the second half and third overtime (if necessary) due to the coin toss.
  • There are no kickoffs or even free kicks after a safety, with each team starting at its own 25 after each score or quarter
  • Two-minute warning in every quarter
  • There is a 35-second play clock instead of the customary 40-second play clock
  • Clock does not stop on sacks outside the last two minutes of regulation/4th overtime
  • Clock stops in the last two minute on plays in which the offense can’t gain positive yardage
  • Each team has a roster of 44 players
  • Clock will start after incompletions on referee’s signal outside of the last two minutes of second quarter, last two minutes of the second overtime (if necessary), last five minutes of the 4th quarter, and last five minutes of the fourth quarter (if necessary)
  • If there is a tie game after regulation, multiple overtime periods will be played. Each team has three timeouts, with each team having one possession to score unless one scores a touchdown or safety on its first possession. True sudden death rules apply if both teams are tied after their first possession, so after the first overtime, whoever scores first is the victor.

Records and Intriguing Facts

  • The record for most selections to a Pro Bowl is 14, held jointly by tight end Tony Gonzalez (Chiefs/Falcons), Hall of Fame defensive lineman Merlin Olsen (Rams), and Hall of Fame offensive lineman Bruce Matthews (Oilers/Titans).
  • Among the 64 Pro Bowls that have been played, quarterbacks have won the MVP award 16 times, the most of any position, while wide receivers are second with eight.
  • There have been only two AFC-NFC Pro Bowls that went to overtime, both won by the AFC with field goals.
  • Redskins safety Sean Taylor was voted to the 2008 NFC Pro Bowl roster after being fatally shot in his home by armed intruders, making him the first player to be named to a Pro Bowl posthumously. As a tribute, the NFC squad took the field with only 10 players on its defense on its opening possession.
  • The most times one head coach has been on the sidelines for a Pro Bowl is five, a record shared by John Madden and Tom Landry.
  • Bill Cowher has the most wins of any Pro Bowl coach with four.
  • The record for most Pro Bowl players from one NFL team is 13, set by the 2007-2008 Dallas Cowboys.
  • The most points by a single team is 62, which the NFC squad achieve in 2013. The highest combined scoring Pro Bowl was in 2012, when the AFC won 59-41, with a combined score of 100 points.
  • The only rookies to win both Offensive Rookie of the Year and MVP of the Pro Bowl are Marshall Faulk (1995) and Adrian Peterson (2008)
  • The only player to be named to the Pro Bowl every defensive line position was Jets defensive lineman Joe Klecko, who made it at defensive end (1981), defensive tackle (1983 and 1984), and nose tackle (1985)
  • DeSean Jackson is the only player to be named a Pro Bowler at two different positions, doing so in 2010 as both a wide receiver and kick returner.

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