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The Pro Bowl Is All About Creating Forgettable Memories

NFC head coach Eli Manning leads a huddle during a practice session prior to an NFL Pro Bowl football game at Allegiant Stadium on February 04, 2023 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Michael Owens/Getty Images

As a thought exercise, what are your most notable moments from the Pro Bowl? I remember Sean Taylor lighting up Brian Moorman, Peyton Manning calling Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt an idiot, and Mac Jones hitting the Griddy on a dead play. (I did not watch any of them on live TV.) Will today add another memory to that list? No, probably not.

For all intents and purposes, the Pro Bowl is dead. The NFL won't fully abandon the idea because it's one more day when fans can be charged money to get into a stadium, and the players benefit from it with contract incentives. The second day of 2023 Pro Bowl events in Las Vegas will begin Sunday afternoon and include a flag football game. For your own safety, I won't tell you when it's starting. Fine, it's at 3 p.m., but you have to figure out the time zone by yourself. The most memorable moment of the first day was when Raiders quarterback Derek Carr won a precision passing contest then joked about his impending trade. Everyone's having fun.

Dumping on the Pro Bowl is more of a time-honored tradition than the Pro Bowl itself. It's also very easy to do. The reason I'm taking part this year is because I want to highlight one attempt at selling it as something interesting. ESPN reporter Stephen Holder had the unenviable task of coming up with a compelling angle for the NFL event airing on the network that employs him, and what he settled on was that at the Pro Bowl, memories are made off the field, as far as possible from the actual thing.

"The Pro Bowl offers the unique intersection of players like New Orleans Saints defensive end Cam Jordan—a 12-year veteran playing in his seventh Pro Bowl—and a rookie like the New York Jets' Sauce Gardner," Holder writes, and I can't help but think that basically every NFL game offers that intersection as well. Regardless, the main takeaway is that the Pro Bowl is fun for players who want to take their kids on vacation, even if the kids are too young to remember it. Former Giants quarterback Eli Manning's strongest memory of his four trips was throwing a nice birthday party for his then-2-year-old daughter at the hotel. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan had a more poignant story:

Jordan remembers attending Pro Bowls in Hawaii with his father, former Minnesota Vikings tight end Steve Jordan, who was selected six times.

"I can vaguely remember being a little kid and losing my little sand pail out in the ocean," Jordan recalled. "And we had a babysitter at the time that had to go out and get it. And we had pictures of that. And now you had picture proof that you were at the Pro Bowl crying as a little 3-year-old, or whatever I was.

"To be in Hawaii with my pops there, and now I've got a son who was playing around in the sand. He was maybe all of 1? It sort of brings it full circle."

The Pro Bowl is not just a great babysitting opportunity, Holder writes. It is also a time for goofs and pranks, like in 2009 when some players pushed Jay Cutler into a pool. They forgot about the former Broncos QB's blood-sugar monitor:

“That was a prank where I thought we were smart enough to get the cellphone out of his pocket,” [offensive lineman Kris] Dielman said. “But then, ‘Oops.’ ”

The monitor was fried by the chlorinated water. Fortunately, Hawaii has drug stores, and after a few calls here and there, Cutler was well-equipped by lunchtime Wednesday.

“It was a bad audible on our part,” [Peyton] Manning said. “I think we were thinking right, trying to get the cellphone. Then we realize, the guy gets insulin shots. We missed that.”

A classic goof, by a man with a history of terrible pranks. Holder also mentions that veteran Pro Bowlers tend to rack up big tabs and charge it to the hotel rooms of the younger guys. This occasionally happens on NFL teams as some kind of rookie initiation, but the idea of seniority at a Pro Bowl is one that should be wholly rejected. It's bullshit! Everyone plays on the same team for one day then goes home. Why should someone on the Jaguars foot the bill for someone on the Bengals? Maybe Tyler Huntley made the Pro Bowl because no other AFC quarterback wanted to get shoved into a pool or lose money on the trip.

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