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NFL stars put talent on display at Pro Bowl Skills Challenge

Updated February 2, 2022 - 11:19 pm

James Gostomski showed up to Las Vegas Ballpark for Wednesday night’s Pro Bowl Skills Competition in a Packers jersey and a giant cheesehead looking like he was ready for a game at Lambeau Field in Green Bay.

While the elementary school teacher, who relocated from Wisconsin many years ago, didn’t get to see any players from his favorite team participate in the event, he did get a taste of the weather from back home.

A sweeping wind had fans shivering and competitors battling the conditions, but it didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of seeing some of the NFL’s biggest stars up close and personal in the first major event of Pro Bowl Week.

“This is perfect,” Gostomski said just after getting the autograph of former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson. “I never get a chance to get this close to players. I’m glad all this talent is coming to Las Vegas.”

Stars from both the AFC and NFC competed in a series of competitions, from throwing at moving targets to a 40-yard dash to dodgeball.

A brand new Best Catch competition, which is the football equivalent of a slam dunk contest for receivers, debuted Wednesday and has the potential to eventually be a marquee event every year.

Results of the competition are embargoed by the NFL and ESPN, which will air the event at 4 p.m. Thursday.

The winners and losers didn’t seem to matter much to the fans who braved the elements and the delayed start due to the weather. While the wind wreaked some havoc on the throwing competitions in particular, nothing was going to deter die-hard Raiders fan Vince De La Cruz from enjoying the experience.

“This is phenomenal,” said the Los Angeles transplant. “It’s one of the bucket-list checkoffs in my lifetime. I’ve always wanted to go to the Pro Bowl and the skills competition and to have it here in my new hometown, I can’t wait for Sunday. My first Pro Bowl ever and to see all these fans from around the nation and the world come here and celebrate with Raider Nation, it’s unbelievable.”

The home fans did have a clear favorite as Raiders wide receiver Hunter Renfrow, a first-time Pro Bowler, was one of the AFC participants in the event.

He got the biggest reactions of the night, though Dallas Cowboys rookie Micah Parsons showed off his personality and skills to win over some fans.

Parsons even went shirtless for one event as he competed against several peers in sweats more appropriate for the conditions.

Andre Pitts and his family were much more bundled up, but it didn’t take away from their enjoyment.

“It’s an amazing experience for Las Vegas and all the fans and the community,” said the Las Vegan of 22 years. “I’ve always wanted to go to the Pro Bowl and never got a chance. I’m a Raider fan since birth in the Bay Area and it’s so cool to have this in my home city. I brought my daughter and son, the whole family. It’s great to show them what Raider Nation and the NFL are all about.”

Gostomski’s allegiances aren’t as unwavering. His affinity for Wilson made sense with the Wisconsin ties, but he also said he enjoyed watching Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins throw the ball on Wednesday night.

That may be tougher to explain back home.

“I like Kirk Cousins,” he said. “He’s a good man. And Russell Wilson was a Badger. I watch all teams and I admire talent.”

The Skills Competition presented a good opportunity to see plenty of it on display.

Contact Adam Hill at ahill@reviewjournal.com. Follow @AdamHillLVRJ on Twitter.

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