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Revamped Pro Bowl engages large Allegiant crowd

Fans had their first glimpse of the re-imagined Pro Bowl Games on Sunday at Allegiant Stadium, watching the best players in the NFL square off in a series of skills challenges and flag football games.

Judging from the enthusiastic reaction of the announced crowd of 58,331, they liked what they saw.

The NFL moved to remove the traditional tackle format from the annual all-star game after the game became increasingly less competitive and last year’s game ended up being little more than a touch football game played with players in full pads.

Craig Skala, a Bears fan from Chicago, said being able to see the players’ faces during play added a new level of entertainment to the game.

“They’re competitive by nature, and this way you get to see their facial expressions and how much fun they’re having and even their frustrations,” he said.

The events and first two flag football games led up to the grand finale, the final flag football game, with soon-to-be former Raiders quarterback Derek Carr playing the position for the AFC. Carr received the loudest cheers from the crowd by far when the players were introduced before the games.

He quarterbacked the AFC team in the final game, as the NFC overcame a six-point deficit to post a 35-33 win in the competition that included results from the nine skills events.

Four skills challenges were also included in Sunday’s Pro Bowl Games, with one of those events prerecorded Thursday at the Raiders’ practice facility.

The NFL worked with the players, NFL Players Association and others in creating the new format. Peter O’Reilly, NFL executive vice president of club business and league events, said playing without helmets allowed the league to put the players’ personalities on full display.

“Bottom line, it’s fun and it celebrates their unique skills and personalities, on and off the field,” O’Reilly said. “It shows and allows them to get their competitive juices flowing, just in a different form.”

Fans of all 32 NFL teams were in attendance at the games, and for the most part, seemed to be in favor of the new format.

“We’re really excited because we’re really into football, and he (8-year-old son Connor) plays flag football,” Skala said. “This format is perfect for him. I understand the players don’t want to get hurt and they want to enjoy their offseason. I think this way they are still able to get the best players out, and they won’t get hurt.”

Before the NFL portion began, multiple youth flag football teams played for their age-level championships on the field at Allegiant Stadium. Connor Skala said being able to see the NFL stars play the version of football he plays would make him more interested in the game.

“Really excited for it all,” Skala said “We were able to see the kids play and the NFL players. Overall the new format is exciting for everybody.”

Tickets were relatively inexpensive, starting at $35 on Ticketmaster and were being sold on the various secondary ticket markets sites starting at around $50 Sunday morning. No-fee ticket reseller TickPick listed 350 available tickets Sunday morning, with an average price of $120.

The traditional 120-yard NFL field, 100 yards playing with 10-yard-long end zones, was used for the game, but the layout was much different than usual.

The field where the three seven-on-seven flag football games were played was sandwiched between two skill zones areas. The flag football field was 50 yards in length, with 1o-yard end zones, with the two skills areas being 25 yards in length each.

The field’s new layout took Herb Askew, a Pittsburgh Steelers fan from Kingman, Arizona, a moment to understand what was going on.

“It’s interesting,” Askew said. “I’m still trying to figure it out.”

Askew said he didn’t mind the addition of the flag element to the game, hoping it would increase the competitiveness of the game.

Getting to mingle with fans of all teams at Allegiant Stadium was a great aspect of attending the game for Askew.

“It’s cool. You get to talk football with anybody,” Askew said. “All the fans coming out is the best part, I think.”

Contact Mick Akers at makers@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2920. Follow @mickakers on Twitter.

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