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Raiders, NFL excited for re-imagined Pro Bowl Games

While the Pro Bowl Games will kick off Thursday on a holiday that has become known for repetition because of a 1993 Bill Murray comedy, the events will be anything but mundane.

“It’s Groundhog Day, but it’s not ‘Groundhog Day’ at the Pro Bowl,” said Peter O’Reilly, the league’s executive vice president of club business and league events. “It’s the first-ever live skills event, and the Raiders’ training facility has really been transformed into a multi-ring circus of skills.”

It’s all part of a re-imagined week of competition between the AFC and NFC that will replace the traditional Pro Bowl game.

There have been skills competitions in the past that were recorded for later broadcast, but the events will now air live and the results will be part of the final score that will be tabulated Sunday after a second day of competitions and a series of flag football games at Allegiant Stadium.

Thursday’s slate will air at 4 p.m. on ESPN from the Raiders’ headquarters in Henderson. The agenda includes a dodgeball tournament, a longest drive competition, a lightning round that includes a water balloon toss and the chance to dump a bucket of water on opposing coaches, and the first round of the best catch competition that is essentially a slam dunk contest for wide receivers.

“There’s definitely a sense of excitement as to what this will bring,” Raiders team president Sandra Douglass Morgan said. “These are the best athletes in the world competing at games, some of which we played as children, and then being able to see that and knowing that competitive spirit is going to come out.”

The most anticipated of Thursday’s events is the Precision Passing competition, during which each of the conference’s three quarterbacks will try to score points by hitting targets that include a long-toss bucket 60 yards away.

Raiders quarterback Derek Carr, whose relationship with the franchise essentially ended when he was benched and away from the team for the final two weeks of the season, is expected to return to the team facility to compete for the AFC after he was named a replacement this week.

There will be three more skills events along with the final of the best catch competition and the flag games Sunday at Allegiant Stadium.

The conference that wins each skill competition will be awarded three points toward the overall score, with the winning conference from each of Sunday’s first two flag football games earning six points.

All of those points will then make up the starting score for the third and final flag football game Sunday, which will ultimately determine the winning conference.

O’Reilly said the format was a result of lengthy discussions between the league and its players to make the Pro Bowl more enjoyable and accessible for fans than the traditional game that had grown somewhat stale.

“The buzz feels different, and it’s exciting to see the vision coming to life,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s about fun. We’ll learn a lot in this first model. You always learn a lot when you break the mold. But the focus is on having fun and celebrating 88 of the biggest stars in our game.”

It’s also another chance for Las Vegas to flex its muscle as one of the NFL’s new power markets.

“It’s a commitment the Raiders made when they moved to Las Vegas, that this was going to be something that was going to give (Southern Nevadans) a taste of professional sports and what that means for the community and the economic impact it’s having,” Douglass Morgan said.

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

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