The NFL moved the Pro Bowl to the week before the Super Bowl in 2010 in hopes of drawing more eyes and improving the game’s ratings. This makes it impossible for players to participate in both the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, as they’re busy practicing, giving interviews, and trying to get as healthy as possible. Even players that aren’t in the Super Bowl are becoming less and less likely to accept invitations to the Pro Bowl.
While I’ve been obsessed with football for almost thirty years, I’ve never been able to muster much enthusiasm for the NFL’s version of the all-star game. I completely understand why players worn down from a grueling season would rather stay home, though it would be fun to find some sort of showcase for the league’s best.
In this article, we’ll take a look at what prompted the NFL to move the Pro Bowl to the Super Bowl’s bye week, why players don’t want to play, and some of the game’s most astounding “alternates.”
- Players never play in both the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl.
- Super Bowl-bound players are busy with media appearances, practices, and trying to stay healthy in the week leading up to the game.
- Even players on teams that don’t make the Super Bowl are declining Pro Bowl invites in droves, leading to a cavalcade of undeserving players being selected.
When Did the NFL Move the Pro Bowl Before the Super Bowl?
There has always been a “bye” week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. This gives the two teams an extra week to travel and prepare for the game and ensure that they’re as healthy as possible. 
There’s also a theatrical component to the extra week, allowing the league to build another week of hype and develop storylines.
But after months of football filling our TV screens every Sunday (and Monday, Thursday, and even some Saturdays), a whole week without football always feels jarring, especially in the middle of the postseason.
So in 2010, the NFL moved the Pro Bowl from the week after the Super Bowl to the week before. 
The Pro Bowl’s ratings had been poor in its previous slot, and the hope was that moving it to the dead week before the Super Bowl would draw more eyes. 
While a fine idea in theory, the Pro Bowl still struggles to draw attention regardless of when it’s played with the 2022 game drawing the lowest ratings since 2006. 
It’s a problem without an obvious solution. After a long season, many players are content to skip the event altogether. The nature of the sport also makes it difficult to cobble together a cohesive game plan in such a period, leading to a “backyard football” vibe that doesn’t feel like a real game.
The violent nature of the sport isn’t much of an incentive either. Who wants to suffer a torn ACL on a freak play in a glorified exhibition? The NFL has tried to modify the rules to minimize contact injuries such as outlawing blitzing, specific blocking techniques, and allowing intentional grounding. 
2023 saw the advent of a “flag football” style exhibition which likely contributed to the low ratings.
But this has only magnified the sterile nature of the game. If I could guess, I’d say that within a few years, we’ll see the Pro Bowl fazed out altogether.
Why Don’t Players Play in Both the Super Bowl and Pro Bowl?
With the game moved to the week before the Super Bowl, playing in both isn’t realistic. The week before the Super Bowl is filled with media events along with the teams maximizing their practice time and film study so they can be as prepared as possible.
Imagine if your team’s star wide receiver tore up their knee in the Pro Bowl days before the Super Bowl. We’ve even started to see players that lost in the conference championship decline invitations to the Pro Bowl owing to the quick turnaround time.
All the players declining the chance to play in the Pro Bowl have caused the NFL to scramble in recent years to find enough players willing to participate. Things reached a nadir this year when Ravens’ backup quarterback Tyler Huntley was selected to the Pro Bowl after starting four games and tossing just two touchdowns. 
I’ve got nothing against Tyler Huntley, but it makes the Pro Bowl honor essentially meaningless as a way to measure how good a player was. We still have the All-Pro teams, but there are such a limited number of slots on All-Pro rosters. We’re in desperate need of a new way to recognize the league’s best players that don’t make one of the two All-Pro teams.
Regardless of whether the NFL schedules the Pro Bowl before or after the Super Bowl, I don’t think we’ll ever see players participate in both. The NFL’s season is so grueling, and as the number of regular season games continues to increase, it seems likely that more and more players will pass on this exhibition regardless of how far their team makes it in the playoffs.
I never had much interest in the Pro Bowl, and it wouldn’t break my heart to see it go away entirely. When was the last time you watched the Pro Bowl? Would you be sad to see it phased out? Let us know in the comments below.