That’s because he doesn’t have to!

The 2021 Pro-Bowl will look a little different this year than it did in years’ past. Instead of playing the annual exhibition live in front of fans, the NFL has teamed up with EA Sports and the two sides have agreed to have a virtual game where Players, Legends, and Celebrities face-off in the popular video game, ‘Madden NFL 21′. NFL executive vice-president of club business and events, Peter O’Reilly said league partners, “are uniquely positioned to help the NFL make the transformation of this high profile event from live to virtual possible.”

Lamar Jackson
Lamar Jackson on the cover of the New Madden 21 (Virtual Pro-Bowl Edition)

Pro-Bowl: The New Version

The game was scheduled for Jan 31 in Las Vegas, but was cancelled due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It’s the first-time the Pro-Bowl has been cancelled since 1949, and the owners voted to hold the 2022 version in Las Vegas.

NFL-fans of all 32-teams will still have the option to vote online. The process started on Tuesday, Nov. 17, and will conclude on Thursday, Dec. 17. 

After the fan voting concludes, the players and coaches will cast their votes on Dec. 18.  The NFL is the only sports league that combines voting by fans, coaches and players to determine its Pro-Bowl teams.

The rosters all players will be using, are going to be up-to-date and the game will stay in its current AFC-NFC matchup. The virtual version of the Pro-Bowl will still take place a week before the Super Bowl (Jan 25-31). It is unclear who will be participating in the final game, but the rosters will consist of 88 players, 44 from each conference (AFC, NFC). This move comes 6-months after the NFL and EA Sports extended the long term lease of ‘Madden’ being the top simulation football video game.

Pro-Bowl: The Traditional Set-up

The first Pro-Football All-Star game was played in 1938 at the Chicago Cub’s Wrigley field. The team’s were made-up of all of the NFL’s All-Stars, along with three-players from the Los Angeles Bulldogs, and three from the Hollywood Bears who were in an Independent professional league. This format lasted until 1950 when the NFL All-Star game was to be renamed as the Pro-Bowl.

(1951-1972)

Los Angeles, California was home to the first-21 editions of the NFL Pro-Bowl, and then it alternated sites from 1973-1979. Heading into a new decade, the NFL decided it needed a new location to ring in the 1980s.

(1980-2009)

For 30-straight years, the Pro-Bowl was played at Aloha Stadium in Halawa, Hawaii the Sunday after the Super-Bowl, in the game’s traditional AFC-NFC Conference format. After the 2009 season, the NFL decided to switch up the location, but also switched up the date of the game as well.

(2010-2013)

The 2010 edition of the Pro-Bowl saw a new location and a new date of the game as well. Rather than playing the games in Hawaii on the Sunday after the Super-Bowl, it was switched to (Jan, 31) the Sunday before the Super-Bowl.  It was to be played between the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts in Miami, Florida. The AFC defeated the NFC 41-34 in the new format, and while the future Pro-Bowls would be played on the Sunday before the Super-Bowl, it returned to Hawaii in 2011.

(2014-2016)

This three-year edition of the Pro-Bowl was made up of a fantasy draft of Pro-Bowlers, picked by NFL-Hall of Fame Captains in which they would form their own team. In 2014, Team Jerry Rice defeated Team Dion Sanders, 22-21 led by game MVP quarterback Nick Foles of the Philadelphia Eagles. In 2015, Team Michael Irvin defeated Team Chris Carter, 32-28 led by MVP quarterback Matthew Stafford of the Detroit Lions. The final version (2016) saw Team Michael Irving defeat Team Dion Sanders led by MVP quarterback Russell Wilson of the Seattle Seahawks. After this three-year experiment of the fantasy draft, the league found that the top-tier of its superstars were skipping the Pro-Bowl due to a league rule that did not allow these players to play in the Pro-Bowl. The league did not want the top players to get hurt before the Super-Bowl. As a result, a majority of alternates were making the game, and fans were missing out on seeing key names like Tom Brady, and Aaron Rodgers playing in the game. This led to another change of the format later in 2016.

(2017-Present)

The league went back to the traditional AFC-NFC conference format, after the three-year experiment of the “Legendary Captain Fantasy Draft” failed to modernize the traditional exhibition. The AFC has won four Pro-Bowls in a row, and were poised to win it again this year, until the COVID-19 Pandemic forced the NFL to make the 2021 edition a virtual Madden Game.

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