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NFC downs AFC in NFL Pro Bowl after flag football game in display of future Olympic sport

Flag football is enjoying a renaissance of kinds and Sunday was evidence of the feats elite athletes can achieve in the non-contact version of the sport.

In the conclusion of the NFL’s Pro Bowl weekend on Sunday – in which the best of the two conferences are pitted against one another in a series of skill competitions culminating in a flag football game – it was the NFC who came out on top.

Their cumulative 64-59 victory over their AFC counterparts at Camping World Stadium in Orlando came after an eventful four days in Florida, over which points are accumulated throughout all events and calculated toward a total score.

Players compete in a tug-of-war skills challenge event. - John Raoux/AP
Players compete in a tug-of-war skills challenge event. - John Raoux/AP

With flag football introduced last year in an effort to reduce the chances of injuries and increase competitiveness, players appeared to buy into the idea on Sunday, with the stars of the NFL wowing with athleticism and precision, like they’d been doing all season.

After days of competition, the overall title came down to a game-sealing play from Chicago Bears cornerback Jaylon Johnson, who managed to deflect a pass from Houston Texans quarterback CJ Stroud on fourth down with four seconds remaining and clinch the championship, despite losing the flag football game 50-34 to the AFC. Because the NFC had won the skill games 30-9, it won the overall weekend.

“At first, it was all laughter and games,” Cleveland Browns tight end David Njoku said, per ESPN. “But when it got real, it got really real. And it stayed real until the end.”

David Njoku runs with the ball while Bobby Wagner attempts to grab his flag. - Megan Briggs/Getty Images
David Njoku runs with the ball while Bobby Wagner attempts to grab his flag. - Megan Briggs/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield was named the Pro Bowl’s offensive MVP after completing 9-of-13 passes for 102 yards and two touchdowns in the flag football game while New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis was given the defensive MVP award.

Despite coming up short on the final play of the game, Stroud was one of the stars of the event, ending his impressive rookie campaign with a game-high 173 yards on 18-of-22 passing with two touchdowns, a two-point conversion pass and no interceptions.

It’s the NFC’s second straight Pro Bowl victory, led by head coach Eli Manning against his brother, Peyton, who was the head coach of the AFC.

Flag football played by the best-of-the-best of the NFL at the Pro Bowl is a huge platform for the non-contact version of the sport, with it set to be featured on an even bigger stage in four years’ time.

The 2028 Summer Games in Los Angeles will see flag football make its debut as an Olympic sport.

Millions of players across the US already count it as part of their lives, and collegiate programs have provided a robust foundation for the sport to grow. The American Flag Football League, launched in 2017, became the first-ever men’s professional flag football league in 2024.

Flag football will be joined by baseball/softball, cricket, lacrosse and squash at LA 2028.

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