It was a notable sports weekend in Orlando and the crowds showed up in masses for Saturday’s U.S Olympic Team Trials marathon and Sunday’s NFL Pro Bowl Games.
There were 55,709 fans at Camping World Stadium for the NFL’s all-star festivities and all of them seemed to be pleased with the change in format from the traditional tackle-football game.
The NFC prevailed 64-59 after AFC quarterback C.J. Stroud threw an incomplete pass from the 3-yard line in the closing seconds.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Baker Mayfield and New Orleans Saints linebacker Demario Davis were named the offensive and defensive MVPs of the game. Locally for the Orlando fans, Defensive lineman Trey Hendrickson from Apopka and now playing for the Cincinnati Bengals, played in his third Pro Bowl, but first in Orlando.
The festivities began with a skills challenge at UCF, and then continued through Sunday with more skills challenges and the flag-football game among the NFL All-Pros.
Fans were entertained by the new flag format, but many said they would still prefer the traditional tackle version.
Garrett Fred, in Orlando from Denver just to watch the Pro Bowl with his 5-year old son Ben, said he would rather see the tackle format.
“It’s different,” Garrett said. “It’s fun … I don’t think it’s as fun as the tackle version, but I understand why they don’t do that anymore.”
He said he can still embrace the flag version, but …
”It does show off athleticism and the ability to catch and run and throw,” Garrett said. “But I don’t think it’s as entertaining as the tackle version.”
Ben said he was just fine with flag football and very entertained.
His favorite part was, Ben said, “When they blow up the fireworks when the people [score].”
A trio of 12-year-old Palm Beach Gardens buddies were in the stadium as well: Vikings fan Reid Gendron, Bills fan Henry St. John and Eagles fan Charlie Young.
Reid enjoyed the flag format.
”I think it’s a little bit better because tackle is more like the original, so let’s change it up,” Gendron said.
St. John said he liked the whole concept of the Pro Bowl Games format.
”I like the challenges, like the obstacles courses and stuff, like the dodge ball,” St. John said.
The flag football was exciting because, he said, “If you’re fast, you can go around guys … and it’s a smaller field.”
Young had on his Jason Kelce jersey and said he’s a much bigger fan of Jason than his Chiefs’ brother Travis,
Young said of the flag format, “There is a lot of scoring and you can easily juke a player.”
Gendron said he’s excited about flag football being added to the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.
”Definitely, that way I can watch it,” he said.
Kansas City natives Brian Selig-Pryor and 11-year-old Ben Selig-Pryor, who now live In Tampa, were also in the crowd.
“I’d like to see them play tackle, but I get it. They don’t want to get hurt,” Brian said. “But it’s cool and they’re having fun.”
Surtain said he would love to play in Olympics
It is expected that when the Olympics add flag football as a new sport for both men and women, NFL players will be allowed to play for the U.S. team. Denver Broncos cornerback Patrick Surtain, a Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas and FSU product, said he’d love the opportunity to play in the Olympics.
“I’d definitely be looking forward to that. I think it would be pretty fun,” said Surtain, who had an interception in Sunday’s game. “The only thing is that if we were to play, it wouldn’t be fair at all.
“But I would definitely want to play if they allow us to.”
Jason Kelce says attention ‘good and bad’
Philadekphia Eagles center Jason Kelce said after Sunday’s Pro Bowl that the media circus and all of the attention he and his brother Travis have received, especially after Travis started dating pop singer Taylor Swift, has had its good times but sometimes it can be a little too much.
“It’s been a lot, for sure. It’s a lot of attention and a there’s good and bad with it obviously,” Kelce said. “One of the really cool things with it, having daughters myself, has been the amount of female fans that have come up and started watching our sport.
“Obviously our sport is male-dominated and I love that aspect of it as well, but it’s really, really cool when little girls come up to you and they’re watching the games, and they get to see somebody who they idolize in the games as well. It’s something that I think has been good for our game.”
Kelce said the attention he has received has also helped bring some attention to the anonymous line-of-scrimmage battlers of the NFL overall.
“I think linemen have always had some of the best personalities in the league, and I’m hitting it at the right time,” Kelce said. “I think a lot of it is just the increased accessibility the league has right now, with social media and podcasts, all these things. Now linemen are able to be seen and heard a lot more.
“In my opinion, there are few personalities better than offensive and defensive linemen in this league. They are all very relatable to the fans. The position by nature is very humbling and I think people connect with that, and it’s something I think you are going to see more and more of as people get to know the big guys up front.”
Kelce stopped short of making any prediction for his brother’s Chiefs against the 49ers in Sunday’s Super Bowl.
“I don’t get into predictions on that level. I’m staying off that,” Kelce said. “I think it’s going to be a great game. These are two teams that have been at the pinnacle of their conferences for the past five or six years. … They’ve played each other before and there is a lot of familiarity in this game. I think it’s gonna be a heckuva Super Bowl, and I’m excited to watch it.”
Chris Hays covers high school and college football, as well as college football recruiting and the NFL for the Sentinel. He can be found on X @OS_ChrisHays or on Instagram @OS_ChrisHays. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.