2015 Pro Bowl: Michael Irvin, Cris Carter hope to steal the show
PHOENIX — A grand ballroom in the Arizona Biltmore looked more like a television studio set.
An array of lights, a boom camera and plenty of NFL personnel made for an showy opening Pro Bowl press conference on Tuesday. Pro Bowl alumni captains, former NFL stars Cris Carter and Michael Irvin, introduced their co-captains and drafted their player captains in front of a small media gathering.
The scene reflected how much room for growth there is in this endeavor but also how invested the NFL is in the Pro Bowl, which last year took on a major format change. The 2014 game dropped the NFC against AFC competition that had been in place since 1971. Instead, alumni captains draft teams after fans, players and coaches have selected a complete pool of All-Stars.
The 2015 Pro Bowl rosters, which will take place at University of Phoenix Stadium on Sunday, will be drafted live on NFL Networks at 6 p.m. MST on Wednesday.
The timing rules in 2015 will likewise cater to a faster game, and NFL vice president of football operations Troy Vincent confirmed that the kicking game will be experimented with. Goal posts will be closer together, from 18.6 feet to 14 feet, to make extra points more challenging, and extra points will be moved to the 15-yard line to make for 33.5-yard kicks (visit NFL.com for the entirety of the rule tweaks).
No matter the changes, the game’s popularity fights an uphill battle.
Between all the format changes are Carter and Irvin, two showmen who made their names as Hall of Fame wide receivers. Though the Dallas Cowboys and Baltimore Ravens staffs will coach their two teams, Carter and Irvin are the ones who have the most pressure on them to make the game entertaining.
"There’s no two more competitive people than Michael and myself," Carter said Tuesday. "We always want to put on a good show. There is a strategy into it, but it’s about the end product."
Their personalities revealed themselves in the dramatically lit ballroom. Carter and Irvin flipped a coin to decide who’d have first pick drafting the four predetermined captains: Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown, Browns corner Joe Haden and Cowboys running back DeMarco Murray.
Irvin won the coin flip and, upon doing so, took shots at Carter.
"We just did the coin flip and of course, like the rest of the week, I won," Irvin said. "I will win the rest of the week. Now here comes Cris, who came in second."
Carter didn’t fret his draft position once he heard who Irvin would select as his team captains. The former Cowboy selected Murray — Haden is Team Irvin’s co-captain as part of the prepackaged deal — leaving Carter screaming "Yes, Lord!" before making his captain selection official.
"I will gladly accept the leading receiver, the best receiver in pro football, AB, from Miami," Carter said of Brown. "And I will also select, as a consolation prize, the best player to play in the NFL, Mr. J.J. Watt. Good luck, offensive line."
Throughout the media session, the team captains and player captains promised this Pro Bowl would only include players who wanted to put on a show. Promoting the event by taking it seriously was the theme.
Still, there was plenty of heckling between the two sides as they sat across from one another.
"He’s going to manage a lot like (Cowboys owner) Jerry Jones," Carter said of Irvin, interrupting him in the process. "He’s going to be real involved. He’s going to be on the field calling plays."
Yes, there were jokes. But there’s no doubt Carter and Irvin have a lot on their shoulders. They understand their roles.
As staged as the Pro Bowl might be, the Hall of Famers seem genuine in making this a more significant event.
"All of us up here, we love the game, and we love what the league has given us an opportunity to do with our lives and how it’s helped us change the landscape of our lives," Irvin said. "To have the opportunity to be around these current guys … hopefully (it’s) an opportunity to impart whatever wisdom we’ve learned over the years."