The NFL Pro Bowl has caught a ton of criticism over the last decade or so. Fans cite lack of participation, lack of intensity, prohibitive rules and general meaninglessness as reasons why the Pro Bowl isn't all that it could be. Compared to the pizzaz and athleticism of NBA All-Star weekend and the prestige and tradition of the MLB's "midsummer classic," the Pro Bowl has long seemed like a second-rate all-star game. Enthusiasm was so low a couple of years ago that the league considered canceling the game all together.
But many Pro Bowl critics seem to suffer from selective memory. Yes, the game does have issues, but there have been plenty of awesome moments over the years. These are the best football players in the world, and when you get them together on the same field, magic is bound to happen in one form or another. In anticipation of the 65th edition of the Pro Bowl on Jan. 25, here are five times when the Pro Bowl was actually cool.
Sean Taylor Destroys a Punter
The late Sean Taylor was one of the greatest defensive backs in NFL history. His hits are the stuff of legend, and he never seemed to he have an "off" switch. If Taylor was on a football field, he was looking to hit the snot out of someone.
Punter Brian Moorman learned this the hard way. In the 2006 Pro Bowl, Moorman had the ball in his hands on a fake punt. He ran to his right and attempted to follow his blockers, but the play looked like it was going to come up short. Instead of just trotting out of bounds, Moorman decided to cut back inside and keep the play alive. That's when Taylor absolutely obliterated Moorman, knocking him through the air and forcing a fumble. It looked like a freight train had run off the tracks wearing a blue Pro Bowl jersey.
Upon impact, the crowd let out a thunderous "ohhhh!" in unison. Props to Moorman for popping up quickly and congratulating Taylor on the huge hit. So yeah, some players take it easy in the Pro Bowl and try to avoid injury. Sean Taylor did not.
Alex Mack Scores an Awesome Fat Guy Touchdown
No matter what's going on, everyone gets excited when a lineman scores a touchdown. These are the guys who toil in the trenches in relative anonymity, so when one of them finds the end zone it's always a joyous occasion. Such was the case with center Alex Mack in the 2011 Pro Bowl.
Although there is plenty of apathetic play involved, the ball finds its way into Mack's hands as the clock is winding down. He breaks into a dead sprint, realizing he has the chance to score a coveted fat guy touchdown. Fat guy touchdowns are about more than six points on the scoreboard. They bring glory to all of the blue-collar, big-waisted men who never get the contracts or the fame of the skill players, but without whom no team could succeed.
At about the 13-yard line, Mack looks destined to be brought down by the opposing safety. But the defender tries to shoulder tackle the 311-pound Mack, which proves to be hilariously ineffective. Mack barrels forward like the truck with which he shares a name and crosses the goal line. The crowd goes wild.
This might be the quintessential fat guy touchdown. From the defender bouncing off of him to the ungraceful dive to the visible plumber's crack, this is how a big man scores a touchdown.
Marc Bulger and Peyton Manning Stage a Shootout for the Ages
The 2004 Pro Bowl was awesome. High-scoring and highly competitive, the game holds the Pro Bowl record for most points scored and it featured an amazing comeback.
With 13:14 left in the fourth quarter, the AFC held a 45-27 lead and was threatening to win running away. NFC QB Marc Bulger, who was elected to the game as an alternate, had other ideas. He helped lead a remarkable comeback with four rapid fire, unanswered scores, giving the NFC a 55-45 lead with only 3:32 remaining.
But AFC QB Peyton Manning wasn't ready to quit, and he led his squad right back into it. With six seconds left and the NFC leading 55-52, AFC kicker Mike Vanderjagt lined up for a potential game-tying 51-yard field goal. But Vanderjagt, who hadn't missed a field goal the entire season, missed the kick wide right.
Both Bulger and Manning set Pro Bowl records. Manning threw for a record 342 passing yards and Bulger connected on a record four touchdown passes.
After the game, Manning told the AP, "That's the way you want this game to be. It's for the fans, so you want to give them something good." We couldn't agree more.
Jack Youngblood Plays on a Broken Leg
A big criticism of the Pro Bowl is that star players often flake out on the game. Some miss it due to legitimate injuries, but many are just worn down from a long season and ready to relax. This can be a major bummer for fans who were looking forward to seeing their favorite players, only to learn that they skipped the game to nurse some phantom malady.
It's hard to imagine that any current NFL player would do what Jack Youngblood did in the 1980 Pro Bowl.
In the 1979 divisional playoffs against Dallas, an offensive lineman collided with Youngblood's leg and snapped his fibula. Playing defensive line on a broken leg seemed impossible, but Youngblood simply wouldn't let the doctors keep him out. He taped up his leg and finished the game. He went on to play in both the conference championship game and the Super Bowl on his broken fibula, tolerating an enormous amount of pain.
After losing in the Super Bowl, Youngblood had to be hurting both emotionally and physically. No one in his right mind expected him to play in the Pro Bowl a week later. Yet Youngblood elected to suit up and play, later telling ESPN.com that he "wanted to play in the game" and "didn't want to miss that party." Party on, Jack. Party on.
Brandon Marshall Makes a Ridiculous Catch on a Record Day
The 2012 Pro Bowl featured a ton of offense, as the AFC bested the NFC 59-41. Much of the scoring was due to Brandon Marshall, who caught a Pro Bowl record four touchdown passes. Marshall was named the game's MVP for his performance, and one particular play persists in fans' memories.
Late in the third quarter, QB Andy Dalton dropped back from about midfield and looked Marshall's way. Marshall, who had already registered two touchdown, had a step on cornerback Corey Graham. Dalton predictably underthrew the pass by a good amount (after all, the Pro Bowl is technically a post-season game).
Graham went up to make a play on the ball, and safety Earl Thomas zoomed in from center field to do the same. But the two defensive players crashed into each other in mid-air, dropping a sure interception. The ball fell to Marshall, who had been tripped up.
The pigskin hit Marshall's knee and bounced up, allowing him to snag it while he slid on his back into the end zone. The shocked look on his face when he realizes he just caught another touchdown says it all.
Photo Credit: Getty Images // Thinkstock