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MT5: A reimagined Pro Bowl on tap for Sunday afternoon

Murphy Takes 5 is a monthly column written by President and CEO Mark Murphy

2023 Pro Bowl Games
2023 Pro Bowl Games

On the first Saturday of every month, Mark will write about a topic of interest to Packers fans and the organization, and then answer five fan questions. Fans are encouraged to email Mark with their name and hometown at:

The NFL has made major changes to the Pro Bowl. For years, in my mind, the Pro Bowl has been unwatchable (although the TV ratings have been pretty good. Also, since it is held on the Sunday before the Super Bowl, it serves as a three-hour promo for the Super Bowl). There has been very little blocking or tackling, and it was obvious that the players' main goal was to avoid injury (and many players decided to not even play in the game).

I think the league made a smart decision in completely changing the format of the game. First, the game will be a flag football game (not sure what the linemen will do, but that's another issue). The teams will be coached by the Mannings (don't know if there will be a Manning cast) – Peyton will coach the AFC and Eli the NFC. The location is also key – Las Vegas will be helpful in ensuring that players continue to want to attend and play in the game.

Actually, the Pro Bowl is no longer the Pro Bowl, it is now the Pro Bowl Games, with skills challenges on Thursday and Sunday before the flag game. The skills challenges include (wait until you hear these), Epic Pro Bowl dodgeball, Lightning Round (a three-part event – a water balloon toss, catching punts from a JUGS machine, and dropping a bucket of water on the opposing coach's head), a longest (golf) drive contest and Kick Tac Toe (kickers compete in a giant game of Tic Tac Toe).

You have to give the league office credit for its creativity in coming up with these skills challenges. It reminds me of the old show "Superstars," where athletes from different sports competed in various competitions. I was fortunate to participate in "Superstars" in 1984. I did well in the closest to the pin (golf) and bowling, and thought I was going to win the half-mile run, until Renaldo Nehemiah blew by me on the last turn. Since Renaldo was an Olympic track and field athlete and a world record holder, as well as a wide receiver for the 49ers, I didn't feel too bad about losing to him (although I did wonder how a track athlete was able to participate in a track event).

It should be fun to watch NFL players compete in these various events. Now, on to your questions.

Sam from Waukesha, WI

I read that the NFL is considering moving the conference championship games to neutral sites. Do you think this would be good for the league?

Great question, Sam. This became an issue when the league announced that it would play the AFC Championship at a neutral site (Atlanta) if the Bills and the Chiefs both reached it (by the way, we informed the league that we would have been pleased to host the game). I have never heard the topic of neutral site championship games discussed at a league meeting and think it would be a big mistake. Teams play the entire regular season with the goal of making the playoffs and hosting home playoff games. Playing conference championship games at the home team's stadium is great for the home team's local economy, the fans and the players, and obviously provides a competitive advantage to the home team. I've seen the impact that these games have had not only here at Lambeau Field, but I was fortunate enough to play in two NFC Championship games at RFK Stadium in Washington. The NFC Championship game against the Cowboys in the 1982 season (when the fans started chanting "We Want Dallas" before the game) was the most memorable game in my career, more so than the Super Bowls. It would be a huge mistake to do away with games like this that mean so much to fans, players and the league.

A question from Chuck

I know you mentioned last month that any renovations in the bowl would require conforming to current building codes. As a Packers fan from well before the Lombardi years, I am getting pretty long in the tooth and I don't move as well as I used to. I find it very difficult to walk down 40 steps to my seat and back up to the concourse. It would help immeasurably if it was possible to install a railing down the center of each of the stairways. It would take minimal space. Would such an addition trigger the need to meet the newer building codes? Thank you for your leadership of the Pack.

Thanks, Chuck. I often hear from fans (usually older) regarding the steps in the bowl. Yes, unfortunately, putting a railing in the center of each stairway would trigger the new building codes (and we estimate we would lose 10,000 in seating capacity). Our bowl is not up to the current codes (a major issue is the width of the seats), but we are grandfathered in and are fine unless we make changes to the bowl. I suggest that you contact our ticket office to see if you could move to seats that are closer to the vomitories, so you don't have to walk down so many steps. Those accommodations sometimes can be made.

Tom from Viroqua, WI

With problems in the red and gold zone, I wonder what you think about eliminating the five-wide, shotgun formation with no RB? To me, this formation causes several issues. First, we are telling the defense we are going to pass. Second, too often we run the play clock down to two seconds or less (defense sees play clock too). Third, we seem to waste timeouts. Fourth, there is no protection for the QB. Fifth, there is no play-action. And sixth, all the receivers hit the end zone at the same time, mixed with seven defenders. This results in a congested crowd, not a route tree.

So, would not a standard West Coast formation be better? With a WR left and right at the numbers, an inline TE, and two split RBs, and QB under center, there are many more options. There are still five receivers that now can be in waves or layers. There is play-action, the QB is protected, the defense is spread out, and the offense can still run the ball. I think this formation should be used all over the field like the four-minute drill. Vary the snap count, and pass the ball to open the run, versus run the ball to open the pass game.

Tom, you sound like you might be a football coach. As a former defensive back, I used to like it when the other team got into the red zone (although I obviously realized it wasn't good from a team perspective). In the red zone, you can't get beat deep (we used to say the back of the end zone is a good defender), so you are able to play much tighter coverage. The key for the offense is to keep the defense off-balance, and to try to dictate what personnel the defense will use. For instance, you often see an offense bring in three tight ends to get the defense thinking it is a run (and play their base or goal-line defense) and then pass the ball. Conversely, you will often see an offense go to five wide receivers to get the defense to play nickel or dime, and then run a quarterback draw (you see this more in the college game). The other key for the offense in the red zone is to stretch the field horizontally, since the field is shortened vertically. A team's performance in the red zone is crucial to winning games and having successful seasons. When teams settle for field goals early in the game, it usually comes back to haunt them.

Derek from Eau Claire, WI

I am wondering what your thoughts are on the playoff officiating crews being the "best of the best" at each spot, instead of a crew that is familiar with working together. When the stakes are high, we undoubtedly want the highest level of officiating. Thanks for another great season of exciting Packer football!

This has been a dilemma for the league for many years, Derek. I can certainly understand where the league wants to reward their best officials and make sure they are working the most important games, but there is a lot to be said for crews that work well together. The crews work together for the entire regular season and get to know each other. I think the league office is aware of this and tries to keep the crews together as much as possible (while still rewarding the best officials) in the playoffs. Officiating in the NFL is very challenging, especially in the playoffs with so much at stake and a high level of scrutiny (with so many people watching). Overall, the officials do a great job and allow the game to be decided by the players on the field.

A question from Aaron H

Last month you were asked, "What was your greatest life challenge and how has this experience contributed to making you the person you are today?" and the answer you gave about Paul Tagliabue was very insightful and appreciated. Do you have any similar such stories about others that you might want to share?

I'm glad you liked my answer regarding Paul Tagliabue, Aaron. As I look back over my career, I realize how fortunate I have been with regard to the coaches and bosses that I've had – one that especially stands out is Joe Gibbs. I was about halfway through my tenure with the Redskins when he was hired. First, we began winning (after starting the 1981 season 0-5, we finished 8-8 and won the Super Bowl the next year), but more importantly, I learned valuable lessons about leadership from Coach Gibbs. I was a captain of the team at the time, worked closely with him and was able to see first-hand how he built the team into a winner. Coach Gibbs had many great traits, but the two that really stood out to me were his ability to communicate and his humility. Every year the Green Bay Packers hold an all-organization meeting and bring in a keynote speaker. Several years ago, Coach Gibbs was our speaker and was outstanding. It was great to see the tremendous impact he had on our employees. Coach Gibbs' ability as a leader is remarkable – as evidenced by the great success he had in the NFL and NASCAR, two completely different fields.

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