Thursday, June 18, 2020 / by Ken Couture
The first time Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson visited Las Vegas the year was 1983, the summer heat was so bad that the bottom of his feet felt like they were on fire and by the next day he was on the first plane back home to Los Angeles.
Three decades and a bunch of visits later, Dickerson’s feelings about Las Vegas are dramatically different. Hence the big thumbs-up he gave to the NFL on Tuesday after it announced it will move the Pro Bowl to Las Vegas in January.
“Thinking about Las Vegas now, with all the growth over the years, that’s a great place to have that event,” Dickerson said. “I think the players will like that a lot. I know I would if I was playing.”
Marcellus Wiley, who played in the NFL from 1996 to 2006 and appeared in the 2001 Pro Bowl, agrees. The current host of Fox Sports 1’s “Speak For Yourself” has been a DJ at Las Vegas events since his rookie season. He believes the city is the perfect location to lift the event to new heights.
“Putting something in Las Vegas enhances it so much,” Wiley said. “You have the best city in terms of hospitality and its infrastructure to hold such massive events, and now it just resonates so much. I can just see people saying, “I’m going to Vegas. And, oh yeah, the Pro Bowl is there.’ And that’s what you want. For the players, too.
“In the past, sure you’re going to the Pro Bowl; I’m going to Hawaii for a vacation. And you had the small (group of people) that wanted to go hang out with athletes and party. But now you’re going to have all that plus. … It’s just so smart.”
The game, which will be played at the Raiders’ new home, Allegiant Stadium, is scheduled for Sunday, Jan. 31, and will serve as a bridge to Super Bowl LV in Tampa, Florida, the following week.
In a statement, Raiders President Marc Badain said, “Pro Bowl week is a celebration of the best the NFL has to offer and there is no better place than Las Vegas to celebrate and honor the league’s biggest stars. The NFL, the LVCVA and the Raiders look forward to a world-class event that will set the standard for future NFL events in Las Vegas.”
The annual game features the 88 best players in the NFL, as voted on by fans, and has grown into a weeklong showcase for fans as well as the players, their family and friends.
Among the league-sponsored events preceding the game will be the NFL FLAG championship game, AFC and NFC team practices and, for the fifth consecutive year, a Pro Bowl skills showdown, where the NFL’s biggest stars from each conference will complete.
Caesars Entertainment is the NFL’s official casino sponsor and will use its properties for fan experiences. In addition, the NFL said Pro Bowl week will be dedicated to supporting a series of community and charitable events that will benefit the Las Vegas community.
“Putting myself in the shoes of today’s players … to me you couldn’t pick a better location,” said Dickerson, who played for the Raiders in 1992. “That’s going to be a lot of fun.”
Dickerson played in six Pro Bowls, all of them in Honolulu, and while he loved making the annual trip to Hawaii, he believes the proximity of Southern Nevada to NFL players across the country and the attractiveness of Las Vegas as a destination will hit the right notes with today’s players.
“If it’s not going to be in Hawaii, then Las Vegas makes a lot of sense,” Dickerson said.
The Pro Bowl is one of two big-time league events slated for Las Vegas, joining the 2022 NFL draft. Las Vegas was in place to host this year’s draft until the coronavirus pandemic forced the league to make it a virtual event.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said during Super Bowl week last January that Las Vegas could be announced as the host of a future Super Bowl before the end of the 2020 calendar year.
Up first, though, is the Pro Bowl, which had been played in Orlando, Florida, over the past four seasons. Prior to that, it was played in Honolulu from 1979 to 2015, with the exception of the 2010 game in Miami Gardens, Florida, and the 2014 game in Glendale, Ariz.
“We’re appreciative of the NFL’s leadership and commitment to bring the 2021 Pro Bowl to Las Vegas,” said Steve Hill, president/CEO of the LVCVA. “We look forward to hosting the best NFL players and their incredible fan base for a weeklong celebration that could only happen in Las Vegas.”
The league’s three-year contract with Orlando expired after the 2019 season, and while the agreement with Las Vegas is just for one year, a league official indicated it could lead to more Pro Bowls in Las Vegas.
Said Wiley: “There’s just certain cities you need to be in if you’re the NFL. … And Las Vegas is obviously one of those cities.”
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