ORLANDO, Fla. -- The NFL made a major change in 2017 by moving the Pro Bowl to Orlando, something commissioner Roger Goodell sees as very positive, though he isn't ready to make the city the Pro Bowl's permanent home. Orlando is under contract to host the event next year with a third-year option for 2019.
"We go one year at a time," Goodell said to ESPN just prior to kickoff. "This is new for us, and we're still not done. We have a few more hours to go. As I just said to the [Orlando] mayor [Buddy Dyer], 'We're really excited, the way the fans have reacted favorably and the community has really embraced it. This is a special night for us."
The Pro Bowl format changed this year too, returning to the NFC-AFC matchup. It incorporated a new mantra: celebrating football at all levels in a weeklong event held at ESPN's Wide World of Sports. It included the Punt, Pass and Kick National Championship, NFL Flag Championship, the North American Championship featuring high school players from USA Football and Football Canada, and the USA Football's Women's World Football.
The event featured the annual USA Football national conference and the Women's Careers in Football Forum. There was also the Pro Bowl Experience put on for fans, the EA Madden Bowl and the Pro Bowl Skills Challenge.
"We want to celebrate the game," Goodell said. "We love seeing the kids play the game. We love to see the high school coaches here. We had a women's football team here. It's all about the great game that we have, and we're able to celebrate it."
As far as the on-field product that has come under scrutiny in recent years, Goodell said it's important to understand what the game is and isn't -- the league must keep players safe and still make it entertaining. The key to that? Having fun, he said.
"This is a different kind of a game," Goodell said. "This isn't a Super Bowl or a championship game. We recognize that. It's gotta be something that reflects positively on our end. The thing that really struck me about the skills challenge was how much fun the players had. They were really enjoying it. And that's what I said to them tonight, 'Have fun. Enjoy it.'"