NFC triumphs in revamped Pro Bowl Skills Showdown

ORLANDO, Fla. -- Backed up against the wall, Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton resembled a dodgeball Micky Ward. Plucky and undersized, he fended off Patrick Peterson, Mike Evans, Thomas Davis, Gerald McCoy and Ezekiel Elliott as the rest of his teammates watched from the sideline.

He whipped a ball at Odell Beckham when he wasn't looking. He stockpiled ammo deep in his own corner. A concentration drop on a low worm-burner from Elliott turned out to be his undoing. But not without our respect.

"He caught a lot of balls at the end, he made a good comeback," an alarmingly out of breath Elliott said after the game.

Dodgeball was by far the most competitive feature in the new, reimagined Pro Bowl Skills Showdown, which taped on Wednesday here in Orlando and aired Thursday night on ESPN. Participants on both teams received $10,000 to participate, but the winning team got an additional $7,500, which hinged on one team defeating the other in the popular gym class staple. The AFC, coached by Ray Lewis and Jerome Bettis, was woefully underprepared for an athletic, mobile NFC unit.

Dak Prescott gets chosen in this game before Alex Smith or Andy Dalton 10 times out of 10. Dalton was pegged before the 300-pound Geno Atkins.

Hilton and Alex Smith, who made several pleas to a nearby official to stay in the game after a ball bounced before hitting him, were delightfully interested in winning the game. It seems that even for a man on a five-year, $76 million contract, seven stacks will bring out the Pete Rose in you.


>> Poor Mike Evans. It took him a while to nail the one-handed portion of the Best Hands competition, which asked receivers to complete a variety of different specialty grabs (over the shoulder, sideline, ect.) But he all feel like that competition was rigged in the favor of the two players who finished first and second -- Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham Jr. -- from the beginning. At the least, they had a distinct advantage in the one-handed catch competition seeing as they practice that ad nauseum. Don't worry T.Y. Hilton, we will always remember you as dodgeball's Leonidas I.

>> The Power Play challenge, which had a four-man relay race in which one player had to lift a 250-pound wall, two players had to pull a concrete wall and three players had to push a 700-pound wooden block, missed a wonderful opportunity to just allow Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert to do the entire thing on his own. While I'll miss the bench press competition in the old Pro Bowl Skills Challenge, the showdown did give us a nice "feats of strength" component. Also, at 33, Thomas Davis is made of protein, dad strength and unbreakable rocks. Also also, NFL Vice President of Officiating Dean Blandino did not seem to appreciate being embroiled in an officiating controversy on vacation. He had to call for a sled redo after an obstruction blocked the NFC's path. SCANDAL.

>> A note inspired, in part, by one of my travel companions here in Orlando, NFL Media social content manager Justin Anderson. There was an ominous-looking bird hovering over the very expensive drone that ESPN was using for the Drone Drop challenge, and while nothing happened, it did present a chance to create fascinating ripple into the Orlando ecosystem. What would have happened if one of Florida's native birds mistook the machine -- which makes a buzzing sound sort of like a large, ornery wasp -- as prey? When I say this was a precision operation, I'm not kidding. Everything at the Skills Showdown was timed out. Measured. Hot tourists in stitched nylon were all in on the drone. Was there a backup? Thankfully, we'll never need to know.

>> I was at a warmup session for the Precision Passing challenge attended by Philip Rivers, Andy Dalton and Alex Smith. Rivers did it in cowboy boots. Smith wasn't wearing shoes. On television, this looks incredibly easy but some of the longer throws are more than 40 yards away with the diagonal distance. This made watching Rivers whip a football on a muddy surface, in street clothes, all the more impressive. I found that the 1-point target was probably the hardest given the movement and range. A side note: I was not surprised in the least that Drew Brees was the only one who knew all the rules in advance. I was also not surprised that Rivers emerged victorious.

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