AP Explains: The Pro Bowl, unlike any other All-Star game

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Pro Bowl is unlike any other All-Star game.

The concept is the same, sure; the best players in the league showcasing their talents against each other.

But the NFL's version of an All-Star game has a unique selection process for the teams, is held at a different part of the season and the site is usually the same, but not always.

An explanation of the Pro Bowl, which will be played Sunday at University of Phoenix Stadium:

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SELECTING PLAYERS

Pro Bowl players are voted in by fans, coaches and fellow players, much like All-Star games everywhere.

With fans complaining about lackadaisical play in the Pro Bowl, the NFL changed the format before last year's game in hopes of creating more excitement, allowing players to be selected regardless of conference.

Once the players are voted into the Pro Bowl, they are then drafted by captains, regardless of conference, sort of like picking sides for a sandlot game. Former NFL players Cris Carter and Michael Irvin are the alumni captains this season - Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders were a year ago - and picked their teams during a made-for-TV draft on Wednesday.

The NHL does the same thing for its All-Star game, with current players serving as captains and doing the picking.

The Pro Bowl coaches are different every season, with Baltimore's John Harbaugh (Team Carter) and Dallas' Jason Garrett (Team Irvin) getting a turn this year.

''The way the format is set up now, it creates a lot of competition,'' Houston Texans Pro Bowl defensive lineman J.J. Watts said. ''You're in the waiting room waiting to get picked, then you get picked to a team, it's like schoolyard ball. It adds an element of competition and intensity.''

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THE TIMING

Unlike the other major North American sports, the NFL plays its version of an all-star game at the end of the season instead of midseason as in baseball, basketball and hockey.

Part of the reason is the physical nature of football. Players - and their coaches - don't want to risk injury with the season going on, so if the game was midseason, they might not try as hard or skip the game altogether.

The game used to be played the week after the Super Bowl, but was moved up to the week before the Super Bowl in 2010 to garner more interest. Because of the timing, players from the Super Bowl teams - Seattle and New England this year - do not play in the Pro Bowl.

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THE SITES

The Pro Bowl is often linked to Honolulu because the game has been played there nearly every season since 1979.

This year, the game will be played at the University of Phoenix Stadium in Glendale, site of the Super Bowl a week later. It's the second time in the past 40 years the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl will be played at the same site, with Miami in 2010.

The Pro Bowl returns to Hawaii the next three seasons.

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GAME QUIRKS

The NFL has, at times, tweaked the Pro Bowl to add excitement or to experiment with potential rule changes for regular-season games.

Last year, the Pro Bowl did away with kickoffs, with teams starting at the 25-yard line to start each quarter and after scoring plays. It also added a 2-minute warning at the end of the first and third quarters - it's normally only done just before halftime and the end of regulation.

For this year's game, the uprights for extra-point kicks after touchdowns will be narrowed 18.6 feet to 14 feet, and the kick will be moved back from the 2-yard line to the 15 to make it more difficult.

Kickers have made more than 99 percent of their point-after tries the past two seasons, so the NFL has looked into making changes.

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FAN INTEREST

Despite a consideration by NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to scrap the game after a lackadaisical performance in 2012, the Pro Bowl remains the most popular All-Star game among North American sports.

Last year's Pro Bowl was watched by 11.7 million viewers despite being slated against the Grammys, which was more than many playoff games in the three other major sports.

The tackling - and sometimes the effort - can be suspect in the Pro Bowl, but U.S. fans will watch just about anything NFL-related.

''Over the last three years, we were challenged, the players were challenged to make sure the Pro Bowl game was competitive,'' said Jay Vincent, a former player and the NFL's executive vice president of football operations.

''Our All-Star game is very difficult to make competitive because the last thing players want to do is go into the offseason injured, but the men have stepped up to the challenge and made it an exciting game for the players and the fans.''

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AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and http://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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