Quarterback Derek Carr (Doug Benc/Associated Press)
When the NFL’s best players descended in Orlando for the 2018 Pro Bowl, they brought a horde of fans with them.
Before the first day even kicked off, the masses packed the entrance of the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in flocks, anxiously waiting to storm the facility, and watch some of their favorite players take the field.
From Derek Carr to Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey, and everyone in between, just about any NFL jersey imaginable was present, but most importantly, Raider Nation was loud and proud.
Once the gates opened, fans rolled through in waves, sprinting through the towering palm trees to the practice field bleachers to get the best seat possible.
The atmosphere was electric, and what caught my attention early on was not only the level of amusement in the eyes of the next generation of football fanatics, but in the older generations as well. Seeing supporters of nearly every team in attendance was a pleasant, yet simple, reminder that football is fun, and it’s the fans who make it that way.
As Pro Bowlers from the AFC and NFC took the field, they were met with a chorus of applause and cheers. The afternoon opened up with some light drills, and had some plays mixed in, but the Pro Bowl is more about the camaraderie between the players.
“It’s cool man, it’s real chill, people kind of walked through practice messing around and stuff,” said Raiders guard Kelechi Osemele. “Just talking about going out there and not getting hurt, and stuff like that, it’s not crazy it’s just about the camaraderie.”
Considering these athletes compete against one another on a weekly basis, seeing them interact and play alongside one another is awesome, especially when you get to watch Carr throw a deep pass to Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown, which made Kansas City Chiefs wide out Tyreek Hill a little jealous.
“It’s amazing,” said Hill on playing with Carr. “Before we broke down the huddle I told Derek, ‘I need one of those’ because as you saw, he launched the ball about 70 yards to ‘AB’ [Antonio Brown], I was like, ‘just throw it as far as you can man, and I’ll make us look good, baby.’ I’m real excited about that [opportunity].”
An exclusive look at Derek Carr, Rodney Hudson and Kelechi Osemele on the first day of practice from the 2018 Pro Bowl in Orlando, Florida.
Following practice, the players headed to the sidelines to sign some autographs, and take selfies with the fans; I’m pretty sure a young Chiefs fan converted to Raider Nation after Carr signed his jersey and took a photo with him.
From there it was time for the skills challenge, which features a unique set of competitions for the players to participate in. Last year, the Precision Passing Challenge belonged to then-San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who put on quite the display.
The Precision Passing Challenge is one of the more popular events, along with the Best Hands Challenge, but the Dodgeball event is something that needs to be seen. Whether you’re an offensive lineman, or a kicker, anyone can take home the gold in this event, and throughout the course of all of these the audience was heavily engaged.
While absorbing all that the sunshine state had to offer Wednesday, it was a productive afternoon that got all the Pro Bowl festivities rolling, and it should be an exciting couple of days leading up to the main event Sunday at Camping World Stadium.
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