ORLANDO, Fla. – The NFC needed Andrew DePaola, and he came in clutch – impressing a Hall of Famer along the way.
DePaola represented the Vikings and Team NFC in the Pro Bowl Games Skills Challenge Thursday, competing in the new "Snap Shots" challenge.
Two centers and a long snapper from the NFC and AFC teams took turns snapping balls at targets 13 yards away of various sizes and point values in a 45-second accuracy contest. Every fifth ball was painted gold, making it worth double points.
DePaola was the final player to snap and needed seven points to win. He made it look easy, finding a rhythm and racking up nine points to seal a victory for himself, Eagles center Jason Kelce and Saints center Erik McCoy.
Nerves of steel? Call it snaps of steel.
"When I was the last one to go and we were down, I talked to Jason and said, 'Hey, man – I'm just gonna pepper the 1 and get us back these seven points,' " DePaola said of his strategy. "I had two gold balls, which were double.
"Jason told me, 'Beautiful. Love it. Go ahead and bring it home.' I did, and it worked," DePaola added.
ESPN's broadcast camera panned to Peyton Manning, who is coaching the AFC team, and captured the Hall of Fame QB's expression of fascination.
DePaola also had helped Kelce strategize, knowing his abilities.
"We had talked about it and Jason asked me, 'What do you think?' And he's good, man. He can long snap," DePaola said. "I was like, 'Why not just pepper the 5, and if you get one or two of them, that's five or 10 points, and that sets us up pretty well.'
View photos of Vikings OLB Danielle Hunter, FB C.J. Ham, and LS Andrew DePaola competing in the 2024 Pro Bowl Games Skills Challenge in Orlando, Florida.
Kelce, using two hands in long-snapper style, did try only for the 5-point cutout, which he hit once.
"If you're not first, you're last, right? So you've gotta go big or go home," he quipped.
McCoy, who maintained a typical center stance, ended up scoreless.
"It's when you do absolutely nothing on the group project but still get the A-plus," McCoy laughed during his live interview with ESPN's Ryan Clark.
Colts center Ryan Kelly (3), Ravens center Tyler Linderbaum (8) and Jaguars long snapper Ross Matiscik (0) competed for the AFC.
In addition to DePaola, Vikings Pro Bowlers C.J. Ham and Danielle Hunter also participated in the Skills Challenge, competing in Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball to cap the evening.
In the first game that pitted the NFC defense against the AFC offense, Hunter and the NFC fell short – though the Vikings outside linebacker was among his team's final three players on the field.
The NFC won the second game, however, when Cowboys receiver CeeDee Lamb knocked out the AFC's final competitor, Jets cornerback Sauce Gardner.
Thursday night's Skills Challenge included six total games: Precision Passing, Best Catch (pre-taped), Closest to the Pin (pre-taped), High Stakes, Snap Shots and Epic Pro Bowl Dodgeball.
Buccaneers QB Baker Mayfield edged out Texans rookie C.J. Stroud in Precision Passing to get the NFC off to an early start; however, Pittsburgh's Miles Killebrew evened things up when he beat out Detroit's Sam LaPorta in High Stakes, where players started with two footballs in each hand and then attempted to catch punts from a JUGS machine.
Closest to the Pin, which was filmed Wednesday on a golf course, gave the NFC a 6-3 lead heading into the final two competitions.
After DePaola's winning performance and a victory in dodgeball, the NFC enters Sunday's Pro Bowl Games up 12-6.
Eli Manning, who is once again coaching the NFC, expressed confidence that his squad can once again beat his brother's.
The NFC won it all last year, and Peyton expressed he's still a little salty over the loss.
"They beat us last year, with a little bit of an asterisk on the win – a little bit of a controversial ending," Peyton told the ESPN crew. "I'm not quite over it, hearing about it, so we're focused, we're excited. … We're trying to get the lead going into the flag game on Sunday – but we're having fun at the same time."
Eli returned a barb, then noted that Peyton had sent his 12-year-old son Marshall into Thursday's NFC team meeting.
"[Marshall] was standing in the back of the room," Eli said. "Like, really? You're gonna use your 12-year-old son as a spy to learn some knowledge?"
Peyton laughed before responding, "Yes."
The Manning brothers' rivalry will no doubt continue throughout the weekend, as it all comes down to Sunday.
The Pro Bowl Games will take place from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. (CT) at Camping World Stadium. Fans can view the event on ESPN, ABC, Disney XD, ESPN+ and ESPN Deportes.