ORLANDO, Fla. – It all came down to the final play.
The NFC held a 5-point lead in the 2024 NFL Pro Bowl Games with 10 seconds remaining in Sunday's flag football game, but the AFC had possession just 3 yards from the end zone. On fourth-and-goal, Texans QB C.J. Stroud targeted Chargers WR Keenan Allen … and Bears CB Jaylon Johnson broke up the pass.
Team NFC, which included Vikings Pro Bowlers C.J. Ham, Danielle Hunter and Andrew DePaola, erupted in celebration.
"It was exciting," Hunter said. "We were all just watching, hoping that somebody would step up on defense, which definitely happened. Defense wins games, you know?"
View photos of Vikings OLB Danielle Hunter, FB C.J. Ham, LS Andrew DePaola at the 2024 Pro Bowl Games in Orlando, Fla.
DePaola described the anticipation as the game went down to the wire.
"Butterflies going down that last drive. These guys, these are the best of the best. They're ultra, super, competitive," he said. "And nobody wants to be bested. So we were all just kind of on pins and needles. … When we got the breakup there, the air was like, 'Ah, thankfully.' "
Added Ham: "I'm glad they gave the fans the show they wanted."
The NFC won the 2024 NFL Pro Bowl Games with an overall score of 64-59, which combined the flag football score with that of the skills competition. The NFC entered Sunday's game up 12-6 after Thursday evening's skills competition.
Though the AFC won the flag game 50-34, the NFC dominated in the whole gamut of skills challenges, winning eight of the 11 competitions and tying in another.
"That saved us right there," Ham said. "Team NFC definitely showed up when it came to the mini games all week, and we got things some things done on the field, too. It was pretty fun."
Sunday afternoon at Camping World Stadium featured the Gridiron Gauntlet, Move the Chains, Tug of War, as well as pre-taped Kick Tac Toe.
Hunter participated in the second of two Tug-of-War games, both of which the NFC quickly won. He lined up behind Detroit's Aidan Hutchinson and was followed by Dallas' Tyler Smith, Panthers DE Derrick Brown and Giants DT Dexter Lawrence.
The AFC team (1,523 pounds) outweighed the NFC (1,480), but that didn't stop the NFC from pulling Jets DE and former Eden Prairie alum Jermaine Johnson II off the platform and into a large pit filled with foam blocks.
"Strength over muscle mass, as you can see. It was quite easy," Hunter said with a smile. "We put the biggest guys in the back and smallest guys in the front, and it seemed like it paid off."
When asked if they'd done any practicing during the week, Hunter offered another grin.
"This is all natural," he said. "We just knew where we needed to put the guys, and it ended up being a piece of cake."
Hunter and Ham enjoyed watching DePaola join Brown in pushing the sled during Gridiron Gauntlet, a cross between an obstacle course and relay race. It wasn't just any sled push, though. NFL Legend DeMarcus Ware stood on the sled to add even more weight.
DePaola wasn't exactly thrilled when he learned his assignment earlier in the week.
"That was not good for me," he laughed afterward. "I was telling the guys that in high school and college, the one thing that made me throw up was sled push. I was dreading it all week.
"Thankfully, I had a nice little lead going into it. I told Derrick, 'I'm gonna try to keep up with you, because you are a massive human,' " DePaola quipped. "But we got the win, and I didn't throw up. Almost, though. It was good to help the team get some points on the board."
Ham didn't realize DePaola was doing the sled push until he lined up for that part of the relay.
"I was like, 'Heck yeah – let's go.' He seemed pretty beat up after it," Ham chuckled.
Sunday's flag football game included trick plays, long touchdowns, defensive takeaways and creative team celebrations.
After all, the Pro Bowl Games pits some of the league's very best against each other. But when it came down to it, what was the NFC's key to victory?
"That's where the talent's at – the NFC. That showed up tonight on the field and especially in the mini games. And, guys were having fun," Hunter said. "I think that's the biggest thing. Guys were just having fun out there, and we came out on top."