Last year, the Buccaneers sent five players to Hawaii for the Pro Bowl, their biggest contingent of all-stars since 2002. Next year, the Pro Bowl is coming to them.
Or almost. On Wednesday, the NFL confirmed reports that the Pro Bowl will be held in nearby Orlando, Florida after the upcoming 2016 season. The game will be played in the recently-renovated Citrus Bowl. The Buccaneers held their training camp in Orlando for seven seasons (2002-08) and played preseason games in the Citrus Bowl in 1993, 1995 and 1997.
Whether or not Buccaneer all-stars will miss visiting Hawaii, the new Pro Bowl location will certainly be convenient for any Tampa Bay players who make the squad. The Buccaneers are the closest NFL team to Orlando, which is roughly an hour's drive from Tampa on I-4.
This won't be the first time that the Pro Bowl is staged outside of its traditional Hawaii location. It was even played in Tampa once, not long after the NFL came to the Bay area. The Buccaneers began play in 1976 at Tampa Stadium, which was home to the Pro Bowl following the 1977 season. There were no Bucs in the game, however; Tampa Bay's first Pro Bowl selection was defensive tackle Dave Pear the following year.
Two years after it came to Tampa, the Pro Bowl made its move to Hawaii, which would be the game's home for all but two of the next 37 seasons (1980-2016). The only exceptions were the all-star games following the 2009 and 2014 campaigns, which were played in Miami and Glendale, Arizona, respectively. In each, that location coincided with the site of that year's Super Bowl.
The first NFL Pro Bowl, played in January of 1939, took place at Wrigley Field in Chicago. For the next four decades it moved around the contiguous states, most often landing in Los Angeles but also visiting San Diego, Oakland, Houston, Jacksonville, Dallas, Miami and Seattle. The last time the Pro Bowl was played outside of Hawaii but not in a city with an NFL team was following the 1968 season, when the all-stars went to Jacksonville.
Not only was Pear the Bucs' first all-star, but he's also the only player in team history to take part in a Pro Bowl not held in Hawaii, as he went to Los Angeles for his honor. Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was voted into the Pro Bowl that was played in Arizona – part of McCoy's ongoing streak of four straight selections – but was unable to play due to injury.
McCoy did play last year, however, and he was accompanied to the islands by linebacker Lavonte David, guard Logan Mankins, running back Doug Martin and quarterback Jameis Winston. Mankins has since retired, but the other four will be trying to earn return trips next February, hopefully with a few more of their teammates. They just won't have nearly as far to go.