The 2023 NFL Pro Bowl looked a lot different than in years past, mainly because the league opted to do away with the traditional game -- players had tried less and less in it each year -- for the revamped Pro Bowl Games, a collection of smaller events with fewer injury risks to celebrate the sport's best players.
The Washington Commanders were one of the NFL's most represented teams at the Pro Bowl, as five players -- Jonathan Allen, Tress Way, Terry McLaurin, Jeremy Reaves and Daron Payne -- were honored in Las Vegas. And, despite the Pro Bowl having a different format this year, Washington's representatives still enjoyed the experience plenty.
"It's been an unbelievable experience to come out here and be surrounded by the best in the league," McLaurin told London Fletcher on the latest The Players Club show. "For this to be my first one, it's such a blessing. I'm just enjoying every minute of it."
One of the common themes the Commanders' Pro Bowl players enjoyed was getting the chance to hang out with some of the league's other stars.
Way joked to Fletcher that half his fantasy team was present in Las Vegas. Reaves got to chop it up with San Francisco's Fred Warner and was moved when he found out the 49ers' star linebacker had followed his journey from afar. McLaurin got the chance to work on releases with the rest of the NFC receivers, specifically Minnesota's Justin Jefferson and Dallas' CeeDee Lamb.
"Just being able to be around the other top players in the league [and] being able to laugh around and joke with all the guys," Payne said when asked what he's enjoyed most.
"The NFL is just like a brotherhood," McLaurin later added. "We're all on different teams competing for Super Bowls and we're all trying to support our families. But at the end of the day, we're all living our dream."
The Commanders' players enjoyed participating in the mini-games, too. Whether it was the water balloon toss or the long drive competition on the golf range, the competitive spirit was out in full force.
Perhaps the best story told on The Players Club had to do with the long drive competition. Way, Allen and Payne were all part of it, along with several others around the league. It made sense for the first two to participate; both Way and Allen are frequent golfers. Payne, on the other hand, rarely plays.
Payne explained to Fletcher he only found out he'd be in the long drive competition just hours before the event took place. In order to prepare, Payne opened up YouTube and watched several tutorials on how to improve his swing.
When on the bus over to the range, Payne asked Way for some advice, which the Commanders' punter chuckled before saying 'we're on the way right now. I've been golfing for almost 10 years and I'm still trying to figure it out.'"
"I hope we didn't scare him away from golf," Way joked. "I wanted Payne to know he can come anytime."
It wasn't just the players who enjoyed the entire Pro Bowl experience, either. Way had his wife, children and multiple childhood friends present in Vegas. Payne and McLaurin each said their families traveled out west for the event, too. Reaves spent time hanging out with Way's family and, per Way, they all immediately fell in love with the Commanders' special teams ace.
The Commanders' players represented at the Pro Bowl all seemed to thoroughly enjoy their time. But for as great as the week was, the group hopes to be preparing for a real game at this point of the year next season.
"We've got to get back to the playoffs," McLaurin said. This experience is great and it's cool, but I think we all--all the competitors here want to be playing in the Super Bowl. That's definitely at the forefront of your mind."