HONOLULU (AP) - NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell is showing the Pro Bowl more love after previously threatening to cancel it if play didn't improve.
Goodell said in an ESPN Radio interview Monday that participants played harder and made the game very competitive.
''It was real football,'' Goodell said. ''It was something that I give a lot of credit to the players.''
Goodell said Domonique Foxworth, president of the player's union, worked with players to come up with the idea of changing the game from its usual AFC versus NFC format. The new unconferenced format based partly on pickup games and fantasy sports gave players something to get excited about, he said.
''I believe it was a very, very positive step and I salute the players and I'm glad they had so much fun,'' Goodell said. ''And I think fans had a fun time watching - I know I did.''
The changes for the Pro Bowl worked great last night. Very entertaining and competitive game — Eric Wood (@EWood70) January 27, 2014
NFL greats Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders picked teams during a two-day draft. Team Rice beat Team Sanders 22-21 on a touchdown and 2-point conversion with 41 seconds left.
The game was more defensive than in recent years with eight turnovers and nine sacks. Neither team scored in the third quarter or for the first 10 minutes of the fourth quarter.
''Guys were competitive and we're having fun, but at the same time the competitive juices get going and you want to win,'' Carolina linebacker Luke Kuechly said on the field after the game. Kuechly had a game-high 12 tackles, including 11 solo tackles.
The future of the Pro Bowl is unclear. The NFL hasn't committed to holding future games or said whether the game will stay in Hawaii, where Pro Bowls have been held 34 of the last 35 years.
''Here, right here,'' Kuechly said when asked where future Pro Bowls should be held, echoing comments from other players who say the game and festivities offer a reward for players and their families and a chance to get to know other stars throughout the league.
''We're going to play regardless, but I think it's easiest to play it here,'' Kansas City running back Jamaal Charles said.
Tourism officials in Hawaii have proposed several options to keep the game in Honolulu, including alternating years with other cities.