The National Football League gathers the best players from the best teams each season for an All Star game. This contest is known as the Pro Bowl. Its official title is the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, since players from both the American Football Conference and the National Football Conference compete. It, not the Super Bowl, is the last game of every season.
There is some confusion as to when this tradition began, due to the fact that various versions of the contest were played over the years. Before the AFC and NFC even existed, All Star games were being played, which were called Pro Bowls. George Marshall is credited with the idea, according to the official NFL history site. He also created the concept of championship games.
The first game called the Pro Bowl occurred in 1939. It was a contest between All Stars chosen from throughout the league and that season’s NFL championship team. The New York Giants beat the All Stars. The tradition continued for the next five years, and in the final year's Pro Bowl, the All Stars beat the Washington Redskins.
It would be nearly a decade before the Pro Bowl once again became a standard part of each football season, in 1951. For nearly two decades after that, the best from the American Conference and the National Conference, or “East and West,” played each other in the Pro Bowl. However, during the American Football League's (AFL's) short span, they revived the older version once. The AFL champs, the Buffalo Bills, lost to the All Stars. A few years later, in 1970, the AFL and the NFL became one.
The first AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, the version still used today, was played in 1971, bringing a close to the 1970 season. The fact that the seasons begin and end in different years, may add to the confusion over which year is properly listed as the first year of play for the Pro Bowl. Many people also confuse the first year that the Pro Bowl was played in Honolulu, its location since 1980, as being the year of its inception.