So, who’s excited for the Pro Bowl this weekend? No one? Really? Yeah, that’s what I expected. If the sparse crowds, dwindling television audience, and last year’s lackluster effort on the part of the players are any indication, there is an overwhelming lack of interest in the Pro Bowl from all parties, and no reason why the NFL should continue this tradition.
The NFL does deserve some credit for trying to keep the Pro Bowl relevant, exciting, and at times even watchable. Moving it to the weekend between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl was a wise move, to actually keep the game in season, but it’s just not enough to make the game worthwhile. The Pro Bowl lacks the tradition and invented “meaning” of the MLB all-star game, as well as the excitement and spectacle of the NBA all-star game.
Last year’s game was so pitiful from an effort standpoint that earlier this week Denver quarterback and 12-time Pro Bowler Peyton Manning had to implore his teammates to take the game seriously and put in a strong effort, citing what an honor it is to play in the game. The fact that Manning had to make such an appeal to his fellow Pro Bowlers shows what a joke the game has become and how unnecessary it is to play it.
These are football players after all. Outside of preseason games, many of which are almost as meaningless as the Pro Bowl, when else do football players need to be asked to show effort? Almost never, as NFL players routinely give maximum effort throughout the entire 16-game regular season. Even the players on teams that have nothing to play for late in the year give a professional effort, always striving to win at all costs. If football players need to be told to make an effort in a game situation, the game probably doesn’t need to be played.
Why should the players be concerned about giving a full effort anyway? The usually astute Manning is wrong about one thing: it is certainly an honor to be chosen for the Pro Bowl, but does that necessarily make it an honor to play in the Pro Bowl? This shouldn’t come as a shock to anyone, but football is a dangerous sport. It is a physical game that is painful to play. After giving all they have and putting themselves at grave risk for serious injury for 16 regular season games, and for some even more, having to travel half way across an ocean and play one more game in full pads with the Hawaiian sun beating down on them sounds more like a punishment than a reward. For a sport as violent and as dangerous as football, why play more than you need to?
So, what’s the solution? Well, the NFL doesn’t necessarily have to stop having a Pro Bowl or “all-star” team, because there is still a lot of honor and pride in being chosen, and the players that are chosen each year deserve to be recognized.
However, changes still need to be made.
First, take it off network television and move everything regarding the game to the NFL Network. The hardcore NFL fans that want to watch will watch, and if casual fans don’t see it listed in the channel guide on a more mainstream station, they won’t even realize that they’re missing it, and won’t have an opportunity to criticize it and cause the league to face bad PR.
Second, focus more on skills. Major League Baseball has the homerun derby and the NBA has the dunk contest, so why doesn’t the NFL put together a skills competition, to let the quarterbacks throw, let the wide receivers catch, and so on. It would be an opportunity for players to show off their abilities while entertaining an audience in an exhibition setting.
Finally, if the NFL insists on playing a game, just play a 7 on 7 flag football game. The players don’t want to tackle nor do they want to get tackled, and the linemen are put through enough during the regular season, so the players would be happy and be more likely to put forth an honest effort. It would provide the offensive explosion that fans want and that we’ve grown to expect from the Pro Bowl without the collisions that put the players at risk.
So, if the “tradition” of the Pro Bowl must continue, the NFL is going to have to make some changes, because both fans and players are getting tired of it, and it’s starting to show.