|Cam Newton at the 2012 Pro Bowl|
“The players have made it clear...that they would like the opportunity to continue to play the Pro Bowl in Hawaii,” claims NFL Executive VP of Football Operations Ray Anderson in a joint press release yesterday. Well, they're not fooling me...I'm not buying it. The players, the league, the executives can all say whatever they want, but actions speak louder than words...and the action or lack thereof in the Pro Bowl, says otherwise.
Every February the Super Bowl showcases players' undeniable passion and desire to win. Beloved in the hearts of many, the Super Bowl has emblazoned itself upon American culture. It has served as the perfect ending to every NFL season since 1967. Though, as of more recent years, that ending was spoiled a week later by a lackluster All-star game. (holding the Pro Bowl the week prior this past season didn’t seem to do much…other than get it out of the way sooner)
As an avid supporter of professional football, I’m more indulged than most. But if even the biggest sports enthusiasts struggle to watch the Pro Bowl, what about casual fans? Describing the play as lackluster is putting it nicely. The game is boring and the play is nonchalant at best. It doesn’t take much to see just how little effort the players are putting forth. But, how can you blame them? Football is one of, if not the most, violent sports. Players risk their health and careers every time they step on the field (and don’t forget the millions they could lose by sustaining a serious injury in a game of which the outcome doesn’t matter). Let’s face it, the many trips to Honolulu, Hawaii have more than likely been the best part of the whole endeavor for many of the participants.
At the 2012 Spring League Meeting, this very topic was addressed. Per a transcript on NFLCommunications.com, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell stated, “...we have to improve the quality of that game. If we can’t improve it and can’t make it more competitive, then we shouldn’t play.” Agreed. The quality of play is not at the high level the NFL and its fans have come to expect. The risks are simply too high, and the benefits too low, for players to go all-out.
Yes, the players can earn a game-check through the Pro Bowl. But, who cares? They don’t need money (well, most of them don’t, but even for the guys that do, they risk losing more than they could possibly win). Canceling the Pro Bowl and creating an entirely new All-star event is far more feasible than improving the quality of “that game.” Instead of trying to salvage the Pro Bowl (which appears to be what is happening judging from the joint press release), the NFL should start a new tradition that’s competitive, and better embraces fan, player, and safety interests.
Might I suggest an All-star skills competition? The NFL Combine, give or take some drills, is essentially the same concept, with the exception that it’s full of unproven rookie candidates. Even still, it has become a major event (disagree?...then explain the extensive coverage surrounding it…the combine engulfs three days of broadcasting, not to mention the never-ending analysis that follows). There is a definite interest in watching players strive to run their fastest, put up the most bench reps, jump the highest, and so on and so forth. Granted, injuries can still happen, but the likeliness is greatly reduced without contact. If a group of rookies can make America tune-in, imagine the attention the event could achieve if it starred the best-of-the-best that the NFL has to offer.
Does Fitz jump higher than Megatron? Is Devin Hester faster than CJ2K? I bet Janikowski can make the longest field goal of any kicker in the league, hands down, no questions asked.
...Hey, maybe we could get Rich Eisen to run the forty in a Hawaiian shirt, khaki shorts, and a lei. I’d tune-in just for that!