Most lovers of the NFL support the idea of the league hosting an annual All-Star game. It’s fun to vote for the best players and to see them honored by their peers and coaches by being selected to participate. Unfortunately, the Pro Bowl sucks. It has sucked for a long time – long enough that fans are sick of it. It has gotten to the point where it’s far cooler to make fun of the Pro Bowl than it is to actually watch it.
The NFL has made various tweaks to the Pro Bowl over the years in the interest of re-stoking America’s interest. They’ve changed the location of the event once, in 2010, from Aloha Stadium in Hawaii to Sun Life Stadium in Miami, where the Super Bowl that year was hosted. They’ve changed to timing of the game from after the Super Bowl to the week before. Still, the Pro Bowl has been so consistently terrible that the Commissioner himself, Roger Goodell has considered sacking it.
The Pro Bowl has been a source of embarrassment for the league for many years, largely because the players don’t put forth significant effort. It’s professional football watered down to look like twenty-two large men going through the motions, which is understandable when you consider that the participants are all coming off a long NFL season. They’re beaten up. Besides which, their number one priority is not to win the Pro Bowl, but to escape uninjured.
With the game being held a week before the Super Bowl, players from the league’s two best teams, the ones actually playing for the Championship, sit out the Pro Bowl. That’s a problem – one that waters the game down even further. Another is that a growing number of players, especially those from playoff teams, opt out of the game, blaming injuries that are not significant enough to have kept them from playing in a real game.
Interest in the Pro Bowl is not only waning in the eyes of the public – the event also means less to the players than it used to. It seems to become less important with each passing year. Still, it would be a crying shame to eliminate it. It’s football, after all. America loves football. The NFL should fix the Pro Bowl once and for all.
The very first change that should be made is to hold the game after the Super Bowl. The idea of holding it prior to the big game is relatively new. The current format originated in 2010. Super Bowl participants have been excluded from the Pro Bowl since. In 2013 that will mean that the retiring Ray Lewis will not be able to participate in the final Pro Bowl of his career. No player should be omitted simply because his team was successful. That’s the opposite of the idea behind an All Star game.
The NBA, NHL and Major League Baseball all take a break mid-season to hold their All Star events. That would not work in the NFL with its tight regular season schedule. The Pro Bowl must be held after the season is over. By shifting it back to its customary post-Super Bowl time slot, the league would allow full participation by championship players. It would also extend the NFL season for fans. More football is far better than less football. By holding the Pro Bowl a week before the Super Bowl the NFL has needlessly condensed the schedule.
The proper timing for the Pro Bowl is two weeks after the Super Bowl. The proper place for the Pro Bowl is Hawaii. That’s one aspect that does not need changing. The players and coaches enjoy going there and the scenery is pleasant for the viewers. Besides, the always-perfect weather factors into some of the other changes that should be made to the game.
The primary change that should be made to the Pro Bowl is that it should be much more than just a football game. It should culminate in a football game, but not an NFL style one. The actual football game associated with the Pro Bowl should be played in shorts and tee shirts. No helmets, no pads. It should be a flag football game played exclusively for the love of football.
One aspect of football that makes it different than the other major sports is that you can’t actually see the players under all their gear. A Pro Bowl flag football game would allow fans to see their favorite players’ faces, tattoos, rippling muscles, etc. We could get to know them a little better for the people they are underneath those masks. We could see them smiling and laughing and carrying on like fools. It would be must-see TV.
The flag football game would only be the final event of the ideal Pro Bowl. It would be held in the evening as a televised “late game”, but competition would begin in the morning and continue throughout the day. It would be similar to the NBA All Star weekend, but condensed into one day.
The entire day would be like a mini X-Games, with a variety of events for players to participate in such as a 9-hole golf tournament, a punt, pass and kick competition, quarterback skills contest, track and field events and, most importantly, an American Gladiators style obstacle course with players from the opposing conference jousting at them with various foam rubber implements and shooting them with tennis while they try to accomplish various feats.
The NFL could keep us glued to our sets all day and create a whole new television rights melee for the league to profit from. Any of the networks would be thrilled to pay big dollars for an entire Sundays worth of NFL themed programming. Despite Pro Bowl Sunday no longer including a “real” football game, the ratings would be off the charts.