I tuned into last night's Pro Bowl for about ten minutes and after the second or third whistle that signaled a play had been blown dead because a running back had gained all the forward progress he could and just stopped running, I promptly changed the channel.
Excluding the sideline interview with a bleeding JJ Watt (whose bloody finger and ensuing comment to the Commish about "playing hard" felt more staged than the last production of Wicked), nobody seemed concerned with even creating the illusion that they cared about being out there.
The problem with the Pro Bowl? How much time do you have? Plagued by an absence of some of the game's biggest stars, no real consequences and poor timing, the NFL's Pro Bowl is the worst All-Star game in pro sports.
So how do we fix the Pro Bowl? I'm glad you asked:
Raise the stakes
One of the biggest knocks on the Pro Bowl is that it feels like it doesn't matter, because, frankly, it doesn't. Nobody gives a damn! Any depressed retail manager will tell you that to get people to care about what they're doing, you must add incentive.
There is no home field advantage for the Super Bowl, so let's toss something stupid like that out of the window (here's looking at you, Bud Selig). Why not pepper in some real consequences?
How about cash incentives for big plays? Wouldn't it be great to realize that not only did Antonio Cromartie make a great play and pick off Eli Manning, but he also just paid child support for one of his 25 kids?
What about letting stats in the Pro Bowl count for something? Pipe down football purists, you know it'd be great TV to watch Drew Brees or Tom Brady chase records against a bunch of All-Stars.
You could even get a little gimmicky with it. The winning conference stays at a luxury hotel for next year's Super Bowl, loser stays at a Motel 6 by the highway. The possibilities are endless, just something, anything to add some intrigue to what is now a boring, insufferable contest.
Change the rules
Here's a list of things prohibited in the Pro Bowl:
- Motion or shifting by the offense
- Having three receivers on the same side of the formation
- Anything other than a 4-3 defense
- Press coverage outside of five yards
- Rushing on a punt, FG or PAT
Are you kidding me? Are we even playing football anymore? Time to cut the boys loose. Let 'em play, Roger.
Goodell might also consider adding a "Commissioner's Choice" selection to the roster. Who wouldn't want to see Ray Lewis squirrel dance his way across Aloha Stadium one last time?
Hell, while we're here, why not let one old pro come back for each squad? Wouldn't adding a Brett Farve or a Jerome Bettis greatly increase the intrigue of what is now an utterly uninteresting game? I'm not suggesting an old-timer's football game (now THAT would be unwatchable), but adding a football version of a "designated hitter" to the Pro Bowl would at least be an interesting wrinkle and at worst a lawsuit, but I think the Shield can handle another one of those.
Guarantee Player Contracts for the Next Year
Admittedly, I stole this one from Peter King, who on the Dan Patrick Show this morning smartly stated that if you guarantee a player's contract for the next season, they're likely to give more effort in the game. (It should also be noted that when initially asked about the Pro Bowl King stated, "I don't want the Pro Bowl." King 1, Commish 0.)
Football is a violent game and injuries are going to happen, but if the players cared about getting hurt, they wouldn't be playing football. They care about getting paid. So make sure they'll get their green through the coming year and we're going to hear the pads popping a little louder in Honolulu.
Move the Date
For the most part, All-Star games are inconsequential, but playing the Pro Bowl a week before the BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR dwarfs its importance even more.
I propose moving it to the third Sunday in February, which this year would be the 17th. All-Star Games should feel like a bonus, not like they've been crammed between two high-stakes weekends of football. Moving it to two weeks after the Super Bowl allows a week of celebration for the victors and the option of playing football at a high level one last time before the long offseason begins.
Like the ideas? Have some better ones? E-mail the blog at firstname.lastname@example.org.