As is NFL tradition, the NFL Pro Bowl is being held in an attempt to honor the most popular and talented players the league had this year. Held in between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl serves as a last time for the season for the fans of 30 teams to be proud of their best producers that season. Unfortunately, the fun of the game stops there. The Pro Bowl is boring, and everyone knows it, even players who are selected.
There are some real changes that have to occur before the game is semi-watchable and entertaining for fans. First off, it is undeniable that a good number of the best players do not come out to play in this game. Granted, a lot of highly-talented younger guys make the trip to Hawaii, but many older players and those who might be slightly injured have made a habit of staying home and doing something other than watch the game, just like the general public.
The first two picks for the Pro Bowl draft were Russell Wilson and Eli Manning. Both are champions and have led their respective teams to solid seasons in the past, but there is no denying that certain players like Carson Palmer or Tom Brady, both of whom are probably high on MVP ballots, would have served as better choices at QB. This is just one example, but both declined on their invitations and players like Tyrod Taylor were able to make the squads because of it.
There is also no meaning to the game itself (unlike leagues like the MLB where winners receive home-field advantage in the world series) so the players who do show up do not put their full effort into the game. As such, many of the ultra-athletic and surprising plays do not happen because gameplay doesn’t necessitate such. Football is also an inherently dangerous sport, so the thought of players getting injured when there is nothing actually on the line doesn’t fly, especially if it could cost them real game checks or chances at the playoffs and success the next season.
Also, the Super Bowl players do not play in the Pro Bowl, so in the case of this year, we are missing out on Cam Newton, Von Miller, Greg Olsen, and Demaryius Thomas, just to name a few, because they have a real game coming up. This issue used to not be the case because the Pro Bowl was after the Super Bowl. That scheduling, however, was not much better, because the Super Bowl finally capped off the 6 months of football that meant anything since August, and a lot of people saw it as a let-down to play another game.
As self-fulfilling as it is to throw out a plethora of empty complaints about the Pro Bowl, maybe there are some suggestions as to how to make the game more entertaining, and thus draw more of a crowd of people who care to watch.
The league could start with adding other events and making a whole weekend out of the Pro Bowl, just like many of the other professional sports leagues do in our country. Similar to the Dunk Contest in the NBA or the Home Run Derby in the MLB, the NFL could have its own little intricacies that show off some of the skills the players have.
Imagine a competition between wide receivers to see who could complete the craziest catches, or a skills competition for running backs, and how entertaining those could potentially be. They could also have a celebrity flag football game, like other sports have toned-down games where famous people can participate for the enjoyment of fans. Justin Bieber would probably end up in that game though and everyone would be even more upset than before.
As a Minnesotan writing this in the middle of another frigid winter, I would be incredibly happy to go to Hawaii and spend some time in the warmth by the beach, but it is a long journey away to watch a meaningless football game. Though it hurts to say, the NFL might make the game more accessible by moving the Pro Bowl elsewhere. They could switch up the location between different warm climates, just like they try to do for the Super Bowl. Players and fans alike might be more willing to make a trip that doesn’t involve a 7 hour plane ride for not just themselves, but also family members and friends.
Any meaning attached to the Pro Bowl would seem arbitrary, but there has to be some way to get the players to actually care. There is some money on the line for the winners, but not enough to come anywhere close to their actual game checks. This is the inherent problem that clouds everything, without a real solution anywhere in sight. Do you know how many Pro Bowls Peyton Manning has won? Yeah, he probably doesn’t either.
Until some changes are made, it is safe to say that the NFL’s attempt at an All-Star game will not live up to the hype that the best football players in the world should garner.
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