By Kevin Fishbain, Pro Football Weekly
I have no plans to watch a second of the Pro Bowl.
In fact, if I combined all the attention I’ve given to the NFL’s “All-Star” game over the years, it’d probably equal a quarter’s worth of game action.
By covering the NFL, I eat, drink and sleep football. Heck, this week, I have watched Senior Bowl practices on NFL Network. I’ll tune in for some of the drills at the NFL Scouting Combine. But I have no desire to watch the Pro Bowl, and I know I’m not alone.
This has been an issue for commissioner Roger Goodell, who almost canceled the game after last year’s clear lack of effort. The players did not want to give up the chance to spend a week in Hawaii, and Bears CB Charles Tillman told reporters on Tuesday that the players “owe it to our fans, we owe it to our viewers, to give them a little more effort than we did last year.”
There are several, well-documented problems with the Pro Bowl — it’s after the season and means nothing, players have no problem backing out of the game, the ones that do attend want to avoid injury and rarely give high effort, and the honor of receiving an invite to the Pro Bowl doesn’t mean the same anymore.
The Pro Bowl’s issues are not too different than what the other leagues face. The Major League Baseball All-Star Game used to be a huge event, then as it lost its luster Bud Selig added meaning to it by awarding the winning league home-field advantage in the World Series, which hasn’t done a whole lot to improve the game. The NBA All-Star game is high-scoring, but the slam-dunk contest sometimes garners more attention.
How do you market an All-Star game that doesn’t feature the game’s best players and is more alluring to players because of the location as opposed to the game?
The game is important to the residents of Honolulu, the players want that opportunity and the honor — or label as a “Pro Bowler” — which makes completely wiping out the Pro Bowl difficult. The out-of-the-box ideas are not really feasible, nor would any players be interested — such as a “third-place” game between the losers of the conference-championship game, or a college all-stars vs. the pros game. Asking the players to put the pads on and give 100 percent is a lost cause at this point, and I don’t necessarily blame the players for that frame of mind.
The seemingly obvious response, and common idea as a “solution” or “compromise” is some sort of skills competition — and that is something I’d watch. Watching Aaron Rodgers throw to Calvin Johnson (by the way, neither is playing in the Pro Bowl) isn’t that enticing, it doesn’t have that “Kobe Bryant playing with Kevin Durant” allure.
Now, seeing which quarterback can throw the ball the farthest, which wide receiver truly has the fastest 40-time, which lineman is the strongest — there’s a reason people watch the Combine. NFL players are incredible athletes, and we like to see what they are capable of against the best in their business. I’m not sure why players would be opposed to this — the threat of injury is lesser, the effort asked for is not nearly as great and, well, it’s fun.
All that matters when it comes to the future of the Pro Bowl, though, is ratings and money. Would enough people watch an NFL All-Star skills competition? Since I don’t watch the Pro Bowl, and don’t understand why anyone would, I don’t see how a skills competition would be any worse. The NFL has a ridiculous hold on this country — it shouldn't be hard to make a few tweaks and still get viewers.
Next year, give me Matthew Stafford vs. Joe Flacco, let them air out 75-yard passes; line up Chris Johnson vs. Reggie Bush in a race or an obstacle course, and then I’ll tune in.