It has been the worst kept secret for the last umpteen years amongst the population of sports fans in America: The Pro-Bowl is the worst all-star game in all of professional sports. The game's best players usually find a way to dodge the game all together and the overall lack of intensity of the game amounts to nothing more than a glorified flag football event.
This phony football game reached an all-time low when one of its participants, Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, publicly acknowledged the pathetic effort of some of the "competitors" in the event. In 2012, Rodgers was a member of the NFC squad that lost to the AFC 59-41 in a game that featured loud boos from the crowd because of the obvious lack of intensity during the game. Without naming specific players, Rodgers admitted that he was disappointed with the poor quality of the game at Aloha Stadium. "I felt like some of the guys on the NFC side embarrassed themselves. I was just surprised that some of the guys either didn't want to play or when they were in there didn't put any effort into it," Rodgers said.
To Commissioner Goodell's credit, he has publicly acknowledged that NFL fans deserve a better product on the field and has taken steps to try and change the Pro Bowl. For this year's Pro-Bowl, a whole new format to the player selection process was introduced. Rather than the generic AFC-NFC teams that fans have become accustomed to, it was NFL legends Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders who selected both all-star teams in an interactive fantasy draft. New uniforms were also unveiled as a switch from the customary red and blue uniforms of years past. Kickoffs were also eliminated this year as a way to reduce the risk of injury.
This year's version of the Pro Bowl also featured a new invention that has all but vanished from all-star games in general: Defense. The final score was much lower than usual and also featured an exciting finish as Team Rice outlasted Team Sanders 22-21 on the strength of a 20-yard touchdown reception by Cowboys halfback DeMarco Murray and a two-point conversion by Panthers fullback Mike Tolbert with just 41 seconds left in the game.
I applaud Commissioner Goodell and the NFL for at least trying to salvage the Pro Bowl because the tradition of pro football all-star games began in 1938. I also applaud the participants of this year's event for making it a competitive game. Tradition aside, I believe football all-star games were much more meaningful in years past simply because the financial landscape of the NFL was so drastically different.
The Sam Huffs and Otto Grahams of NFL yesteryear would gladly risk life and limb to earn extra money for an all-star game appearance because they were not set for life financially and unlike today's star players, had other full-time jobs in the off-season. However, today's star players earn much more money playing for their respective teams than they do by making a Pro-Bowl appearance. As a result, the incentive for players to consistently play with NFL quality passion and intensity has dissipated during all-star competition. In other words, the Pro-Bowl has been deemed obsolete due to the business of modern day football.
From a franchise's perspective, the Pro Bowl has also become obsolete as well. Why would any team want their prized draft pick or prized free agent acquisition to risk injury in a meaningless exhibition game? Since football is already a brutal sport with a grueling 16-game schedule, I feel it is financially irresponsible for teams to allow their budding stars to play in this extra game.
For a team like the Cleveland Browns who are without virtually any NFL-caliber talent within their skill positions, their franchise narrowly avoided a major catastrophe when their leading receiver Josh Gordon was up-ended in mid-air while playing in this un-necessary game. Had Gordon sustained a serious injury during that play, it may have drastically altered Cleveland's entire off-season strategy.
So for all the innovations in this year's Pro Bowl, and the improved quality of play which made for a surprisingly exciting game, these alterations are akin to putting lipstick on a pig. The best make-up in the world can't hide the fact that it is still a pig. So let's cut the crap Goodell, eliminate the Pro-Bowl next year before some of the league's top players end up getting hurt. By the way, these players don't care about the extra $50k they can earn if their team wins the Pro Bowl. They are just milking you for a free trip to Hawaii every winter.