The Pro Bowl, perhaps one of the NFL’s proudest traditions. Started way back after the 1970-71 season, the Pro Bowl has been a game where fans saw the best players of each conference (NFC and AFC) face each other in a single game to see whether or not. Now some 45 years later, the once proud Pro Bowl has become nothing more than a pedestrian, flag-football-like contest that gives little to no desire for fans to tune in.
The NFL has tried various things to draw more fans into watching the Pro Bowl. They’ve implemented skills competition, moved the game itself a week ahead of the Super Bowl back in 2009, and even tried to change the rules of the game to get a fast-paced offense. They even scraped the whole NFC vs. AFC last season for two teams picked by two former NFL players. Now as we draw near to the date, yours truly has come up with his Top 5 Reasons you should just avoid the drub all together.
5. Just a Popularity Contest
This one is pretty much self-explanatory. Back during the early goings of the Pro Bowl, you had the top talent of each conference being select to play in the game. Name didn’t get you in nor did a winning record, it was what you did on the field. Nowadays people just vote on the same familiar faces over and over again. We always see the same faces over and over again (Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, Calvin Johnson, LeSean McCoy etc.) because they are familiar to us. They could have an off-year and still get in based on popularity alone. But even if said players get voted in, they then begin start the process of….
4. Too Many Players Bailing Out
Say you’re a fan of Player X from your favorite team, the Go-Getters, and he gets voted to the Pro Bowl. You save your money to go to the Pro Bowl game itself live to see Player X in action. But when you get there, you see his alternate, Player Z, playing in his stead. This has now become a common routine where players who get voted into the Pro Bowl just up and bail out. Just this Pro Bowl alone, you had nearly 20 players bailing out for whatever reason. It’s understandable if a player cannot make it to the Pro Bowl due to injury or if his team is playing in the Super Bowl next week. But if the fans voted you in, at least give something back to them. A play here or there, or even just an appearance on the sideline would be enough. Don’t just say you didn’t feel like going because “I didn’t feel like going.” That’s a slap in the face to the fans, the players who wish they could go, and to those who came before you who made the trip regardless of their situation.
3. Handcuffing Rules
First off, I am all for rule changes that help benefit the safety and well being of players (i.e. can’t lead with the head, no helmet-to-helmet hits, can’t hit a defenseless receiver or a defenseless defender). But if you look at the rules of a Pro Bowl game nowadays, it is just asinine. Below are just a handful of the new rules:
- Offense must have a tight end in all formations
- Defense must run a 4-3 at all times
- No blitzing
- Kickoffs and free kicks after safeties are eliminated
- Teams will start on their own 25-yard line after any score or at the start of each period
Because of these types of rules, the Pro Bowl essentially eliminates two aspects of the game that people vote in (defense and special teams) in favor of just offensive power. The intention of these rules was to ‘make the game safer,’ but football is a violent and physical game to begin with. Even if you take off the pads and make the players play with flags, they can still pull a muscle, twist an ankle, or even blow out a knee if they make a bad cut during a run. Fact of the matter is that all these rules just take more from the game rather than contribute to its success.
2. No More Skills Challenge
In the MLB, you have the Home Run Derby. In the NBA you have the 3-point shot, the Slam Dunk Contest, and the NBA Skills Challenge. In the NHL, you have a puck-control relay race, shootouts, shooting speed, and a short-track speed skating race. In the NFL, you have….no skills challenge whatsoever. This was perhaps the only enjoyable aspect of watching Pro Bowl weekend. You had the 40-yard dash to see who was the fastest NFL player, throwing accuracy challenges for the participating quarterbacks, kickers essentially playing a game of H-O-R-S-E at different distances, a speed-hands contest between receivers, and a weightlifting contest where we all crapped ourselves back in the 2006 Pro Bowl when we saw Hall-of-Fame OG Larry Allen bench press 225lbs 43 times. There was even a minor flag football contest between former NFL Pro Bowl players that kept the crowd entertained.
But then after the 2007 Pro Bowl, the NFL just up and did away with the Skills Challenge. They cited that the hotel the players were staying at, the site of where the Skills Challenge took place, wanted to use the area for their own purposes. Since then, the NFL has made no attempt to try to bring back the Skills Challenge. Fans were left with just a stale product as well grainy youtube videos of what was perhaps the only thing to get up for Pro Bowl Weekend.
1. It's Just a Meaningless Game
When you get right down to the meat and bones of the Pro Bowl, it’s nothing more than an over-glorified exhibition game. While there are some players who take pride in going, a majority of them would rather just sit the whole thing out. If there are any benefits to going as a player, it’s because you either A. Get a small pay bonus/contract incentive bonus for going and B. It’ll look good on your Hall of Fame résumé to say you were the ‘best of the best’ with the number of Pro Bowls you were voted into. Some would argue that the Pro Bowl is just like a preseason game. But at least with a preseason, teams can get an idea of how their players and their coaches will be able to perform during the regular season. With the Pro Bowl, there is no real gain at all. It's a Pony Show that the ponies do not want to be a part of.
Back in 2013, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell talked about how he was, “not inclined to play it [the Pro Bowl] anymore,” if the players did not play more competitively. However the NFL Players Association was able to negotiate a settlement to continue with keeping the Pro Bowl going if certain changes were to be made (i.e. rule changes, the new team format). But with fans slowly losing interest as the years go by because of the previously mentioned reasons above, Goodell will have no other choice but to pull the plug. The Pro Bowl would be better off going out quick rather than continue to waste away.
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