We’re here too! And we DESERVE it!
The NFL is a business.
At its core, every player, coach, executive, and fan is keenly aware of this. The purpose of the game is to generate revenue and salaries. It’s to increase visibility, in order to generate more revenue. It’s among the most cash-producing ventures on the sporting landscape worldwide alongside soccer, and dwarfing the NBA in international appeal. The Super Bowl is annually the most-watched sporting event globally, and the revenues derived from ad placement during that game are astronomical when compared with other similar dalliances. When it comes to creating an instant financial windfall domestically, nothing tops the NFL, except perhaps Apple and Microsoft.
But all of that pales in comparison to the Pro Bowl.
Ah, the Pro Bowl. It’s why we are here. After all, what contest features the unquestioned best of the best of the best in any sports landscape? Where else can you tune in to see a pantheon of NFL stars, all of whom absolutely deserve the honor bestowed upon them by their fans and sometimes their peers? In what venue do you get to see all of the superlative players that weren’t quite good enough to will their teams to the Super Bowl, that declined invitations due to injury, personal reasons, or sheer lethargy?
I’m ecstatic that AFC North favorite and Bengals’ quarterback Andy Dalton has accepted his invitation, because it will give me another occasion to watch his outstanding game on display in yet another primetime contest, where he’s been known to shine over the years. Dalton was only the NFL’s twelfth choice (no, I’m not kidding) at quarterback for this game. I didn’t have any desire to watch Patriots quarterback Tom Brady let the air out of another Pro Bowl; Dalton really is an uplifting choice (okay, that was poor, but timely – deal with it).
The gameday rosters have been decided by former players Michael Irvin and Cris Carter, whose shocking amount of self-promotion and feigned talent evaluation skills were on full display this past Wednesday. We were mysteriously blacked out of the first day of the Pro Bowl “draft” on Tuesday, perhaps because the NFL Network mercifully opted to not subject its viewers to that much combustible hot air being generated by only two individuals.
The coaches of each team are the Ravens’ John Harbaugh, who has presumably reviewed the rule book since we last saw him on a sideline, and the Cowboys’ Jason “No, I’m not Andy Dalton” Garrett (I’m sorry; Garrett and Dalton are just entirely too much combined ginger for one stadium to contain). Given the vitriol that is currently earmarked for Super Bowl coaches Bill Belichick and Pete Carroll, perhaps Harbaugh and Garrett are safer, less-controversial choices. I’ll be kind and try to not refer to them both as also-rans.
The game is being held Sunday, January 25th at 8:00pm on ESPN, of course, as they never hesitate to lend their name and viewing promotional rights to “contests” such as this. We appreciate hearing Chris Berman guffaw and clear his throat repeatedly. We love seeing Mike Ditka make his weekly “I’m suffering from severe gas pain” faces. Ray Lewis is sure to offer at least eleven anecdotes about his ribald experiences in Hawaii. And we’ll still get our share of “breaking news” from favorite closetlurker Adam Schefter.
One issue: the game isn’t in Hawaii. It’s in Arizona, as the Pro Bowl is now inextricably (and inexplicably, for that matter) tied to the Super Bowl. Supposedly, this allows the participating players a chance to stick around and add to the hype of the Super Bowl by imposing their presences alone. I can’t think of anything more inspiring than hanging out with punter Kevin Huber before the big game, because that guy surely knows how to party.
There’s been some nifty rule changes specifically for this game, and the purposes are twofold: it allows the NFL brass to see, in a very controlled environment, what the application of some of their proposed rule changes would be, and it provides “variety” and “fun” to the game we already tune in and watch feverishly every Sunday. Some of the changes are commonly known and have been discussed, such as removing kickoffs. However, adding timeouts is a shameless way of generating more ad revenue for what’s already an exercise in dwindling viewership. Enjoy those extra 30 McDonald’s and Bud ads, however trippy they may be.
And that, folks, is the crux of it. The Pro Bowl, in my humble opinion, is a gimmick, and it’s become increasingly obvious that no players, especially those that are most deserving, really want to participate unless the perks really outweigh the aches and pains they’ve accumulated throughout the regular season. Trips to Hawaii do that. Trips to Arizona do not.
The things I used to appreciate about the game are largely gone. The AFC v. NFC dynamic was mildly interesting, as it presumably pitted the best of each conference against each other in a forum other than the Super Bowl, which gave fans a chance to appreciate their respective favorites that much more. The game used to be held the week after the Super Bowl, not the week before, which made it possible for Super Bowl participants, who are obviously well-represented on each original Pro Bowl roster, to participate. We’re not seeing the fan favorites or the best anymore; we’re seeing everyone’s third and fourth choice in many cases. It’s not an all-star game, it’s a poor facsimile.
While defense has been largely watered down by in-season rule changes, the lack of it in today’s Pro Bowl is simply ridiculous, as the scores seem to more closely resemble an NCAA basketball game than an NFL contest. Look, fellas, I know you have no desire to actually hit each other once the season ends. But at least make some sort of attempt for the fans, who put you there in the first place.
Yet, despite it all, many will tune in. Most younger fans haven’t become jaded enough to understand what a travesty the game has become, and as such, might actually take it seriously. It’s a shame, because it used to mean a little something, even as a means to watch our favorites in “action” once more before the offseason doldrums truly set in.
So take it for what it is, folks. The Pro Bowl is here to take your money and time and offers little else in return. If you feel it’s an effort well-spent, then by all means, tune in tomorrow night. I will be boycotting it, as ineffectual as it may be, because it really isn’t a football game anymore, and as such, I see no reason to dedicate any time to it.
See you in the offseason.