The Pro Bowl needs a face-lift, fast.
While the idea of rosters consisting solely of the NFL's elite players seems intriguing, the unfortunate truth is that the Pro Bowl, the NFL's annual all-star game, generally falls short on appeal.
When pro football lacks staples such as intensity, aggression and passion, we are left with a game deficient of substance.
That in essence is precisely what’s wrong with the Pro Bowl today.
Players relish the opportunity to perform in a game showcasing the NFL’s greatest talents as it signifies recognition and praise by fellow players, their fans and coaches.
The honor and designation of being a Pro Bowl player often plays favorably into contract negotiations and sometimes Hall of Fame consideration at the conclusion of players’ respective careers.
With that said, players’ individual performances in the Pro Bowl do not matter, so they display little interest while actually playing in the game.
While the MLB All-Star Game where winning equates to home-field advantage in the World Series for the team representative of the winning league, the NFL’s Pro Bowl has no such consequence.
The outcome means next to nothing for the players aside from a measly $10,000 bonus to players of the winning team and $5,000 to those on the losing side, mere pocket change to a modern-day professional athlete.
What culminates is a fluff of a contest that looks more like a sixty-minute pillow fight than an all-out battle on the gridiron for bragging rights. This is in stark contrast to the bone-crushing, aggressive nature of the NFL games that truly matter during the regular season and playoffs.
Simply put, players in the Pro Bowl do not want to get hurt — or hurt each other. Now that the Pro Bowl occurs a week before the Super Bowl (rather than the week after), star-caliber players refuse to play altogether at the risk of aggravating previous injuries, and players from the Super Bowl teams sit out due to necessity.
In the game, defensive backs shy away from big hits and ball carriers can be seen routinely ducking out of bounds instead of fighting for extra yards. Players on opposing sides are also engaging in friendly banter, shaking hands and bro-hugging during breaks in the action.
Take last year’s Pro Bowl for instance. This “doozy” of a game saw almost zero effort on the defensive side of the ball.
The AFC’s 59 points scored was a Pro Bowl record and the 100 point total by the two teams was good for second all time in the annual showdown between the two conferences.
Surely, this isn’t the brand of smash-mouth football the NFL has come to represent. This is an ice cream social — a post-season frat party.
The addition of fan-voting as one-third of the player selection progress created a bigger issue with the quality of the Pro Bowl. When fans vote for their favorite players, undeserving players may earn a trip to the game despite inferior statistics.
When the players don’t care, the fans shouldn’t either.
Past television ratings and attendance figures for the Pro Bowl surely are not indicative of the NFL putting together quality entertainment but rather the overall demand and love affair for all things pro football.
Fans expect better from the league that has unarguably become the gold standard of American sports.
If the NFL wishes to increase fan interest in the Pro Bowl, then the league need to devise a formula that motivates its players to participate in the game and play to their full potential.
There is no reason why a collection of the finest athletes in a world-class league such as the NFL should put such a pathetic production on the field.