In case you weren't aware, the Pro Bowl was played on Sunday. The NFC won that game scoring a lot of points to the AFCs a lot, but not nearly enough points. In the week leading up to the Pro Bowl, the internet was abuzz with people telling us why they wouldn't watch, why the Pro Bowl was a joke, and why the NFL, if it had any self-respect would cancel it. And then, on Sunday, those same people helped earn the Pro Bowl a TV rating equivalent to an NBA finals game. Clearly, the Pro Bowl is a polarizing topic, so let's talk about it, shall we?
My first thought is: who cares? The Pro Bowl is no different from the NBA, NHL, and MLB All-Star games. They aren't, in my mind, meant to be serious replicas of an NFL game. They are, for the most part, held for money and for fans. The first part comes in the form of meet and greets and greased palms with sponsors - not to mention a pretty nice ad revenue take for NBC - while the second is self-explanatory: while everyone complains about the Pro Bowl, they all tune in to see their favorite players in a relaxed setting.
So, do I think the Pro Bowl has to be fixed or canceled? No, I think it serves its purpose just fine as it is, and fans should feel free to watch - or not watch - as it suits them. But, hey, just because things are fine doesn't mean they couldn't be better! So let's fix this *****!
The first thing I'd do in fixing the Pro Bowl is embrace it as a meaningless game. I would do everything I could to entice fans and players to want to be a part of it, but I would do it by making it fun. You see, unless you decide to create a huge monetary prize for the winners - and I mean significantly large - no one is ever going to play lights out in one of these things for two reasons: 1) they don't want to get hurt and cost themselves millions of dollars and 2) they don't want to hurt someone else, costing one of their fellow players millions of dollars. So make it fun.
How would we do that? I would borrow a page from another sports league: the NHL. I would tell all players that you have to be in or out of the Pro Bowl by 10 pm ET on Conference Championship Sunday. This gives Tom Brady enough time to lose and still pull out [note: along with this rule, I would also add that you have to play in the Pro Bowl to be considered a Pro Bowler. No more bowing out and still getting the honor. I realize that this would hurt some people who miss the Pro Bowl for honest reasons, but it would also put an end to people with no respect for the game and fans getting rewarded. Only exception: players playing in the Super Bowl]. On Monday, I would toss a bone to the red headed step children of NFL broadcasting, ESPN. The two highest Pro Bowl vote-getters - let's just pretend that they were Peyton Manning and Andrew Luck this year - would become Captains of their own team.
So on the Monday Night after the Conference Championship Games, ESPN would broadcast the Pro Bowl draft. The highest vote-getter would pick first (Team Manning) and Team Luck would go second, and they would rotate until they had an entire roster. You would mandate that they could only pick a certain number of players at each position so that the rosters were fairly balanced.
And then we'd have our week of practice. Without coaches. I mean, come on, who cares what the coaches think anyway, right? In my Pro Bowl, the players would be the coaches. And the Captains don't have to be the coaches - although who wouldn't want to see Manning ordering people around - they can appoint coaches if they so desire.
Saturday morning, we would have "Fan Meet and Greets" - where fans could get pictures and autographs from their favorite players. I know, this is actually the most unrealistic part of my plan - fans getting free pictures and autographs? Well, is it really free? After all, these fans paid to fly to and stay in Hawaii, so these pictures and autographs cost them a pretty penny.
On Saturday night, we would bring back the old skills competitions - again, ESPN would get the broadcast rights. The players would be split up into their teams and they would compete in a plethora of drills that showed off everything that makes us marvel at athletes: their speed, quickness, agility, strength.
On Sunday, I would tell them to Brett Favre it - "just have fun out there, boys!" Want to celebrate every play? Go ahead! Want to pull a sharpie out of your socks? Do it! Want to fraternize with the cheerleaders? Encouraged only if we can get a special "Cinemax Camera" sponsorship. But don't take yourself or the game too serious. Score a lot of points, show off your personalities, have fun. I would also look for ways to get social media more involved in the game - I love when fans are able to call the plays from their couch.
At the end of the game, one team will likely have scored a lot and the other team will have likely scored a lot, but not nearly enough to win. Would it matter? No, but it doesn't have to. Sometimes you can just play for the love of the game. Or, God forbid... fun.
I used to agree with you that these games are all about the money and the fans. But this year made me realize, it is really for the players.
The players want it in Hawaii for the free trip and to bring family and teammates over for a vacation and a glorified "meet and greet".
They also want it AFTER the Super Bowl, so the Pro Bowlers from those two teams can come as well. More than any other All-Star game, the Pro Bowl should cater to the desires of the players.
I could not agree more! These games have always been about fun and rewarding the players. We shouldn't expect them to put a part of the next season, the whole season, or their career on the line for a game that is meant to be a reward for performance during the regular season.
I like the skill contests and would love to see some 40 yd dash races. Lots of those guys talk about how fast they are, let's see. Maybe Olympic athletes get invited as well...say Usain Bolt!
One beef: can we not throw ESPN so many bones? Can we make it ABC with all of the ESPN branding they want to put on it? Some of us don't have cable and ESPN3 seems to black out everything now that is on another ESPN channel.
@bradicus18 Oh, yea, sure, sorry, I didn't even think about that :( I just thought ESPN made more sense for the draft because that kind of Monday Night programming seems right up their alley, but sure, ABC works, too.
@GregC Really, ESPN makes more sense. I'm just griping about ESPN more than anything. If we are wishing, might as well get all of our wishes.
I think there are too many positions for the captain idea to work for the NFL. The amount of players is just too high. I would be totally down for it in the NBA, though.
@thejoshbaker I understand the concern, and it's totally valid (I hadn't even thought it before you mentioned it), but I do think we can do it in an hour. If not, then... I'm fired, I guess.
@thejoshbaker I mean he would be picking form the group that is already selected to the probowl, so it would not be that difficult of a decision.
Wow! I must say: I love this idea! I too was talking, along with everyone else in the nation, on how to fix this bowl. My thinking was to make it more serious, along the lines of MLB where it counts for SOMETHING. But obviously home-field advantage for a 1 game series sets the stakes too high. And that would also require moving the Pro-Bowl to mid-year for planning purposes. However, after reading your ideas, I couldn't disagree with myself more! The Pro-Bowl IS an exhibition game, not a serious competition! Let's celebrate the relaxed nature of the game, after all it does take place in Hawaii! I also think making a week-long ESPN coverage of it would drive revenues through the roof! I would look forward to that whole week, from the draft, to the 'combine' like skills tests, to the actual game! As opposed to now where I flip it on to watch Luck (and Saturday snap to Manning) and do something else while it drones on in the background. This year was better than last year, but instead of threatening players to put themselves in harms way, or cancel the whole ordeal. Embrace what the Pro-Bowl has evolved into, and RUN with it! Great article Greg! I doubt that the right people, AKA Roger, will actually take head to this idea... But man it would be EPIC!
Weeeiiirrdd... I was totally thinking about the idea of captains choosing their own teams the other day. I dismissed the idea, though, because I feared there would be hurt feelings or something - at least with the requirement of AFC/NFC, it's out of the players' hands. Yes, I know... hurt feelings for a football player is silly, but you get the drift... what if Manning chose A.J. Green over D. Thomas? Would Thomas pout? maybe that would make it fun...
@LovinBlue I don't think I explained this part right. The players would be drafting from the pool of players voted into the Pro Bowl, but they wouldn't be restricted to voting AFC/NFC. They would just pick whoever they wanted, the conference split would be gone. It's Team Manning vs Team Luck.
@LovinBlue as for hurt feelings and the scenario you proposed - in hockey, there's a stupid sense of honor, etc... and captains always pick players from their own teams first. I hope that wouldn't happen in the NFL, because I like drama
@GregC I think some people would feel the need to put their team first, but others wouldn't. In a situation where players got to pick their teams...well, I can imagine Manning going right for the receivers and O-line first and foremost, picking other QB's at the very very end, just so he could go out and put up crazy numbers, regardless of anything else.
I think Luck would feel more of a need to pick his own teammates first, as a point of honor and respect.
Brady would likely try to just pick the best player he thought was there at any given time. At the end of the day, he wants to rub that he won in everyone's face, though one would imagine his first picks would be offense, so he could claim to be the hero, and the cameraman.
Lots of strategies could develop, and that would probably be part of the fun.
@LovinBlue Lol, I don't think anyone would get hurt, maybe motivation if you don't get picked early, maybe you go out and play harder.
I think with the NHL doing this, and the NBA having Charles and Shaq be the coaches and pick out the teams for the freshman vs sophomore game or whatever they called it turns out pretty cool.
Also, I would keep the coaches, some guys would never come out the game, and better them calling the plays than everyone putting in their own input, I have seen it get frustrating that way in flag football on many occasions.
I like how the pro bowl is, I think it should basically be a game that is fun for the fans, seeing guys line up out of position sometimes is kind of cool, putting up big points is always cool, along with trick plays and all the silliness.
I would like to say I like to see atleast minimal effort, and I think that was the problem with last years game, there was NO effort, I think this year was a big improvement over that.