Can anything save the Pro Bowl?

The most consequential football game on Earth is about a week away, but not before we have to deal with the most inconsequential one on Sunday: the Pro Bowl.

Is there any way to make this game interesting? There’s no tackling, half-hearted effort, strategy is largely written out of the rules and the uniforms are ridiculously bad. In many ways that mirrors any other All-Star game, but the NBA, NHL and major league baseball at least offer some redeeming factors among their star-studded foolishness.

The NBA’s dunk contest and baseball’s Home Run Derby provide entertaining sideshows: superstar athletes doing big, fun superstar stuff. The NHL has grabbed attention with their wrinkle that lets All-Star captains pick their teams, playground style.

The NFL? Even the players chosen don’t want to be there.

I’ll watch nearly any football game you give me. Put on an FCS college game on a random Thursday night in October and I’ll leave it on in the background. But the Pro Bowl? Put it this way: if my TV has a horrific malfunction Sunday and I can only tune in to the Pro Bowl or the Lifetime network, I’ll be watching Will & Grace reruns. It’s that bad.

How can this be fixed? Here are a few ideas:

-- Change the date
Part of the problem is that the lackadaisical Pro Bowl shows up right after the most intense weeks on the football calendar: we’ve just seen the college national championship game and three hard-hitting rounds of NFL playoffs, featuring many of the same stars now showing in Hawaii. In days we’re going to watch the two best teams in the league go at it for the championship. And as an appetizer we’ve got a dog of a game.

But what about late July or early August, when we’re starved for football – any football, so much so that college scrimmages draw huge crowds. If those games can draw, how about a Pro Bowl that is the first chance to see NFL stars back in action since February? It could be played just before training camps open.

One oddity would be dealing with free agents who have changed teams between when Pro Bowl squads are named and the start of the next year. But this could also be an opportunity. If the Eagles made a dream signing – say Nnamdi Asomugha this year – wouldn’t you tune in for the first chance to see him compete in green? It’s not the same as a real game, but it would at least provide more viewing incentive than the existing system.

The NFL already plays its All-Star game at an unusual time – at the end of the year, as opposed to the halfway point. The league should try moving it to a time when it could actually generate some buzz.

-- Mix up the line ups
This is a direct rip-off of the NHL’s plan, but it’s a nice idea, so why not? Pick the coaches, pick the Pro Bowlers, and let the coaches choose their teams. How would Bill Belichick construct an all-star squad? How many quarterbacks would Andy Reid pick? Might Rex Ryan select every defensive back?

It would also give some more interesting match ups. Sure, Michael Vick to Calvin Johnson might be fun to watch. But how about, for once, Vick going up top to Andre Johnson? Or Peyton Manning to Larry Fitzgerald?

-- Encourage celebrations
One of the better parts of the NBA All-Star game is that the players embrace the fact that it’s a meaningless exhibition and just try to put on a show. How about letting NFL players give it a shot. Offer a biggest hot dog prize and let fans vote for the best end zone celebration. What might DeSean Jackson do if he was totally free to show out? The NFL projects a buttoned-up image all year. For one day, loosen the tie a bit. You’re in Hawaii.

-- Add a fastest man competition
Unlike other sports, the NFL doesn’t lend itself to skill competitions, at least not good ones. How about a simple, fast, exciting sideshow: races to find the NFL’s fastest man. DeSean Jackson vs. Chris Johson vs. anyone else you can throw in there.

Do it by position, too. Ray Lewis vs. Clay Matthews. Haloti Ngata vs. Jay Ratliff. Have the offensive linemen run a relay.

-- Cancel it
Name the teams, honor the players, even make and sell the gaudy jerseys. But don’t subject us to the game. Few will miss it.

Admittedly, this isn’t much, but we’re not working with all that much to start with. If our comments are working again (and they seem to be) let’s hear if you have a better idea.


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