Philly Sports Live

The Pro Bowl Lacks Pride, But Can Be Fixed!

AFC-NFC Pro Bowl

AFC-NFC Pro Bowl

The AFC and NFC entered the 43rd playing of the NFL All-Star game (a.k.a. Pro Bowl) on Sunday, January 27 with their records perfectly tied: 21 victories for the AFC; 21 triumphs for the NFC. You could cut the tension with a knife. Conditions were ripe for a game filled with pride on both sides of the ball.

“Pride” however, appeared to evaporate shortly after the conclusion of the 7 – 7 first quarter score and, by halftime the NFC led 31 – 14. For fans that hung in to the end, they witnessed the fourth highest point totaled Pro Bowl (97 total points) with the NFC breaking the tie, 62 – 35.

For the fourth time in four years, (incidentally, since it was moved from the week following the Super Bowl to the week before) the Pro Bowl concluded with a total score of 75 points or more: 2009 – 75 points; 2010 – 96 points; 2011 – 100 points; 2012 – 97 points. It’s difficult to say that “pride” came into play on Sunday when a combined 13 TD’s were scored.

Following last year’s second highest totaling 100 point game, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spoke out. In an ESPN article dated February 6, 2012, Goodell was quoted as saying:

We’re either going to have to improve the quality of what we’re doing in the Pro Bowl or consider other changes or even considering eliminating the game if that’s the kind of quality game we’re going to provide.”

Despite doing an about-face and scheduling the January 2013 version, in an October 23, 2012 ESPN article, Goodell continued to insinuate changes were in the future:

If we cannot accomplish that kind of standard (of high play), I am inclined to not play it. It is really tough to force competition, and after a long season, to ask those guys to go out and play at the same level they played is really tough.”

Following Sunday’s NFC blow-out of the AFC which saw a three-point difference (improvement?) in total points versus the year previous, Goodell was quoted in a January 28, 2013 ProFootball Talk article:

I watched the game and noticed the improved quality of the game. I appreciate the players commitment in this regard. We need to continually work to make our game better for the fans.”

Huh? Wow, what an improvement Roger! The NFC destroyed the AFC by 27 points in a game that scored three less points than the year before. Hey Roger, at least last year, the game was a bit more competitive with the AFC winning by a mere 18 point differential in a 100 point game. Really Roger; this is “improved quality” over the year when you said you were “considering eliminating the game”?

The AFC-NFC Pro Bowl played its inaugural match on January 24, 1971 (following the 1970 season). In that opener, the NFC won 27 – 6 against a John Madden coached AFC squad. Can you imagine Madden allowing his team not to play with “pride”?

Over the next 35 years we did see our share of lopsided games however, there were a lot of competitive ones as well reflecting the “pride” of all-star selection and play. John Madden coached the AFC against Tom Landry on January 20, 1974. The AFC won 15 – 13. Did Madden and Landry instill “pride” or did it just appear on the field?

January 23, 1978: NFC won 14 – 13; February 6, 1983: NFC won 20 – 19; February 3, 1991: AFC won 23 – 21; February 7, 1993 the game went to overtime and the AFC won 23 – 20; the game went to OT again on February 2, 1997 when the AFC won 26 – 23. There have been plenty of good competitive games, perfectly suited to provide us rabid football fans one final fix of our addictive sport in a step-down methodology from the Super Bowl.

Today, the Pro Bowl is not the final game of the season. It’s the second to the last game of the season (since 2010). It lacks a certain core group of All-Stars from the Super Bowl contending teams who do not appear because of their preparation for the bigger game a week later. Many that are chosen frequently make up injury excuses for bailing on the game. Many do not feel the extra stipend paycheck for appearing is worth having their off-season vacation begin a week earlier. The “pride” of the John Madden’s, Tom Landry’s, Chuck Noll’s, Bud Grant’s, and Don Shula’s has all but faded for the vast majority.

Now, recognizing that unlike MLB, NBA, and NHL, due to the physicality of the game of football, this All-Star exhibition cannot be embedded in the regular season schedule. It must be played either before or after the regular season schedule. This game, nonetheless, can be fixed . . . and I would ask Roger Goodell and all passionate NFL fans take notice.

Since 1962 two NFL teams have made a trip to Canton, Ohio in July or August to play in an exhibition game coinciding with the newest Hall of Fame induction class. That game is called the Hall of Fame Game and it has historically been viewed by fans as the official kick-off of the NFL pre-season. It’s a single exhibition game with the rest of the League all joining in on their four-game pre-season schedule the week following. It seems to me a perfect venue to pull together the chosen NFL All-Stars from the previous season and host the Pro Bowl, for a number of reasons.

(1) Many of the NFL All-Stars final stop in their career may end up right there at the Hall of Fame. Isn’t there something rather classical (dare I say “romantic”) about bringing together the future Hall-of-Famers with current and past Hall-of-Famers? The NFL should consider the kind of tremendously profitable interactive fan-event weekend they could create around this exhibition. You could have alumni flag football performances; incorporate skills-competition events (a la’ MLB, NHL, and NBA); create a HOF Fan Fest event like MLB does in the hosting All-Star city.

(2) Currently teams that are chosen to participate in the Hall of Fame Game end up playing an extra pre-season game. Many teams do not like it. It’s an extra pre-season match-up you have to game plan. It’s another week and another opportunity to incur an injury. Four pre-season games is enough (many feel, too many), yet two teams have to play five. Holding the Pro Bowl in its place would eliminate that except for the All-Star participants.

(3) With the “Pro Bowl Hall of Fame Game” being the opening game of the NFL pre-season, players would not have an excuse for wiggling out of attendance, with the exception of a legitimate injury.

(4) The August 5, 2012 Hall of Fame Game pulled in less than 2 million TV viewers . . . down 83% or nearly 9.5 million viewers from 2010 (re: Sports Media Watch). The most recent Pro Bowl game reflected TV ratings down 8% from the year before (re: The Hollywood Reporter) but still attracted nearly 10 million viewers. I believe a marriage of both the Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame Game would maximize their exposure and place the game in the MLB All-Star TV-ratings range.

For the majority of true NFL fans, the kindest thing we can say about the modern-era Pro Bowl product is “pathetic.” Roger and company, you have very little time and not a heck of a lot of options available to you to hold an All-Star highlight platform if that’s the desired objective. So . . . fix it . . . and, with all due respect, of all the options I’ve heard put forth to fix or eliminate this spotlight, I believe my suggestions should be taken under consideration and given a whirl. Hell, it couldn’t hurt.