Look, it's an exhibition game. Nobody is pretending any different. So why all the fuss?
The players, selected by their peers and the fans, are enjoying a week's vacation in Hawaii that happens to end with a little football scrimmage. I don't see the harm in that. Does Roger Goodell need to "award" the winning conference something, other than a little extra cash, so the players supposedly care who wins? That approach has had zero impact on baseball's midsummer classic and made a mockery of home-field advantage for the World Series.
The reward for the players isn't actually playing in the game, it's enjoying some camaraderie and quality family time on the NFL's dime after a long and grueling season that inevitably ended in disappointment, because the guys playing in the Super Bowl are the only ones who have yet to process any disappointment.
The Pro Bowlers are required to put on a little show for the fans at the end of the week, and that's what they do, put on a show. If you don't like 100 points in one football game, don't watch. Nobody's forcing you to, yet, more people watched the Pro Bowl this year than baseball's All-Star Game.
The thought that the event should be tweaked to provide some sort of truly competitive drama will only lead to problems. No matter what's done, it's still an exhibition that means nothing in the grander scheme of things.
Remember Robert Edwards? He was New England's first-round draft pick in 1998 who didn't make the Pro Bowl but was in Hawaii that year for a rookie flag-football game on the beach a couple of days before the Pro Bowl.* *A running back who rushed for 1,115 yards and nine TDs as a rookie, Edwards was playing defense in this beach game and trying to break up a pass when he wrecked his knee.
The injury was catastrophic. Edwards was out of the league for the next four years, and then he tried a brief comeback in 2002 with Miami that lasted all of 20 carries. A promising career was ruined, and for what?
Look, I'm not saying the Pro Bowl is a great event. It's not, at least not for football die-hards, but it doesn't have to be any more than it already is.
Shifting the date a few years ago to put it between the conference championships and the Super Bowl was a wise move. It's a "game" to scratch that itch for fans that can't handle the two-week interim. It's a way for all fans, if they want, to see the league's top players one last time before everyone turns the stage over to the two best teams playing in the biggest game of the year.
There's no need for the Pro Bowl to play any other role. We get 17 weeks of regular-season contests and three weeks of postseason clashes, which should be plenty of competition for even the worst football junkie.* *Anything else will just look and feel too contrived. The Pro Bowl is backyard football all dressed up, and that's OK by me.
I agree. The Pro Bowl can't be a real game because no sports league can afford to lose its best players in a meaningless game. I got it.
Here's the problem: The more than 12 million NFL fans that watched the Pro Bowl were obviously still hungry for football in the bye week between the conference title games and the Super Bowl, and they want real football, not that happy stuff the stars from the league's two conferences put on display this past Sunday.
That was bad football because it wasn't real football and fans want real football. So how do you give the fans real football at the Pro Bowl without subjecting the stars of the game to unnecessary risk? Here's how:
Change the format from a go-through-the-motions game between the stars of the two conferences, to a real rock-'em, sock-'em game between the unknowns of the league. Huh, you ask?
Here's my idea: Each team must allocate a specific number of players, say 10 or so, to be selected to play in a Pro Bowl "Futures" game. Bottom-of-the-roster and practice-squad types would be wild for playing in a game such as this. It would give them a chance to expose their talents and advance their careers, not to mention getting a paycheck they otherwise wouldn't.
So what about the stars? Where are they? They're standing along the sideline, tweeting and signing autographs and doing TV interviews and otherwise being the celebrities they are. The selection process remains the same, the distinction just as great, it's just that the game changes.
Meanwhile, back on the field, my "Futures" players, the unknowns of the game that wanna hit somebody, are out there putting on a real show. They're giving us a real game of football to watch, so we don't have to keep flipping back and forth between the Pro Bowl and figure skating.
Fans pay to see preseason games, right? OK, so here's a preseason-like game, but it would be a lot better than a preseason game because it would be between two teams of bottom-of-the-roster "stars." These aren't guys that aren't gonna make the team, they already did make the team and some of them might be on their way to becoming NFL stars of the future.
So there's my idea. I just wanna see a real game and I wouldn't mind knowing more about players who slid into anonymity after having been drafted or after having been stars in college football.
Let the stars of the game pose for the camera. I wanna see a real football game played by guys with real motivation for playing a real football game.
What do you think?