Saturday, January 28, 2012

Is the Pro Bowl the Worst All Star Game in all of Pro Sports?

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Maybe it's the fact that nobody playing in the Super Bowl is able to participate. Or maybe it's because that it's much more noticeable when football players of this caliber don't play at full speed. Whatever the reason, I just have a really tough time getting excited about the Pro Bowl every year.

More than any of the other major team sports, football is not a finesse game. It's literally a battlefield. Lineman slug it out in the trenches, players get concussed and knocked out in vicious collisions; rarely do you ever go more than a series or two without seeing someone get helped off the field due to one ailment or another. It's a physical game. And it's really hard for the game not to lose its luster when you take that away.

Plus, look at a sampling of the players who though selected won't be participating: Tom Brady, Eli Manning, Ray Rice, Arian Foster, Frank Gore, Wes Welker, Calvin Johnson, Terrell Suggs, Lance Briggs, Brian Urlacher, Ed Reed, Troy Polamalu... It's an all star game that lacks its all stars. All told, 16 players from the AFC and 8 more from the NFC will not be on the field in Hawaii for various reasons. But it's ok. You can watch Andy Dalton, the NFL's 20th rated passer, throw passes to Jermaine Gresham, who ranked 5th among AFC tight ends in receptions. Excited?

The Pro Bowl just doesn't compare to the other All Star Games right now. The NHL All Star Game selects two captains and literally picks teams, pond hockey style. The weekend also features a number of skills competitions showcasing the talents of the players. Major League Baseball has the Home Run Derby followed by an All Star Game that actually decides homefield advantage in the World Series. Major League Soccer has recently started pitting its all stars in an exhibition match against some of the world's top club teams, most recently Manchester United. And the NBA probably does the All Star Game better than anyone. The weekend kicks off with the Rookie-Sophomore game on Friday, a dunk contest and 3-point shootout on Saturday and a highlight filled all star game on that Sunday.

But with the Pro Bowl? Tackle football just isn't suited to be played as an exhibition. Especially with millions of dollars in contracts on the line. Just look at the rule changes they need to put in to play the game:
  • No motion or shifting by the offense
  • Offense must have a tight end in all formations
  • Offense can’t have 3 receivers on a side
  • Intentional grounding is legal
  • Defense must run a 4-3 at all times
  • No press coverage except inside the 5 yard line
  • No blitz
  • Not allowed to rush a Punt, PAT or FG attempt
As a result you get tentative play from both sides resulting in sloppy football (last year's Pro Bowl featured 8 turnovers), and even when you get good offense, oftentimes it's because the defense is offering minimal resistance.

Is there a way to fix the Pro Bowl? I don't think you can without thinking outside the box. How about an 8-team, 7 v 7 flag football tournament. Each division gets a team. 15 man rosters, let the divisions pick their own teams with the stipulation that you need 7 offensive players, 7 defensive players and 1 kicker/punter. Single elimination. At least that way it'd be entertaining. Put the AFC and NFC on different halves of the bracket, and let them go at it. I'd watch that. You still get the football, but you limit the injury risk. In essence, it's more of a finesse style game. Anyhow, it's just one idea, but I think the NFL has to do something different if they want people to actually tune in. Time to get creative, Mr. Goodell. Otherwise just scrap the game all together and send the players who make the team to an awards banquet in Hawaii.

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