USA TODAY Sports
The NFL's version of an all-star game has come under fire lately due to the fact that it's not much more than a walkthrough. How can the league save the Pro Bowl for future fans and players?
The Pro Bowl has made its way from being an entertaining game and skills challenge to a walkthrough that even some of the most diehard fans skip over. NFL executives, including Commissioner Roger Goodell have toyed with the idea of cutting the entire thing, and really, you can't blame them. Why should they spend the money to put on an event that most fans don't care about and that many won't tune into to.
They've experimented with ways to make it better in the recent past from moving the game from Hawaii to Miami and moving it to the week before the Super Bowl instead of the week after, but nothing seems to work. It has gotten so bad that players like Peyton Manning and Champ Bailey have challenged their peers to treat the Pro Bowl like any regular-season game to save it for future players and fans. Still, even if the players sell out and play hard, the game doesn't matter, which means many won't care.
Joe Goodberry and I sat down and discussed some ways the NFL can make the Pro Bowl something worth watching again.
Joe: Bring it back to the SB host city. Change it to a "Young Stars Game". 1st year players vs 2nd year players. Make the "NFL Awards Show" a live, main, red carpet even. Allow All-Pro and yearly awards to be the accomplishment instead of Pro Bowl. The old players don't want to play in the game. The young guys make less and will play harder for the bonus. Which also needs to be increased. Make the winner's pool much more than the loser's pool. With a bonus for those who may have been hurt. Also, bring back the skills competitions for all players.
Jason: You think it would have to be in the Super Bowl city, not just travel like the MLB all-star game?
Joe: Yeah because the SB teams are already there. Honor them at the awards show. If the Pro Bowl is in Atlanta and SB in San Diego, none of the SB players will go. MLB and other sports hold their all star game mid season.
Jason: When it comes to a red-carpet event, they should make the awards show huge and that's where they should announce things like Offensive Player of the Year, Rookie of the Year and other awards like that. It would be nice to have that as a national broadcast on something like NFL Network. Like an ESPY's awards for the NFL only.
Jason: How about a skills challenge?
Joe: Bring it back. It was cool. I always remembered them as a kid. "Fastest Man" always brought the most talk. "Strongest Arm" was something measurable and somewhat translatable.
Jason: To me, that may be more exciting than the game itself, especially if they mic up all the players so we can just hear their banter.
Jason: What do you think will happen if the NFL does away with the Pro Bowl?
Joe: No effect in the long run. Football isn't like other sports. It's hard to emulate the real game unless it's fully padded and hard-hitting. I think people/fans understand that for the most part. We would rather not watch our gridiron heros at all instead of seeing them going half-speed and making a mockery of the sport.
Jason: I agree with that statement. Baseball can be slower and still be watchable, but if you slow down football it isn't. The hits and the speed make the NFL the most popular sport in the country. If you take away the violence and the speed, it just isn't fun for fans anymore. If they're going to play an all-star game, I think they need to play it like they would any other.
Jason: What kind of incentives do you think they can give to players to get them more interested, though? What can make players sell out?
Joe: Younger players, more money for the winning team, injury fund for those that are injured and miss time the following season. Plus, if this is a "Young Stars" game, there will be plenty of late round and UDFA type guys. They'll be playing hard because they already feel disrespected and want to put on good tape in case they don't make the team next year. Like the Senior Bowl does.
Jason: I personally think one way to make it more fun, especially if younger players are going to be the focus of the Pro Bowl, they should let veteran players be coaches. Have guys like Peyton Manning be the head coach of one team with Drew Brees as an offensive coordinator and Ray Lewis as the defensive coordinator. They could maybe even make some of the players referees as well.
Joe: I like that, but I wouldn't want to make it a farce. How interested would players be in that? That's like the Beach Bowl every year.
What ideas do you have that could bring the Pro Bowl back from the brink?