The Pro Bowl: is it time to go?
The world has bigger issues. Iraq getting the bomb. Syria. Al Qaida in northern Africa. The global economy. Beyonce lip-syncing the anthem.
And then, there's the Pro Bowl.
I write this as kickoff to the most recent AFC/NFC clash dawns. The experts tell us that THIS will be the game that determines if we have any more such contests, seeing that last year's game was so dreary, dismal and under-executed that the very survival of the event is now in question.
Personally, I say it's time to pull the plug, even if Sunday night's game turns out being the Ice Bowl on steroids.
There was a time, I'm sure, when the game meant something. I remember seeing an old NFL films piece on a mid-60's Pro Bowl and it was an eye-opener: the hitting was intense, and both sides played to win. There was money involved, to be sure, but there was also an element of pride. No one seemed to care if they were going to get hurt. Football then was a job, and a player's job was to put out as hard as he could. They respected the game and wanted to give the fans a good show. The league liked the Pro Bowl because it gave TV one more game, and
The Shield craved the exposure, something that's no longer an issue for one of the world's most vigorous industries.
Times change. Remember when the reigning NFL champ battled a group of college all stars at the start of the exhibition season? The College All-Star game came along in the 30's, raising scads of money for charity at a time when, again, the NFL needed all the help it could get getting into the sports pages. The struggling pro league needed the legitimacy of the college game to get traction. And it did, for decades, before the event ran its course in 1976 for some of the same reasons the Pro Bowl is now on life support.
Remember the Runner-Up Bowl or, as it's formally known, The Bert Bell Memorial Classic? It pitted the runner-up teams in each conference playing for what amounted to third place. Named after the late former commissioner, it was again a chance for the NFL to wring one more week of exposure of a season at a time when it was battling for every viewer it could get, not to mention the upstart AFL. It started in 1960, and it was not universally loved. Packers head coach Vince Lombardi called it "The S--t Bowl", saying it was a hinky dink game played by hinky dink players...because that's all second place is: hinky dink.
I loosely paraphrase, but you get the idea Lombardi wasn't a fan. His Packers lost to the Cardinals in the 1964 edition.
The Playoff Bowl came to an end in 1970, what with the NFL/AFL merger looming and questions being raised about the nation's appetite for such a meaningless fray. That left us with pro football's version of the prehensile tail: the Pro Bowl.
The NFL needs no additional exposure, but then again, our appetite for the game shows no sign of abating. As Steve Young so adeptly pointed out when replacement refs were making a joke of the pro game at the start of this season, the league will keep serving up product--no matter how sketchy the quality--as long as folks on the couch keep ingesting it. A nation starving for football in the two weeks between the conference title games and the Super Bowl may just choose a half-assed Pro Bowl effort over the SAG Awards, "Californication", "60 Minutes" and the rest of the Sunday night grid.
Maybe a skills competition would be better--or maybe the league should replace the Pro Bowl with it's Awards Night, currently held the Saturday evening before the Super Bowl. Give the fans a chance to see players dressed up, eating with forks. Add a bunch of stars. Toss in tons of highlights. Work in some hot live bands. Make it a three hour, can't-miss pageant. I smell ratings dynamite.
The Pro Bowl? That's a different odor. Anyone know what a dinosaur smells like?