The Sports Sermon

January 28, 2010

It’s the perfect end to a treacherous, long, and hard-fought season.  A week after the biggest game of the year, the NFL’s top players and coaches throw on their board shorts, toss a lei around their necks, and head down to Hawaii.

The Pro Bowl is a celebration of a season of hard work and dedication.  There are no more games to prepare for, no more weekly film sessions or training, just sandy beaches and  luaus.  Besides the few injured veterans who would rather rest at home with the family, every player strives to be on the field that hot February afternoon, representing their conference.  Or, at least this is the way it was up until this year.

Roger Goodell, Commissioner of the NFL, has turned the 2010 Pro Bowl into an experiment of sorts.  He has heard the complaints of the current Pro Bowl structure—how it means nothing, the players don’t play hard, and no one cares about it.  Goodell took the criticism to heart.  This year, the Pro Bowl will be played the week before the Super Bowl, and instead of Hawaii, the game will be played at the site of the Super Bowl, Miami.

Although Goodell cannot be faulted for his continued willingness to update and listen to suggestions for league improvement, this most recent change is a debacle.  The move in time and place has created a host of problems that have fans questioning the decision.

First, a deeper look into the actual players who will be taking the field is required.  Although their uniforms may say All-Pro, their play during the season definitely does not.  To date, 27 players have pulled themselves off the rosters, more than 30 percent of the elected roster.  While there are always players that elect to opt-out of the Pro-Bowl, these numbers are unprecedented.  A huge contributing factor is that fact that the Pro Bowl will see no appearances from any Colts or Saints, who have 14 all-pro players on their rosters.  When there is such an extreme dip in participation, the fans lose.

Not only will fans not get to see players like Drew Brees and Peyton Manning because of the date change, but they will also miss out on Tom Brady, Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, and Phillip Rivers due to a host of “injuries.”  Instead, fans will be treated to less-than-stellar players.  You know something’s wrong with the system when David Garrard and Vince Young, who have the 17th and 18th best quarterback ratings in the NFL, respectively, are both Pro Bowlers.  Put simply, that is an absolute joke.

The pre-2010 Pro Bowl, although not the most intense of all games, served its purpose: it gave fans the chance to see the best players in the game while providing those players with a weeklong celebration of their accomplishments.  Now, with the Super Bowl looming in the near future, the Pro Bowl has an extremely diminished role.  In fact, the current time slot detracts from both the actual Pro Bowlers and the Super Bowl teams.  In the old system, the weeks before Super Sunday were dedicated to the two teams about to compete for a championship, and the week after the Super Bowl was dedicated to the Pro Bowl players.  Now, the Pro Bowl is just a weak appetizer with many replacement players, and the Super Bowl contenders have to take time away from preparation to make extra appearances.

The one positive that comes from such a system is that many borderline All-Pro players will finally get the chance to play in the Pro Bowl.  However, this positive for those players is a negative for the fans.  I’ll venture to say many will find some other way to occupy their Sunday afternoon during the pre-Super Bowl weekend if it means seeing all of the familiar stars in the Pro Bowl.

The basic fact is that an All-Star game that takes place at the end of a season will never be the main attraction.  However, that doesn’t mean it should be further marginalized.  Roger Goodell presides over the most popular and successful sport in North America; he doesn’t need to change a thing.  So, thanks for the effort, Roger, but we’ll see you in Hawaii next year.


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