Last night, the worst all-star game in professional sports was saved by one prevailing thought for football fans –there is an actual game next week to look forward to. Otherwise, the Pro Bowl of 2012 was the same four quarters of defenseless crap that has stormed the beaches of Honolulu for years. No one tried to stop any of the six quarterbacks from marching down the field, allowing the teams to combine for the least interesting 100 points that a football game could probably produce. Running backs were overshadowed, defensemen ran from the ball as if it was a landmine or a contract to play with the Jaguars, and the NFC flaunted the fact that they didn’t give a rat’s ass about the game by allowing Drew Brees to attempt a dropkicked field goal. Awesome.
And deep down, I can’t blame the players. Football is a dangerous sport with a limited life-span. Obviously, no one wants to turn a vacation in Hawaii with family into a career-ending injury and a contract that reads “void” before they get back to their home facility. The risk does not outweigh the reward, and thus, one shouldn’t expect these players to put their livelihoods on the line for the sake of television ratings, NFL sponsorships, and Hawaiian football fans.
But the league should care about these things –and fix them. While I have my doubts that Roger Goodell is an adamant reader of straitpinkie.com, I hold out hope that my solution may somehow reach the commissioner’s ear. With the Pro Bowl, there is no tradition left to salvage, no working model to emulate –there is only the crap that now fills the sandwich, made of delicious bread from the conference championships and the super bowl. No one wants crap between their marble ryes. So, let’s start over. Football’s all-star weekend could be awesome –but that also means that it will have to be unrecognizable.
First of all, the NFL should continue to reward its all-pro athletes. Football is a brutal sport, and these men and their families deserve the reward, vacation, and financial compensation that comes from being the reason the NFL enjoys its gigantic revenue and fan support. Also, the NFL should continue to reward its fans with a chance to see its stars, helmets off and human, in a place outside the normal Sunday games.
This is easy. Have the all-pros go to Hawaii and mingle with the fans. Let them autograph balls, host a camp, and maybe even toss some balls with the kids of Honolulu. To give the fans and players a fun event, hold a skills competition. There are competitions that are virtually risk-free and can still be entertaining enough for an NFL fan base. Have the quarterbacks compete with tires and moving targets, have the wide receivers race –hell, I don’t care if the linemen have a hot wing eating competition. Just keep them off the field and safe. Just let the fans see their favorite players without seeing their favorite players either a) get hurt or b) dog it on the football field.
Then, give the fans a real football game.
This is where my solution to the NFL All-Star weekend takes a drastic turn. What if there was a game in which you knew every player was playing for their livelihood –not to protect it? The game would be incredible. The stakes would be high. People would watch. So who plays? –the guys who want to prove they’re worthy of playing every Sunday.
Imagine a game in which the best second-stringers and free agents lined up on the field and played in the biggest audition of their NFL careers. Let the NFL or fans nominate a player or two from each team, as well as inviting free agents and players who are “retired” but still want to play. The game, then, changes from being a game in which the players are afraid to play their hardest and becomes a game in which the players are afraid not to play their hardest. What football fan wouldn’t turn in to watch Matt Flynn try to prove he isn’t a fluke, and face off against someone like Chad Pennington trying to prove he is more than a walking injury? It would be more than compelling –it would have the potential to shape the free-agent market, the teams, and the future of the league.
Chances are, there are Kurt Warners and Adrian Fosters waiting to be discovered. Players that go undrafted, overlooked, and underappreciated are always waiting for their one chance to show America and the league that they deserve the bigger Sunday paychecks. Why not give them a place to do it? If it means that on the Sunday before the Super Bowl, I can actually watch players play their hearts out, I guarantee that it would be more entertaining, more fan-friendly, and more fruitful for the NFL. It is certainly a more innovative idea than the “Tweet booth” that stood on the sideline of this year’s Pro Bowl. This would actually get people watching –not just fans, but football executives and coaches. Everyone would be tuning in.
And most importantly, the NFL wouldn’t have to admit that Undercover Boss beat an NFL event in the TV ratings. It’s time to put an end to the embarrassment, the anticlimax, and the façade that is the Pro Bowl. Let’s make it a game again. Let’s make it matter.
Let’s make it good.