The Pro-Bowl Is a Bad Joke: How the NFL Can Draw Fan Interest
It's been over a month since the AFC beat the NFC in the annual Pro Bowl game. If you're like most fans you can't stop talking about the...talking about the...big hits! No, that's not right. You can't stop talking about the pressure those crazy blitz schemes!! Nope, sorry, wrong again. Oh, that's right! You can't stop talking about how insulting the Pro Bowl is for fans.
We love hits.
We love LeGarrette Blount running over entire teams.
We love a delayed blitz where Clay Mathews gets to the QB just before he notices.
So why bother continuing with this joke? I for one vote to kill it. Kill it with fire. At the same time, let's get our pros together to have some televised fun. Maybe even some craziness. The league can start slow, it doesn't have to immediately be a weekend of Japanese game shows...although I'd personally vote for that.
Read on to see my suggestions. You may disagree but I'm sure we can all settle on one commonality— ANYTHING IS BETTER THAN THE CURRENT PRO BOWL.
(*Also, I wanted to think about something other than BountyGate.)
Quarterback Skills Decathlon
There are several pure athletes playing QB in the NFL now. They are looked upon to be agile, intelligent, accurate, great leaders, and countless other things. So, like traditional decathlon rules, line up 10 events, take the 6 QBs voted into the Pro Bowl and have them compete.
Each event would be scored on a point system. Which would take a few years to perfect, but at least the excitement of having a real competition would draw more attention to the weekend.
Let's be honest, the quarterback rating still isn't perfect (let's not even talk about the BCS formula!) so a few years of tinkering with a sliding scale of points won't really bother fans.
1. Standing Throw - a pure distance event. Plant two feet on the goal line and chuck the ball as far down the field as you can. Easy! Also, the same exact amount of defensive pressure as is allowed in the Pro Bowl.
2. Sideline Run - some QBs rely on their legs much more than others, and some decathletes rely more on javelin throwing than their pole vaulting. In any case, it's important for a QB to be able to at least move. This drill lines them up on a hash mark, they take a 5 step drop and on a whistle/gun they run to the far sideline to get out of bounds. Time it and score it. The 40-yard dash could be subbed in here, but that's also boring.
3. Coverage Test - this is a pure test of recognition. The QBs will all be given the same exact test. A picture will flash on a screen for .5 seconds and the QB must write down the coverage they saw. The scores are tallied, weighed in the magical QB decathlon scale and the points are distributed.
4. Quickness - taking a snap from an upright coach, each QB will drop back 5 steps. There will be 8 different targets on the field, far more than usual to add confusion, when they plant their last step one will light up. The QB must throw towards the target and hit it. This is a quickness of mind and release test because the target will only stay lit for a moment. If it is hit after the light goes out it does not count. This is not an accuracy test so the targets will be very large.
5. Accuracy - this test is the good old-fashioned blue-chalk-tipped-football thrown at a target. Pick a few different areas: flats, post, post-corner, fade, back shoulder, etc.
6. Punt Distance - because why not? Ben Roethlisberger and Tom Brady can't be the only QBs in the league who have ever punted a ball in their lives! Just a pure distance punt. It'd be fun to watch Peyton Manning or Cam Newton punt a ball, wouldn't it?
7. Opposite Arm Accuracy - much easier than the other accuracy test, 2-3 targets top. Eli Manning and Brett Favre come to mind as recent QBs who, mistakenly, believe it's a good idea to toss the ball with their off hand every now and again. Why not prove to everyone why that is a always a mistake.
8. Half Mile - long distance endurance is decidedly unimportant, which would make this a fun event.
9. Fastball - and I'm talking baseballs too. I want to see who can throw heat. Nolan Ryan used to warm up with a football. He threw over 100 mph at times, and even though there is absolutely no correlation, it would just be more fun than the Pro Bowl.
10. Step Depth - it's like a strange version of the broad jump, only sidestepping backwards. Who can get the most depth on a 5 step drop? Like all other events, it's scored on a sliding scale.
Once all 10 events have happened, tally the scores and see who is the complete package. It means nothing. It will not tell us who the best QB is in the league. It will say basically nothing. At the same time, I would actually watch it and I think a lot of fans would.
This slide will be short, as I am guessing everyone reading this has some knowledge of the game of basketball.
AFC picks 11. NFC picks 11. These players can't be the Quarterbacks, because they're busy with their decathlon, but they can be anyone else.
It needs to be competitive—that's the point of killing the Pro Bowl in the first place. To make sure of this, the teams will actually practice for a few days with former NBA coaches. Bring in Phil Jackson and Chuck Daily, or people like that. They should keep the same coaches coming back each year, if possible, to also have a little grudge match start between the two of them as well.
Every player in the NFL I've heard talk about basketball speaks as if they could have gone to the NBA if they wanted. It doesn't work that way. Just like the NBA holdout didn't create a plethora of new NFL players. At the same time, there is no questioning the caliber of athletes in the NFL.
It would be fun to see who comes out of nowhere and is shockingly good. Maybe Vince Wilfork has the best crossover since Tim Hardaway.
Sprint—Easiest Event to Find a Sponsor For.
The NFL is a league that is not short on speed. At the same time, just lining up and running 40's is fun for a second, or 4.3ish seconds in reality, but there are so many other ways to enjoy people moving at the speed usually reserved for horses or cars.
We need 6 runners total, from each division.
Two runners from each division would compete in the 400 meter dash, the most dreaded track and field event. It's a quarter mile sprint that tests endurance, speed, and insanity. These 4 runners would only run that event on day 1. On day 2 they would compete in the 100 meter dash and later in the day, the mile. All 3 events are extremely different and test different aspects of the runners capability.
The other 4 runners from each division are put together onto relay teams. The 4x100 would be the big event of the second day and conclude the track and field portion. It's the Olympic style, baton passing, pure speed race. AFC vs. NFC: line up and run like mad.
Before the 4x100 those same runners would run some odd relays. The 4x40, each team would require 2 lanes, they would start running and cross a finish line which would send a runner from their team back in the direction that the first runner came from, he crosses the line and the 3rd runner goes, then the 4th. Whoever crosses the finish line first...well, they win. That's how racing works!
Another possible run for them the day before would be the 4x800, which would take 4 sprinters and test them in 1/2 mile increments. A half mile is an easy jog for these athletes, until they're lined up against another runner and their competitive nature takes over. It's a paced sprint—if you've never tried to run (at about 4/5s your sprinting speed) for a half mile you cannot possible conceive how difficult this race is.
The pacing events and the longer distances would provide unexpected amounts of laughter from fans. Which is much better than watching Jared Allen stand straight up on the snap of the ball in the Pro Bowl.
The Obstacle Course
First off, let me say that I'm not advocating Jake Long enter this event. I just had to pick a picture and he came to mind...and he may be forced into doing it anyway.
I would imagine running backs dominating this event, although line backers and defensive backs would also fare well, I'm sure.
Somewhere between Tough Mudder, Wipe Out, and basic training. We want walls that need scaling, followed by running through 2 feet of mud, then monkey bars, crawling under an obstacle for a crazy amount of time, swimming through freezing cold water, etc.
Make it tough. Make it grueling. Make it so only the most insane person on each squad wants to compete in it. And then mess with them.
Each division has one competitor. That competitor looks at the roster of the other division and picks out their opponents teammate. That's right, you're only as strong as your weakest member in the Obstacle Course.
Say, for example Marshawn Lynch and Ray Rice decided this was the event they wanted to participate in, Lynch would then get to look over the AFC lineup and select the other member of Rice's two person team. Lynch could select Jake Long. And Rice could pick BJ Raji.
All four would line up and run it. Each 2 person team would take their average score and see which division wins.
I'd watch this every weekend.
American Gauntlet and Other Awesome Things
This event will need a little help from Hollywood, and some trademark lawyers, but it can be done.
Take a group of 5 big men from each team—they essentially become American Gladiators against the other division's warrior.
Imagine Vernon Davis slamming small balls into 4 foot hoops protected by Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Joe Thomas, Ben Grubs, and Richard Seymour!!! Give them a few minutes to recover and put them up on 20 foot stands and have Davis joust against Lewis.
This formula eventually lost viewers on TV but plugging our favorite NFL players in for a special show once a year may be as cool as the Super Bowl itself. Probably not, but I would imagine ad sales would be way up over the current Pro Bowl.
And the NFL is, above all things, a business.
Want more events? ALL of these would work.
World's Strongest Man
If the name Magnus Ver Magnusson means nothing to you, (a) this event may sound foreign to you, (b) you don't watch ESPN classic, or (c) you're much younger than I am.
Pro Bowl weekend used to have a bench press competition but they decided their boring weekend should be made even more unwatchable and killed off the only fun things about the entire event. While they were fun to watch, they were only as fun to watch as it can be to watch Larry Allen bench press 225lbs about 9,000 times.
Cut to strongman competitions where large, mostly undefined Nordic men would flip tires, push trucks, toss trees over walls and other ridiculous things. Ridiculous in that they were awesome!
Take the monsters of the NFL and find out who is the strongest in a way that Rocky (circa Rocky IV) would be proud of.
All the league would have to do is find a way to copy strongman competitions as closely as they can without getting sued. Last time I checked the league was doing just fine financially, they could buy the rights, AND THEY SHOULD!
The Specialist Competition
1. Who can punt the furthest, 5 punts each.
2. Who can hit it out of bounds at the 5 from the 50 the most times out of 10.
3. Who can hang it for the longest amount of time.
I like the old game of field goal H O R S E they played. Keep it that way.
Boring right? Well, it's the kickers, what did you expect?
The Final Tally
Okay, the winner doesn't get the trophies above but the trophy they get has yet to be invented so it was extremely difficult to find a picture of it.
Simple Olympics style score. Each event counts as a win or a loss for the NFC or AFC. The team with the most victories at the end of the day wins.
They can win cars, trophies, money, new tool sets, or whatever. I don't care what they win, no fan will, because finally on Pro Bowl weekend, the fans themselves will have won...finally.
The NFL has added games to Sunday nights, Monday, Thursday, Saturday, and next season to Wednesday (only the Giants opening game); and in general it's a league that treats their fans very well. It's time for them to treat the Pro Bowl weekend like they have given it some consideration.
Right now, it's a complete joke and it seems like I've spent more time writing this article than the league has spent thinking about the experience for their fans on Pro Bowl weekend.