In perhaps the least relevant game in America, the 2014 edition of the NFL Pro Bowl ended with Team Sanders eeking out a victory over Team Rice by a score of 22-21.
This year, the NFL decided to get rid of the traditional AFC vs. NFC format of the Pro Bowl and have legends Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders—a symbolic wide receiver/cornerback matchup—draft players elected to the Pro Bowl, schoolyard style, and play for the vacation game pay in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The Pro Bowl has always been difficult to justify, forcing players worn out from a punishing season to put on a fan exhibition game in front of a lukewarm crowd.
The players hardly seem to mind the trip to Hawaii and the extra opportunities to gain exposure, but most of the energy seems to be spent outside the sidelines.
However, the fantasy draft format introduced this year did lead to some intriguing possibilities: player captains based on fan voting, the opportunities to watch teammates try to out-duel each other on opposite sides of the ball and some rarely seen AFC-NFC crossover pairings.
The game was fairly well-played, and the players did seem to take the outcome a bit more seriously, perhaps spurred on by the nostalgic feelings of being drafted by NFL legends. Still, the game couldn't quite live up to expectations of media members like Ben Higgins of 10news.com in San Diego:
A 67-yard FG attempt to win the Pro Bowl falls just short. The game also fell just short of entertaining. Which, for the Pro Bowl, isn't bad— Ben Higgins (@BenHigginsSD) January 27, 2014
There were also plenty of sarcastic suggestions for further improvements:
In an effort to make things interesting, Roger Goodell has decided to fine players for NOT laying huge hits in the pro bowl.— Trevor Saffel (@trevorsaffel) January 27, 2014
Not to mention, SBNation was questioning whether the Pro Bowl was even worth a period of extra football:
DeMarco Murray scores and it's 21-20, and… they gotta go for two, right? We don't want Pro Bowl OT, do we?— SB Nation (@sbnation) January 27, 2014
And what could be great about a game that forced the infallible Ravens' kicker Justin Tucker to miss a field goal?
Justin Tucker misses a 67-yard field attempt for Team Deion as Jerry Rice's Pro Bowl team wins 22-21. http://t.co/QUtw9ShJuv— CBSSports.com (@CBSSports) January 27, 2014
However, despite the gimmicks, über-modern uniforms and some interesting choices made by Antonio Cromartie in the final moments, the NFL must seriously reconsider the necessity of this game.
It may not be best to judge this new format on this year's ratings; if there is a significant uptick due to the close game and the new draft format next year, then perhaps the NFL has a case for keeping the game around.
The potential for further risk and injury is unwarranted in this current era of hyperawareness of player health concerns:
The NFL has the resources and means to consider alternate possibilities to afford the chance for fans to see their favorite athletes compete and gain recognition for their hard-earned accomplishments. The Pro Bowl is not a tradition that one must move heaven and earth to dislodge.
Especially when it comes to moments like this:
Your weekend has led to this moment. It's time for the third-string Pro Bowl quarterbacks!— SB Nation (@sbnation) January 27, 2014
Or this, perhaps the most memorable screengrab from this event.
Here's a shot of the bikini girl who just ran onto the field at the Pro Bowl... pic.twitter.com/hTVT3pDWQ4— Sara Jane Harris (@SaraJaneHarris) January 27, 2014
For example, moving things in the direction of a competition-based weekend similar to the NBA All-Star weekend is one possibility.
Pro Bowl is dumb. not like you can throw the ball off back board to yourself and dunk it— Page Kennedy (@PageKennedy) January 27, 2014
The Pro Bowl could also feature more of an award ceremony reflecting on the players' accomplishments. Then again, the game was played on the same day as the Grammy's, so there may not be room for two self-important industry award shows on one day.
All in all, the new format generated some buzz and shows a concerted effort by the NFL to freshen up a stale competition.
However, the question still remains whether the attempt at relevancy is worth the price of playing this particular game.