The Pro Bowl has always been a stupendous scam. This year's Pro Bowl would win the Scam Olympics.
The scamminess of this edition is so scamtastic, so amazingly and shamelessly scamarific, it will go down in All-Star Game history as the boldest of bamboozling hoodwinks.
The Pro Bowl has long lacked in effort and tackling (minus the one time Sean Taylor almost broke a punter in half). It's also long lacked in star players, who skip the game sometimes for legitimate reasons and sometimes because they just hate playing in it.
What makes this Pro Bowl special, though, is how many players are skipping it. It's the most declined invitation in the history of the game, maybe in the history of American sports.
Note this staggering number from the Elias Sports Bureau (via ESPN): The total number of players who have now been invited to the Pro Bowl is 133. Only 86 were voted in, meaning that 47 have had to be invited as alternates. The previous high was 119 invitations in 2010.
It's gotten so bad that coaches are now dropping out of the Pro Bowl. The Packers announced Wednesday that Mike McCarthy isn't going due to a "stomach illness." No one is suggesting that McCarthy isn't really sick, but I cannot remember the last time a head coach missed a real game because of a stomach illness.
Philip Rivers isn't going for his second straight season. Last year, he was injured. This year, it's kids and laundry. "It's a school week for his family, and he and wife Tiffany welcomed their sixth daughter and eighth child in October," wrote the San Diego Union-Tribune's Michael Gehlken. "Plenty of work around the house is to be done..."
Good for Rivers. No need to drag the 17 kids to that monstrosity.
They are injured, but I suspect if they were healthy, they still would have declined, the way Tom Brady did. And the way Drew Brees did.
I've heard from agents who say that some players are declining in order to send a message to the NFL that they want the game to die. I completely believe this.
"Players despise the game now more than ever in all the time I've been around the NFL," said one prominent agent who has been representing football players for decades. "They see it as not only a waste of time, but a detriment to their recovery process."
It's not that the Pro Bowl is violent. It is, compared to real football, a pillow fight. But after months and months of naked, horrible violence to their bodies and minds, instead of beginning to heal, they are asked to play yet again.
If what these agents are saying is accurate (and it is), the record number of declined invitations to the game isn't just coincidental, it's sabotage.
Good for them. Excellent.
Players didn't always hate the Pro Bowl or avoid it in large numbers. I covered several Pro Bowls in the 1990s in Hawaii, and players seemed to like taking their families and loved ones. Now it's totally different. Players have become far more aware of what football does to their bodies and how they require rest.
Russell Wilson is the only quarterback who was voted into the game and remains on the roster. Adam Jones, who was the seventh alternate, is going to the game. Jones hasn't yet accused McCarthy of faking his illness.
The Pro Bowl remains a thing because of ratings and money. There are still people who watch it, and this fact makes someone somewhere some cash. Since these days only the new Star Wars movie is more watched than the NFL, it will get ratings, but the ridiculousness of it all only serves to cheapen the sport.
Remember, Roger Goodell himself once wanted to dump the Pro Bowl. If the NFL doesn't eventually dump the game, then just turn it into a skills competition. Not in Hawaii, but rotate it yearly in locations on the East and West Coasts and in the middle of the country, avoiding the long flight.
Or, yeah, just get rid of it. Otherwise, there's a good chance a new absentee record will be set every year.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.