It's conventional wisdom at this point. It's a great honor to be selected to the NFL Pro Bowl. But playing in the actual game? Not so much.
It used to be called "the forgotten game" of the season. Players would go out to Hawaii to have fun, maybe practice a little and get some surfing in.
The Pro Bowl was played after the biggest worldwide event outside of the World Cup, which caused it to lose some of whatever luster it may have had.
Last year, the league decided to try something a little different. They would play the game in the bye week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl. There wasn't much of a bar for them to clear; ratings in 2009 were a 5.8, dropping them from 2008's 6.2.
The interesting thing about those numbers? They were a high for the decade. It was clear that people just weren't interested. So the NFL moved the game.
The result? Ratings shot up to a 7.9 in 2010, the highest in recent history. The gambit worked. The question now is whether it will continue. With quarterbacks like Tom Brady out for injury and Ben Roethlisberger and Aaron Rodgers allowed to skip the game due to some minor commitment the next week, will we as sports fans watch the game this Sunday in Hawaii?
It's possible that a lot of the credit for the ratings increase is due to the fact that it was the first year in a new experiment. However, this year Fox is promising all sorts of new access, including being able to hear the coaches' radio during the game. Diehard fans (myself included) should enjoy the "inside football" tidbits like hearing the terminology and the like, but will it attract the casual fan? We will find out on Sunday.
And if the game disappoints? We only have to wait seven more days for another one.