Did you hear? The PRO BOWL was this weekend!
That’s right, with thousands in attendance, but only about 12 watching from their couch, our nation’s favorite gladiators descended on Honolulu to play patty-cake for four hours. Indeed, the NFL’s annual rough-touch excuse for an All-Star Game was, as always, a roaring failure.
The way I see it, the utter pointlessness of the Pro Bowl is a mystifying phenomenon.
The NFL is by far the most popular and lucrative sports outfit our country has going. Everything from its weekly TV ratings, to its Vegas action, to its fantasy leagues prove this, as they all COMPLETELY ECLIPSE those from the other three main sports (MLB, NBA, NHL).
Tune into any ESPN programming between September and February and you’ll walk away with a sophisticated understanding of the Seahawks' nickel package and a thorough knowledge of the coming week’s long-snapper fantasy ratings index. However, you may be hard pressed to get much info on, say, the winner of the World Series.
That’s how dominant the NFL is in American sports culture. Nothing else even holds a candle.
Even the NFL Draft (purely a byproduct of the national pro football obsession) has risen to epic levels of popularity. In no other sport has the drafting of untested rookies taken on such a life of its own.
Sure, the NBA Draft lottery has its own quaint following, but it’s safe to say no one is still watching after the top 15 picks are announced. Meanwhile, over in the NFL, people are planning three-day draft parties, buying stock in Mel Kiper’s hair treatment, and cheering hoarsely 68 hours in as their team selects Tito Perkins, offensive guard out of Pepperdine.
Yes, the NFL truly has a stranglehold on the American sports market, establishing the gold standard in 99 percent of its endeavors. However, one in the NFL’s product line continues to elude the Midas touch. Every year at this time the NFL incurs its annual fail: the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, an all-star game of truly minuscule proportions.
There are many reasons to hate the Pro Bowl (the voting is skewed to larger market teams, the best players sometimes don’t even play, etc.). However, what should offend the NFL’s elitist sensibilities even more is the multitude of reasons the common fan has to completely not care about the Pro Bowl whatsoever.
It’s true, the game has very little meaning for even the most dedicated of fans. And for being a product of a league that is so insanely popular in every other aspect, that’s kind of sad.
Fortunately, it doesn’t have to be this way.
About a week ago, a friend and I were discussing the Pro Bowl; what it meant to us (very little), what it stood for in the pantheon of NFL tradition (even less) and finally, the potential it had for the future. What became evident as a result of our conversation was that football (and, more generally, sports) should do nothing if not entertain us.
As fans, we’re the ones driving up television ratings and buying game day tickets—we’re the lifeblood of the sports economy, one that has been ever so kind to the NFL, and everyone associated with it. So, with that principle in mind, shouldn’t events like the Pro Bowl (celebrations of the sport) cater to the fan's sensibility? In paraphrasing Gladiator’s Maximus, should we not be entertained?
That being said, it was abundantly clear what needed to happen. Immediately, the answer to all the Pro Bowl questions (how can we make it relevant? How can we fix it? How can we make people care?) materialized in front of me.
If only we would have thought of this sooner.
I call it the Fundamental Oppositan Relevance Theory (the F.O.R.T.). Some say its roots can be traced back to Costanzian philosophy, but a precise lineage has not yet been confirmed.
The F.O.R.T.’s tenets rely on one simple principle: for an object of mass consumption to show relevance, its foundation must be fundamentally appealing to its audience, even if said appeal seems utterly contradictory to conventional senses, or opposite of pre-conception.
In layman’s terms, in order to make people care about something, change it around until it’s awesome, even if said changes seem ridiculous and fly right in the face of everything you think you know.
Ladies and gentlemen…I give you the New Pro Bowl.
First, take all your preconceived notions about positioning and toss them out the window. In the New Pro Bowl, every player will play the nearest opposite of the position they play on Sundays.
The quarterback, widely regarded as the most important position in all of sports, will swap positions with the long-snapper. Yes, the most nameless, faceless dudes on the NFL rosters will get their one day in the sun, while the Tom Bradys and Jay Cutlers of the world will get a chance to see just how hard it is to fire a two-handed, upside-down spiral 15 yards…through their legs.
Next, I’d switch the offensive linemen and the defensive backs, and the defensive linemen and the wide receivers. In the New Pro Bowl, we’d all get to giggle from our Barcaloungers as Andre Johnson takes a full head of steam into a pass-protecting Courtland Finnegan.
In my system, we’d get to see just how out of shape the Albert Haynesworths of the world really are, as they rumble 20 yards down the field and attempt a pivot in between the hashes. The only thing more comical, of course, would be watching a 313-pound behemoth like Minnesota guard Steve Hutchinson trip over his feet as he eases into a backpedal.
Speaking of comical, I’d make a special exception on the defensive line, switching all nose tackles for punters, and vice versa.
While it would certainly be a treat to see Raiders bad-boy punter Sebastian Janikowski mixing it up in the trenches with some of the game’s better wideouts, the real hilarity would ensue when guys like the New England’s Vince Wilfork and Baltimore’s Terrence Cody try to handle a high snap to pop off a 60-yarder. Not sure many coaches will be game planning for the fake.
Finally I’d switch my kickers and tight ends. You always seem to hear about how kickers get a bad wrap, how they don’t get enough credit, and how they lack the toughness of a “real” football player.
Well, here’s their chance to prove everybody wrong. There might not be a position on a football field that takes more punishment than the tight end (when you consider they might block Brian Urlacher on second down then get decimated by him on a crossing route on third).
In the rare event that a) the kicker coming across the middle doesn’t get alligator arms and whiff on the pass, and b) the pursuing Hutchinson actually can manage his inertia long enough to zero in on his target and make a hit, well, let’s just say it won’t be long before kickers ask for their obscurity back.
Now, some readers might interpret this first rule tweak as a bit mean-spirited, even masochistic. However, if you’re a true, re-blooded football fan, you’ll be lining up to buy your 2012 ticket when you hear my next stipulation.
In order to prevent the fan backlash that will inevitably occur (and for good reason) at the prospect of their favorite players being crippled in the name of entertainment, I give you the Performance/Play Selection Index (P.P.S.I.). A combination of criteria that weight a player’s salary, performance, and conduct on and off the field, the P.P.S.I. will effectively act as the selection board for the New Pro Bowl.
For instance, a player like the aforementioned Haynesworth would almost certainly have made the 2011 New Pro Bowl, as he was paid an exorbitant amount of cash to park his chubby butt on the sidelines as he pouted about Washington’s defensive scheme.
Similarly, slug-man Jamarcus Russell would have captained the 2009 AFC squad, on the merits of his multimillion dollar contract and addiction to “purple drank.” On the flip side, players like New England’s Rob Gronkowski (10 TD as a rookie) would receive a pass, due to their excellent on-field performance, which came at a bargain basement price (base salary of about 320 G’s).
Finally, thugs like Pittsburgh’s James Harrison will be required to play one minute for every thousand dollars in fines they wrack up during the season for taking shots at people’s heads.
What this rule does is protect the players we all hold dear (all those who have endeared themselves to fans by playing well and earning their contracts will be excused) while ensuring we all get our money’s worth out of those who don’t (in other words, Buffalo fans can finally sleep at night, knowing they’ll get some kind of return on that Aaron Maybin investment).
Additionally, in the New Pro Bowl, players who are selected through the P.P.S.I. will be obligated to play. Plain and simple, starting in 2011 every NFL contract will have a clause that basically shackles the player to their New Pro Bowl commitment.
This shouldn’t be too hard to sell to the Players Union: show me a player who doesn’t think they’ll live up to their contract and I’ll show you a weenus who won’t get signed in the first place.
The final rule addition necessary to the success of the New Pro Bowl is the bonus clause. In order to retain the interest of fans, referees and scorekeepers at Pro Bowl 2012 shall feel free to reward points and assess penalties at their discretion.
For instance, for every pass thrown by Dallas long snapper L.P. Ladouceur deemed by the officiating team to be a “spiral,” the NFC squad will receive an additional two points. Likewise, should underachieving Kansas City DE Glenn Dorsey somehow come down with a touchdown grab, the AFC will automatically be awarded three extra points, and Dorsey will get a Snickers for his effort.
Additional bonus points will be awarded for any defensive lineman celebration, whether they score a touchdown or not, with B.J. Raji's freezer dance obviously entrenched as the barometer.
Now, please understand, by suggesting such radical changes, I fully expect some growing pains. For instance, network executives at Fox and NBC (alternating carriers of the current Pro Bowl) must be fully prepared to adjust their advertising pricing, as viewership is sure to grow exponentially.
Also, the NFL Players Association should brace itself for an onslaught of grievances from Donovan McNabb; he’s topped the “all-overpaid” team for the last half-decade. Finally, agents for the NFL’s lesser-knowns (kickers, guards, the like) must be vigilant. After all, it will only take one four-pick performance out of Chris Snee before sponsors are knocking the door down.
I think we can all agree the NFL has a serious opportunity here. The time is now to put an end to years of late January football suffering. However, sports fans, it’s in our hands. Consider this a treatise on the plight of the NFL fan; pass it along to all who will listen.
Together, through a shared disdain of diva receivers and 50-40 blowouts, we can end this war of apathy. With our combined efforts, (and a healthy appreciation for fat guy dances) we can speak to the NFL with one united voice.
As one, we can make the Pro Bowl mean something.