I used to believe in magic. I don’t know if I ever believed in actual magicians because, as far back as I can remember, those tricks were just stupid. Later on, if they weren’t stupid they were just impossible, or I was just pessimistic enough to focus on the fact that there must be a hidden compartment or a trick with mirrors or something.
That said, I did believe in other forms of magic. I believed in the existence of Santa Claus, and how he delivered presents to every single house on the globe in one night (an 8-hour night, not even the rolling 24-hour block that he gets due to time zones.) I believed in the Easter Bunny. I firmly believed that a 7-foot tall rabbit man broke into my house to hide candy and hard-boiled eggs. I had no doubt in the existence of St. Patrick, and how he would bless my liver on St. Patrick’s Day so that I could drink all day. I still believe that one. I even believed in the idea of a free lunch, but I got over that quickly enough when I received my own business cards.
And yes, I also believed in the NFL Pro Bowl. I believed that, once a year, the best players at each position in the NFL separated into teams based on division and played the best football game they possibly could for entertainment of their fans and the honor of being crowned Pro Bowl champions. It would be like playing the All-Madden Team against the All-Madden Team in Madden NFL 2002: the greatest offense possible in the league would do its best to drive down the field while the greatest defense possible in the league would try and stop them.
I see now that my former belief in Santa, the Easter Bunny, and free lunches were much more logical than the idea that the Pro Bowl actually means something, but it wasn’t always this way. Players used to care a little bit. Now they don’t even care what side of the ball they’re on. It’s gotten to the point that watching an electronic table-top football game is almost as enjoyable. Almost.
In a recent interview with CBS New York sports radio station WFAN, Pittsburgh Steelers legend Terry Bradshaw mentioned that, back in the day, the Pro Bowl was a true honor to most players because the salary bonus for making the Pro Bowl was a nice percentage of some of their salaries.
It makes sense. In the 1970s, the bonus for making the Pro Bowl was around $2,000. The minimum salary for an NFL player was around $12,500, leading many players to take second jobs in the off-season. That Pro Bowl bonus would be 16% of that minimum contract player, which is huge! Obviously, his salary would go up yearly as a result as well, but at least there was a certain span of time that the player actually felt honored rather than annoyed that he had to vacation in Hawaii because he’s the most talented athlete at his position in the NFL.
Save the Date…Until It Changes Again
Even when the NFL tries to fix the Pro Bowl by changing something about it, they seem to just make it worse.
Take the timing of the Pro Bowl, for example. From 1970 – 2009, the Pro Bowl was played after the Super Bowl, usually the weekend after. From 2010 and on, the date was changed to the weekend before the Super Bowl. The logic behind this move was that football fans tuned out of the sport after the Super Bowl, so the Pro Bowl was usually forgotten as fans moved on to basketball, hockey, and The Starting of the Buses leading up to spring training in baseball. If the Pro Bowl was snuck in between the Conference Championships and the Super Bowl, fan may accidentally watch the game.
The downside to this idea is that the Pro Bowl teams are incomplete, because players selected for the Pro Bowl but are in the Super Bowl get a pass to make sure they don’t get injured. How’s that for showing the importance of the Pro Bowl.
Bad to Absurd
The biggest criticism of the Pro Bowl has to do with how hard the players play: barely at all (except for J.J. Watt, once.) The reason is a mixture of indifference and fear of injury by the players. These guys are making a couple million a year, so they aren’t exactly foaming at the mouth to crush it at a Pro Bowl game for $25,000 – $50,000.
The game itself has continued to suffer as a result. In 2010, the Pro Bowl was actually blacked out locally in Hawaii due to the NFL blackout policy.
Now players don’t even care what side of the ball they’re on. in 2013, Jeff Saturday, Pro Bowl center for the NFC North Green Bay Packers, snapped the ball for one play to Peyton Manning, Pro Bowl quarterback of the Denver Broncos. It was an act of nostalgia, since Saturday had been Manning’s center with the Indianapolis Colts for year. Still, it doesn’t make the Pro Bowl look any better when players are switching sides for the memories. The only merit the game had was when Pro Bowl official Ed Hochuli announced that, “Yes there are penalties in the Pro Bowl.”
The 2014 Pro Bowl is set to be played in Hawaii on January 26th, and will have a new, even more ridiculous tweek to its set-up: drafted teams.
On January 22nd, the NFL Network will air the Pro Bowl draft at 8pm EST between team captains, Hall of Fame players Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders. Each rouch, the captains will choose a player to add to their fantasy team, and then unleash the players against each other. Now a linebacker has a chance to hit his own team’s quarterback as hard as he can! A safety will be able to knock the legs out from under his team’s star running back! Surely this will lead to a much more exciting game.
But don’t take my word for it. And please, don’t call me Shirley.