Save the Pro Bowl

The 2013 Pro Bowl in Honolulu, HI (Photo: Getty)

The 2013 Pro Bowl in Honolulu, HI
(Photo: Getty)

We have a love/hate relationship with the NFL Pro Bowl. The players love it. The fans hate it. And the NFL doesn’t know what to think. So, I’m going to tell them. We need to save the Pro Bowl. And this is why…

No, it’s not a “real” football game, but neither is a preseason game…and for that matter some “real” games played by “real” teams this year…

But unlike the preseason games, the fans (and specifically the season ticket holders) are not forced to buy tickets to the Pro Bowl. You don’t even have to watch it. No one admits to watching it. But the ratings are somehow big, which tells me more people watch than admit to it. I admit it. I watched. (And while I’m at it…I also watch The Bachelor.)

The game has been heavily criticized in recent years for its lack of football. So much so, that the NFL contemplated getting rid of the Pro Bowl after last year’s pathetic performance. This year, the players stepped it up…and it showed. While it wasn’t exactly competitive, it was entertaining. There was even blood shed, possibly for the first time in Pro Bowl history. Texans defensive tackle JJ Watt cut his finger and splattered blood all over himself. When Michelle Tafoya asked him about it on the sideline, he sent a message directly to NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell. The players were playing. Hard.

Yes, it’s cool to hate the Pro Bowl. But how about we focus instead, on what’s cool about it…

  1. Watching players on the field, making plays with players from opposing teams, which they would never have an opportunity to make otherwise. As a Colts fan, I could have watched Andrew Luck throwing to AJ Green all day long (no offense to Reggie Wayne or TY Hilton). And no one was happier to be catching passes from Pro Bowl quarterbacks than Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. When he caught his first pass from Drew Brees, it was the first time he had a real quarterback throw to him all year…let alone a future Hall of Famer. And as Brian McIntyre reported, the touchdown pass Fitzgerald caught from Russell Wilson was his first NFL touchdown since November 4th.
  2. The memorable moments. Like Peyton Manning’s first throw…to former teammate Reggie Wayne. And possibly the most memorable Pro Bowl moment in history involved Peyton’s other former teammate, Green Bay Packer and NFC Pro Bowl center Jeff Saturday. Saturday announced his retirement prior to the Pro Bowl, but stepped in on the AFC team to make one last ceremonious snap to Manning before hugging him and walking off the field with the ball. I get teary just thinking about it.
  3. Trick plays. We saw defenders come in as receivers, laterals, a backwards onside kick, and very little punting. There is a reason you don’t see many fancy plays during the regular season. And watching the Pro Bowl, you see why. But they’re fun to watch…even when they don’t work.
  4. Not everything about the Pro Bowl is about the fans. And not everything special about it takes place on the field. It’s a chance for players to engage with each other, with their families, and with each other’s families, to reflect on the season, and to rub elbows with some of the greatest players in the game. Both Pro Bowl rookie quarterbacks, Andrew Luck and Russell Wilson, remarked on the experience of socializing, practicing, game planning, and playing with some of their childhood idols. And who will ever forget the image of Peyton Manning on the sideline with his son Marshall in his lap?
Peyton Manning and his son, Marshall

Peyton & Marshall Manning

Truly special moments. Some on the field. Some off. That is what the Pro Bowl is about.

Love it or hate it…we should keep it.



Bold Predictions for 2012 NFL Season: Cutler Cracks a Smile, Brady Attempts the Impossible, and Eli Loses Some Weight…

Here we are…the preseason is behind us.  The regular season is before us.  And I have a few bold predictions (ten to be exact) for the 2012 NFL season:

10.  Bears Quarterback Jay Cutler will be more likable as a dad.  I didn’t say he’d be a better quarterback, but I do think fatherhood will soften his edges and make him a little more personable, or at least a little more human.  Hey, that commercial he did for The NFL Store was almost funny.  See?  It’s already working.

9.  On the other hand, fatherhood WILL make Tony Romo a better quarterback for the Cowboys.  He put a lot of pressure on himself (some deservedly) the last few seasons, but now seems happy and settled.  That will translate to the field in confidence, that he has someone to come home to…and it’s not Jessica Simpson.

8.  We will discover that Rex Ryan is a better coach when he’s overweight.  Maybe it’s the diet.  It’s possible he’s a little light-headed these days.  I mean, claiming this is the best Jets team he’s ever coached?  That may be more bold than his pre-preseason Superbowl predictions.  He must be seeing something in practice that we’re not.  Namely…touchdowns.

7.  We will learn why no one wants to coach (or play) in Miami.  If you watched Hard Knocks, you’re already half way there.

6.  We will discover that there was indeed something magical about Peyton Manning’s hands under Jeff Saturday’s butt.  Both will have decent seasons, but neither will be able to replicate what they had together in Indianapolis.  Seeing as they’re both playing in outside stadiums now, that’s mostly warm hands and a warm butt.

5.  Tim Tebow will become the starter for the New York Jets.  I don’t know when, but it will happen.  And when it does, the skies will part, the angels will sing, and Skip Bayless will crown him MVP…all before he completes his first pass (just before halftime).

4.  With the Patriots light on receivers, Tom Brady, upon suffering two Superbowl defeats to Eli Manning, will attempt to do the very thing wife Gisele Bundchen claimed he could not…throw the ball and catch it himself.

3.  Eli Manning will finally prove that he is an elite quarterback after all, and is undoubtedly the best quarterback in the Manning family.  Wait, didn’t he do that last season?  Forget it then.  Eli will find new joy playing for the Giants, without carrying a 230-pound monkey on his back named Peyton.

2.  After two weeks of fumbled calls, Father Goodell will finally open his checkbook and sign the NFL officials to a new contract, just in time for week three.  The replacement refs will miss the call, report to work, and flag the league for too many men on the field.  They will try to reverse the call, but won’t remember what it was.

1.  And for my last bold prediction of the season…Terrell Owens and Chad (Ochocinco) Johnson will fall in love (no, not with each other) and ride off into sunset, never to be heard from again.  I know.  I pushed it too far with that one.  Damn, it was a nice thought though…wasn’t it?

Here’s to the 2012 NFL season.  The clock is down to hours…and they’re ticking away.