NFL column: Pro Bowl is an embarrassing waste of time
By Greg Cote
MIAMI — The Pro Bowl stinks.
The NFL needs to solve it, or scrap it.
It used to be merely seriously flawed back when they held it in Honolulu the week after the Super Bowl and its biggest problems were: star players routinely bowing out because of "injuries" such as hangnails or the sniffles, and being such an anticlimactic afterthought that nobody, neither fans nor players, really cared.
Now, bad has gotten worse.
What a mess.
Worse than a mess — an embarrassment.
The NFL rarely makes a misstep, a decision that fails so obviously, but this qualifies.
This year, for the first time since 1975, the league has moved its all-star game to Miami, and it is having it a week before the Super Bowl.
The idea was to give the Pro Bowl a more prominent stage by making it the "event" that kicks off Super Bowl Week, but the result has been to dilute the game's marginal legitimacy even further. The result has been to beam a bigger spotlight on all that's wrong.
The Pro Bowl has gone from being something benign and easily ignored to something begging scorn.
Kicking off Super Bowl Week with the Pro Bowl is like kicking off your vacation with rain.
Having the game in Miami (or the annual Super Bowl host city) is not the problem. Although Honolulu — where the game will return the next two years until the league decides what to do with its albatross — was good because it reflected what the Pro Bowl is: a vacation for players, nothing more. (Players should have been allowed to wear Hawaiian shirts and leis during games and sip mai tais in the huddle for all the game really matters.)
I probably would leave it in Hawaii for those reasons and because, ever since Jack Lord went off the air and Don Ho died, the entire Big Island has spiraled into an abyss, its residents morose and growing fatter and fatter on macadamia nuts.
Another idea for the NFL to consider: place the Pro Bowl in a non-NFL city each year on a rotating basis. Award the game to bidding cities as you would a Super Bowl. Iowans, for example, might be so excited to see all these NFL stars in person that they wouldn't even care that so many were no-shows. (Then again, if we can't get these guys to go to Honolulu or Miami, what chance does Dubuque have?)
No, the main problem isn't where you put the game.
The main problem is that players continue to want to be selected to the Pro Bowl (think bonus check) but not actually play in it.
The co-main problem, the new, colossally dumb one, is that having the game before the Super Bowl automatically eliminates Pro Bowl players from the two Super Bowl teams — meaning, the best players from the best teams.
Raise your hand if you think that makes any sense.
Already built in are the many players bowing out every year with lame excuses and made-up injuries. Now you also eliminate the players whom fans most want to see. In this case, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees.
The result is that only 63 percent of players originally selected by fans, players and coaches actually are competing Sunday at It's-Still-Dolphin Stadium-to-Me.
I mean, so many actual stars have dropped out that two of the AFC quarterbacks are Vince Young and David Garrard. Seriously. C'mon!
Imagine if the Pro Bowl attitude transferred to other award shows. George Clooney, Morgan Freeman, Johnny Depp, Matt Damon, Leonardo DiCaprio and others dropped out and the best-actor Oscar goes to Pauly Shore.
This is the Faux Bowl Pro Bowl. These are the not-all-stars. Everybody and their mother has dropped out.
Update: Somebody else's mother just dropped out.
If they continued to select Pro Bowl teams but stopped forcing a pretend game, nobody would care or feel a loss. But if the NFL wants to save its beleaguered game, here are two solutions:
Make it after the Super Bowl again so you aren't automatically eliminating the best players from the best teams.
Require players selected to actually play. Do it with one simple rule: If you were healthy for the last regular-season game and did not leave that game injured, you are officially healthy and have zero excuse to bow out. If you do, your Pro Bowl bonus will be rescinded and your name will be excluded from the following year's ballot.
How about further incentive that gets the teams involved? Say, if you bow out illegitimately your team forfeits its final pick in the coming draft.
Sunday's game will have the outward appearance of success. The league will emphasize the big crowd. TV will focus on the stars who are playing, such as running back Chris Johnson. And there will be enough former Miami Hurricanes to give the game a layer of parochial interest.
Make no mistake, though:
The Pro Bowl — everything about it — needs fixing.
Fix it, NFL, or add it to your Graveyard of Defunct Ideas.
Give it a good spot in the cemetery near the Chicago College All-Star Game (1934-76), which finally was scrapped after the NFL team had beaten the poor collegians 12 years in a row.
Or plant it near the Bert Bell Benefit Bowl (1960-69), the so-called "runner-up bowl" staged at the Orange Bowl following the championship game — an idea laid to rest soon after Vince Lombardi called it "the S_Bowl, a losers' bowl for losers."
Barring heroic, rescuing changes, bury the Pro Bowl game near those two and watch life go on just fine.
(c) 2010, The Miami Herald.
Visit The Miami Herald Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.herald.com/
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.