NFL: Pro Bowl on weak display
By Monte Poole
The Oakland Tribune
One thing the NFL never does is leave a dollar on the sidewalk, much less relinquish one in hand. The league thrives because fans are spellbound by its product and therefore easily exploited out of their checkbooks.
With its newest incarnation of the Pro Bowl, however, the N Almighty FL is testing the limits of its considerable magnetism as well as the tolerance of its fans.
The least competitive pro football game of the year makes its annual appearance on Sunday in Miami. After 30 years during which this farce was scheduled for the week after the Super Bowl, in Hawaii, the league is trying a one-year experiment, playing the week before the Super Bowl, in the same venue in which the Super Bowl is to be played.
This automatically excludes from the Pro Bowl anyone on the roster of a team in the Super Bowl - which, by design, features the NFL's best squads. Genius, eh? It's kind of like MLB holding the Yankees and Phillies out of the All-Star Game, or the NBA barring the Lakers and Cavaliers from All-Star Weekend.
Understand, the Pro Bowl was weak enough when it was an exhibition on a tropical island, with players understandably more interested in recreation than competition. The risk of seeing the league's stars carted off the field en route to surgery always has outweighed the value of the game.
But this newest abomination of the concept is altogether fitting for this abomination of a game.
It's as if the NFL is trying to kill its own silver egg - in which case I say ice it for good. May the Pro Bowl disappear with the finality of AMC and its butt-ugly Pacer. If we can vaporize Mervyn's and Circuit City, there must be a way to extinguish the Pro Bowl.
Generally artificial, with rosters inflated with filler due to injuries and apathy, the 2010 version of the Pro Bowl is as phony as a $20 "Rolex" bought in a Times S quare doorway.
More than 30 of the original 88 players chosen for the rosters - more than one-third - won't be available for one reason or another. The number of replacements edged up every day during the past week, with 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis bowing out on Friday, due to a tender knee. Never have so many of the chosen few opted out, whether it's because of a Super Bowl obligation, or an actual injury or outright apathy.
Peyton Manning, the league MVP, can't play because he's on a Super Bowl team. Tom Brady and Philip Rivers won't play because they're aching. Ben Roethisberger and Carson Palmer decided to stay home at eat nachos.
So the AFC quarterbacks are Matt Schaub, who had a good season, Vince Young, who missed half of the season, and David Garrard, who had a season he'd like to forget.
The NFL, however, will continue to call it the Pro Bowl, as if its best will be on display. And it will wear a lottery winner's grin while raking in mill ions in ad revenue for a game that somehow manages impressive ratings. The 2009 game outdrew the epic Lakers-Cavaliers (Kobe-vs.-LeBron) game televised by the NBA by a 3-2 ratio.
That's money. NFL preseason tickets aside, Pro Bowl TV revenue is the easiest buck an American sports league can grab.
But for how long? With so many substitutes, there is the risk some have spent three weeks on the couch recovering from the grind of the season and eating the kind of junk they've avoided since last June. Beware of pulled hamstrings and groins.
This promises to be such an affront to the idea of an "all-star" game that fans should tune out faster than ever.
Colts president Bill Polian, the NFL's most effective team executive, calls this experiment "stupid." And that's with the game in Miami. South Florida is not Honolulu but it's still an attractive place in January.
If the league decides it likes this experiment, the 2011 Pro Bowl will precede by a week Super Bowl 45, to be played at the Palace in Dallas. The following year, the games would move to ... Indianapolis.
Nothing against Indiana in the wintertime, but can you imagine the list of stars who will call in sick for that one?
The NFL needs to eliminate this upscale preseason game before there is a truly regrettable injury. Find the revenue elsewhere. Pro Bowl players don't need a Pro Bowl any more than collegiate All-Americans need an All-American Bowl.
(c) 2010, The Oakland Tribune (Oakland, Calif.).
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