Wednesday, January 25, 2017

How To Make The Pro Bowl Great Again

For the first time since September 8th, there will not be a competitive football game played all week. Which only means one thing: It's Pro Bowl Week!

It's that time of year where all the best players in the league those who accept invites meet up in Honolulu, Miami, Glendale, Orlando for the annual flag football  NFL All-Star game!

The Pro Bowl has received a lot of criticism as of late by fans, sports columnists and even players, noting that the game practically has no meaning to it. To put the overall feeling of the game in perspective, 37 players have declined invites to the Pro Bowl this season.

So why is this All-Star game lacking significance, in all area's of interest?

It all starts with the product on the field. The idea sounds great at first: Let's collect the best players from each conference and pin them against each other. The idea is pretty similar to a bored night playing Madden. This would be a great idea, except for the following:

1. The players don't play hard, and that's understandable. It's a meaningless exhibition game and more of a vacation for these guys. Why risk a serious tear or bone fracture on a game that has less value than the Senior Bowl in college?

2. Because of #1, fans don't want to watch. Why would one watch what is essentially a glorified flag football game with half-ass effort? I'm willing to bet a majority of fans have already seen their favorite team give that type of effort at some point during the season. It's hard to sell a bad product, even if the Rams and 49ers can do it.  The last time people really enjoyed the Pro Bowl, Sean Taylor absolutely drilled a punter near the sideline.

As non-purposeful as this game looks, there is still hope to save the game.

Luckily for the 20 people that read this, absolutely nobody asked me for my opinion on how to spice things up.

Whether you're #MakeTheProBowlGreatAgain or #NotMyProBowl, the following are ideas to rejuvenate the NFL All-Star Game:

Host it After the Super Bowl 
This is one of the most common knocks on the game. Previously being played a week after the Super Bowl, this gave players playing in the Super Bowl the chance to participate in the game, which could possibly encourage other players to participate in the game as well.

Get Fans More Involved 
This could be accomplished a number of ways. One idea would be to let the fans draft teams, either through social media polling (The NBA All-Star voting shows how "amazing" fans are at deciding All-Stars) or through a live draft of fans selected either randomly or a contest. If that doesn't butter your biscuit, giving the opportunity for a fan/fans to call plays during one series during the game would also be a fun way to get more interaction and interest.

Have Back-ups Play Instead
Now we're starting to dig deep up our sleeve as far as ideas go. Although back-up players doesn't sound extra enticing at first, just remember that 37 players declined their invitation this year, so we might be a lot closer than we think. These back-ups wouldn't necessarily be practice squad players (how cool would it be to be discovered in the All-Star game?) but some first string players and many second string players would have the opportunity to play. To entice these players to give a little effort, the prize for a win: A half-million dollar paycheck. Better quality of play= Better quality television.

Have the Pro Bowl Count For Something
Similar to what the MLB All-Star game used to incorporate, the NFL could have their own game have a little extra meaning for the following season. One idea that could work is having the winning conference have home-field advantage in the season opener the following year. Either have the Super Bowl be an automatic re-match for week one, or have inter-conference play for all of the first week. It may not be much to fight over in February, but home field advantage is always a luxury.

Make Players Play Foreign Positions
Aiding more towards the "Hold my beer" side of the scale, it's an odd yet fascinating idea that would be a lot more interesting than what the game already gives us. How awesome would it be to see Dontari Poe at quarterback throwing to Pat McAfee while Tom Brady covers him at corner? Great football? Probably not. Entertaining? You bet.

Have Mascots And/Or Referee's Play
There's not too much to this concept. I'm sure the fans would love to see something like this happen. Make a bad hit on a defenseless receiver call? Did you rule Dez didn't catch it? Strap that helmet on extra tight, Mr. Zebra. Prepare to be on SportsCenter. And how about those cocky mascots? Running all over those kids during halftime? Red Bird better make sure he has peripheral vision.

Donnie Druin is an award-winning writer from the Arizona Newspaper Association. Follow him on Twitter @DonnieDruin for updates, opinions and everything else in the world of sports... Or to revoke his invite from the Pro Bowl. 

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