The 2012 Pro Bowl game was such a sham that NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell reacted by stating that the game may have to be discontinued. With that kind of strong sentiment, is there any point to continue playing the game if the players are going to give such a lackadaisical effort?
Goodell was sensitive to the reaction of fans in attendance at the 2012 Pro Bowl, who began booing the players for going through the motions.
"We're either going to have to improve the quality of what we're doing in the Pro Bowl or consider other changes or even consider eliminating the game if that's the kind of quality game we're going to provide," Goodell said.
If you watched the game or saw video highlights, you might have concluded that this is what would happen if the Harlem Globetrotters attempted to play a football game. In the case of the 2012 Pro Bowl, which the AFC won 59-41, both teams could have played the role of the Washington Generals.
The defensive linemen would take two steps after the ball was hiked and then stand still to watch the play. It was comical how badly they played. A sorority pillow fight would have more contact than what was displayed in the 2012 Pro Bowl game.
According to this article by Sports Illustrated, the NFL will decide the fate of the Pro Bowl game by April. The article stated that a key ingredient in the decision will be the amount of effort exhibited by the players selected for the 2013 Pro Bowl.
In reviewing the history of the game, we can see how defensive players have been easing off the throttle. Leading up to the 2013 Pro Bowl game, a chart flashed on the screen of an episode of ESPN's NFL Live. The chart took the combined score of both teams and came up with an average points-per-game in five-year intervals to show how defenses have been laying down on the job over the years.
Average points scored from 1988 - 1992—37.2 points per game
Average points scored from 1993 - 1997—39.8 points per game
Average points scored from 1998 - 2002—58.2 points per game
Average points scored from 2003 - 2007—67.2 points per game
Average points scored from 2008 - 2012—78.8 points per game.
Over a 20-year span, the points per game have more than doubled. The 2012 Pro Bowl game had 100 points scored combined from both teams, and that was with eight turnovers in the game. Vince Lombardi was probably rolling over in his grave at the lack of effort displayed. And to think that wasn't the most points scored in Pro Bowl history either. The 2004 game had a whopping 107 points scored.
In a episode of ESPN's NFL Live this week, they played a tape of Aaron Rodger's comments after the 2012 Pro Bowl game. Rodgers shared his opinion about the quality of play:
"Some of the guys on the NFC side embarrassed themselves. I feel like there should be some pride involved in a game like that, and I was surprised by some of the efforts of the guys. I was surprised that some of the guys either didn't want to play or when they were in there didn't put any effort into it."
The next issue to address is the quality of the players invited to participate. For starters, there is the problem of late-season injuries forcing some players to sit out the game, causing those players to be replaced. The latest version of the 2013 Pro Bowl roster shows a grand total of 32 replacement players, 18 for the NFC and 14 for the AFC.
The 2013 Pro Bowl game lost a grand total of 15 players due to Super Bowl XLVII. San Francisco had nine players who were voted into the game, while Baltimore had six players voted in. The only way to have players from all 32 teams appear would be to hold the game the week after the Super Bowl. But Commissioner Goodell felt that playing the Pro Bowl after the Super Bowl was anticlimactic, so he moved the game up to the week before the Super Bowl.
Due to so many alternate players being added to both rosters this week, it might be more appropriate to refer to the game as the "Second-Best Alternate Bowl".
Part of the reason for so many alternates is due to injuries, some legitimate and some of the questionable variety. Out of the six quarterbacks voted into the game, four are missing the contest due to injuries: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan and Robert Griffin III.
In some cases, replacement players who really were deserving to be elected had been passed over in the voting. One of the best safeties in the NFL, Jairus Byrd, is a prime example of that faux pas.
With so many replacement players, the end result is that you have a watered-down product. But for most NFL fans, if a football game is on, people will watch it.
How can the Pro Bowl players be motivated to put forth a better effort? The players on the winning team receive $40,000, and the players on the losing team receive $20,000. Players also benefit by having their agents build bonus clauses into their contracts when they are named to the Pro Bowl team.
If money can't motivate them to play harder, what can? Pride, ego, or the fear at being laughed at?
You would like to think that pride in their production would be another motivating factor, but obviously that doesn't matter either. The NFL thinks that the threat of taking the game away will be the final motivational ploy it can use. Good luck with that.
In the 2010 Pro Bowl game, Minnesota T Bryant McKinnie was kicked off the roster for skipping team practices. Guess the game didn't mean very much to McKinnie. A reasonable question to ask is that if the players don't treat the Pro Bowl very seriously, why should the fans treat it any differently?
If you happened to watch the game last year, you would have thought you were at practice in training camp and watching a 7-on-7 drill. There was no hitting, rushing the quarterback, and the cornerbacks didn't really challenge the receivers very hard for the ball.
To be fair, Pro Bowl rules prevent defenses from blitzing the quarterback. But that doesn't stop the defensive line from putting forth more than 10 percent effort.
Brandon Marshall had a field day in the 2012 Pro Bowl. Marshall caught six passes for 176 yards, scored four touchdowns and was named the MVP of the game. This year, Marshall was again elected to participate, but he is one of the 32 players who will miss the contest.
If the Pro Bowl were to cease to exist, what could the NFL create in its place?
One thought is to create a skills competition event, like it used previously in Superstars. Another idea would be to pit NFL all-stars against a college all-star team that had already declared for the NFL draft.
As for the 2013 Pro Bowl game, Peyton Manning has been doing his best to encourage players to give a better effort, as he doesn't want to see the Pro Bowl game go away. We will see how much impact his speeches made when the game is actually played.
To be elected to the Pro Bowl game is supposed to be an honor and is an endorsement from your peers and coaches that you are one of the very best players at your position in the NFL. What each player decides to do with being voted in is up to the individual in question and speaks to how much pride he has in being recognized.
The football season is a long year, and nobody is trying to say that the players shouldn't be able to go to Hawaii and have some fun with their family and friends. As an example, Houston Texans RB Arian Foster is taking advantage of the trip to shoot some scenes for an upcoming episode of Hawaii Five-O.
But Washington Redskins tackle Trent Williams took his fun a little too far. He wound up getting in a fight at a nightclub in Honolulu and needed stitches. He was hurt badly enough that he needed to be removed from the roster and replaced by rookie tackle Matt Kalil.
What are your thoughts or ideas about how the NFL can improve the Pro Bowl game? Or do you even care if the Pro Bowl game went away for good?