While I definitely congratulate those of our team that made it to the Pro Bowl, anyone not already at the same point I am needs to come to grips with a single fundamental fact. The NFL Pro Bowl is a joke, it's been a joke pretty much since it's inception, and the only good thing that comes out of it year after year is the pictures of Lance Briggs with extremely beautiful island women. That's it. Follow me below the fold where I get a bit more in-depth on why it's a joke, and what we could possibly replace it with.
Why is the Pro Bowl a joke?- This is a really simple question, with a somewhat complex answer. The Pro Bowl is a joke for three main reasons, it's impossible to get the best players in the game due to scheduling, the way the players are selected almost always leads to names making it in over quality, and the game of football isn't and never will be a game that supports an "All-Star Game".
Let's get the easy reasons out of the way first.
Scheduling - The way the NFL season works the games are incredibly important the entire year, and then the games rapidly increase in importance at the end of the year. The better your team is, and consequently the likelihood of having the best players, the longer your season is and the more likely you are to end up at less than one hundred percent health. So if you want to have even a chance at the very best players, you have to wait until after the Super Bowl, placing the game at the earliest in late February. Needless to say the scheduling of an extra game in a short season, where they are already looking at sliding in more games, is extremely problematic.
Names over Talent - Every single year, and I do mean every single year, there is at least one player that is head and shoulders better than the person picked over him that was picked over him simply because of past accomplishments and name recognition. A prime example would be one of our very own, Kreutz, who was picked as starting center damned near year after year even in years where his blocking was highly suspect and there were tons of failed hand offs. Even if you place the majority of those on the QB, you can't blame them all, and simply being one of the only centers that people actually know the name of shouldn't get you a free pass into a game whose participants are supposedly selected based on merit.
Now for the biggest reason, and the one I'm going to spend the most time on.
The Game of Football does NOT support an "All-Star" game. - Football isn't baseball, it isn't basketball, and its closest analogue for the purpose of this discussion, hockey, is an extremely pale comparison. Football is one of the most singularly physical contact sports currently being played in the world. There are numerous players every year who are injured in the first game or two and miss entire seasons, and many more who are lost over the course of the year. The injury rate is high in football because simply by the act of playing football you are signing up for 300+ guys running at you attempting to smash you into dust, guys diving at the legs and knees attempting to get a big sack or stop a long touchdown, and many more things that, if done during the course of a game of Hockey, would quickly garner a multiple game suspension.
Physical play isn't the only structural difference between football, and other sports, that makes it an extremely inhospitable environment for an all-star game. Football is also the epitome of a team sport, both across the entire team and in specific areas. The worst thing you'll find in a game of baseball is someone misplaying a ground ball, or pop fly, or on a rare occasion not hitting the proper guy for a double play. Football is the only sport I'm familiar with where it's perfectly accepted and acceptable that an offensive line isn't going to be playing up to their ability until they've had a chance to "gel" together. That's right, the most important thing between massive defensive players looking to play keep away with your kidneys is a group of players at a position that requires intense knowledge of each other and that have likely never even set foot on the field together before. What a fantastic idea this is! There is also the matter of zone responsibilities and the general reasoning that being unable to pick up the play book in an entire off season happens with a decent regularity, but we expect a team of players all from extremely different schemes to be able to play a competitive game.
Frankly, it's a very asinine concept.
Football may be a game where players can be individual greats, but even the greatest of the greats in this game are only as good as the team and the teamwork between them. So to try and distill what is a very team oriented game into a backyard game of mud football is one dumbest ideas to ever grace our hallowed sport. Which is almost as dumb as it is to risk getting injured in a game of mud football when you're making 5+ million dollars a year to play actual football.
Alright, enough bashing. Let's get a bit more constructive, what can we do instead?
Here is my two part plan, no it isn't as grandiose as the Pro Bowl, but it doesn't need to be. A sport with 16 games in a season for most teams has plenty of grandiosity baked right in.
Name an All-NFL team - Call it whatever you want to, but the college divisions have been doing it for decades. If you want to recognize the best of the best at their respective positions, then by all means go ahead and do so without risking their livelihoods and making a mockery of the game. It gives you all of the build up to the Pro Bowl without any of the absolute garbage that surrounds it.
Bring back the QB challenge, and expand it past QB - This is the one that is likely to get a few more questioning glances, but this kind of fun competition was exactly the kind of thing that would be great television leading up to the Super Bowl, since that's what they are apparently trying to turn the Pro Bowl into. Granted, playing the old QB Challenge game for the Genesis may be more fun than watching it, but it was always good for an amusing lazy Sunday vegging and watching QB's with big arms that aren't in the Bowl tossing balls 50 yards out through small circles.
You could expand this to a lot of the other positions as well, such as creating football related obstacle courses for the RB, or other such random displays involving star players. You could also simply revamp some of the tests we run the rookies through during the combine. Sure, it's not the most exciting thing in the world watching some big DT throw up 30 reps on the bar, but it'd at least be more interesting than watching a complete failure of a football game and might actually generate some discussion and comparison between players while still leaving the discussion open enough for all the hype that is supposed to be surrounding the Super Bowl.
So what does every else think? Any other ideas for what to replace the Pro Bowl with, or does anyone out there actually like this game?