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The 2011-12 Pro Bowl Open Thread

So I promised you guys a part two of fixing the Pro Bowl. Due to some minor technical difficulties, you can find that below the jump.

But with that, we also have a group of all-star caliber football players on vacation in Hawaii who are going to play in a football game. Some of them played for the Chicago Bears this season. This is your open thread for tonight's Pro Bowl competition. As always, Open Thread Responsibly (TM).

Yesterday I touched on why I think the Pro Bowl doesn't honor the true all-stars of the game the way it should, and we discussed the way the game itself drives the dilution of the "Pro Bowl" honor. Today, let's talk about the game itself.

So we know the game of football is a brutal, violent sport with hard hits, gruesome injuries (at times), and maximum effort given every down of every game (well, unless you're Julius Peppers, allegedly). And it's these injuries that result in extra Pro Bowlers being named that likely shouldn't be. And the NFL's method of celebrating this sport of hard hits and offense/defense strategery by... playing in a game that players opt out of given the chance, a different set of rules (no blitz, must have a tight end, must run 4-3...), and that has final scores twice as high as average regular season games (last year, the NFC won 55-41).

It would be one thing if the game were being played under normal rules, with all the originally designated Pro Bowlers intact, but factoring in the lack of defense, the change of rules, it's watered down football. And can you blame them? The players just got done playing a sixteen game season - some of them now, a couple playoff games - and now they're giving full effort at a meaningless exhibition game?

I don't mind seeing another football game, and as I posted last weekend, Darren Rovell noted the Pro Bowl has outdrawn MLB's All-Star game, so we know that if it's football, people will watch, especially given the offensive explosion the league has taken on.

Let's call it as it is. A gimmick.

This might just be a rant from an old man (disclaimer: said "old man" isn't actually old), but I like a little defense in my NFL football. And for a game that has seen in the last fifteen years five instances of one of the teams scoring 21 points or fewer, not enough defense is shown - whether that be the continued shift in the NFL towards offensive rules, the Pro Bowl-specific rules changes that allow offenses to play against more predictable/softer defensive schemes, or a curve in the best offensive players simply outplaying the best defensive players.

Obviously if it's the players, nothing much can be done about that - can't tell the best players to stay home. And the NFL rules are the NFL rules. But having separate Pro Bowl rules to make the game safer should say something - to take out some of the rules in the name of safety should imply that they aren't necessarily playing the full game of football. I'm all for the game being made safer. But coaching and playing means being able to react to and have an answer for a blitz or different formation, making a tough catch, or any number of variables in an NFL game, some of which the Pro Bowl just doesn't allow.

But I ramble. The point is that even though the game has taken a turn towards the offensive side of the ball, history has shown the Pro Bowl to be anything but a defensive showdown, especially since the defensive players are the ones delivering the hardest hits throughout the season.

So instead of playing the game in its current form, make it a ceremony and a skills competition. Football is unfortunately, by definition, an unsafe game. No sport really is, but football is right there in terms of devastating injuries, and player safety just can't be legislated in. Even with increasing standards in equipment, injuries still happen, and will continue to happen.

But here's the other thing. If the NFL wants to legislate safety into an NFL game, even an exhibition, why not extend the safety legislation into the rest of the NFL? Of course you don't want to risk injury in a meaningless game, but it's okay to risk injury even more in the course of playing a normal game? If player safety is paramount and you're willing to make the concession in the Pro Bowl, you can attempt it in the regular season. I dunno, maybe there's something more I'm missing.