When the new Pro Bowl format was announced, I thought it was a good idea. Obviously, I was mistaken. I realized that around the time David Garrard and Vince Young were announced as two of the AFC's three quarterbacks. Seriously? I guess JaMarcus Russell and Brady Quinn weren't available. It's not really a knock on Garrard and Young as much as it is a letdown for the game itself.
All told, the NFL needed to replace an astounding 31 players who were originally selected by the players, coaches and fans. And even though a very deserving guy like Redskins linebacker London Fletcher is finally getting his first opportunity to play in the Pro Bowl, you have to think that making the game in this manner, as a replacement for Saints middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, is a tad bittersweet. Fletcher, a class guy, would never say that publicly, but deep down he knows.
One of my biggest problems with the Pro Bowl is the amount of players who are bailing on the game due to some sort of injury. At last count 16 non-Super Bowl participants had pulled out, pressing a record number of alternates into action. I'm not sure why the number is that high or how the system can be fixed. Maybe they would be more willing to play with the ailment if it entailed a free week's vacation in Hawaii. Or maybe greater compensation to entice the players who are voted into the game to, you know, actually play.
The irony is that the honor of being selected to play in the Pro Bowl has always been less than being named to the Associated Press All-Pro team. Too often Pro Bowlers are selected based on reputation even though they no longer are playing at a high level. That used to be a huge pet peeve of mine as a player, especially considering it happens along the offensive line more than any other position.
This year's Pro Bowl format has had some positives. The change created buzz, and if the NFL believes like Cowboys owner Jerry Jones does, that any publicity is good publicity, which it doesn't, by the way, then this year's Pro Bowl already is a hit. A big part of that is because the media is actually covering the Pro Bowl this year. With many media entities being hit hard by the economic downturn, most newspapers and regional sports networks were not sending anyone out to Hawaii for the game -- thus the game received very little coverage. Not so this year, even if the reports are not always favorable.
The biggest problem with criticism of the game is that nobody has ever proposed a better alternative. Or at least I haven't heard one. It is reminiscent of Commissioner Roger Goodell's recent comments expressing his frustration about playoff teams resting their players at the end of the regular season. Everyone recognizes that what is going on is less than ideal but nobody has stepped up with any type of viable solution.
The easiest fix would be to just scrap the game. Players would still get the honor of being selected, the thinking goes, without having to take part in an unnecessary game in which nobody really plays hard anyway. But I can assure you that is not happening.
This year's game is sold out. The game always draws solid TV ratings. Fans buy Pro Bowl jerseys. Simply put, it is a moneymaker for the NFL and it is here to stay in one way or another.
The next two years it will return to Honolulu in its former time slot of one week after the Super Bowl. Maybe by the time those two years are up, the NFL will have come up with something better than this year's debacle in which two players who had pedestrian seasons are taking snaps at the most marquee position in the game. At this point I am willing to consider anything from playing the game at the start of the season during Hall of Fame weekend to making it a flag football game in which the linemen do the throwing and catching and the skill players do the blocking up front. At least that would be entertaining, and if the game is going to be a charade, why not really make it a comedy. Because right now, it is far from a compelling drama.