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NFL's biggest joke about to be exposed
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Say hello to my very, very little friend: the 2010 Pro Bowl.
The weakest, lamest, least compelling of all All-Star games, the Pro Bowl has long been a pimple carefully hidden on the NFL’s posterior (after the season, off the mainland).
Then some braniac thought, What if we could move it to the middle of our forehead?
Yes, Roger Goodell has yanked the Pro Bowl out of the witness protection program -- where it belongs -- and placed it center stage in Miami on the Sunday between the conference title games and the Super Bowl.
Sure, an event that is supposed to showcase the most talented players in the sport won’t feature anyone from either of the two most talented teams in the league, but why nitpick?
Who knows, maybe the All-Pros on the Colts (7) and Saints (7) used the lure of having a built-in excuse to miss this goofy exhibition as motivation in their playoff runs. Though they won’t be playing, the 14 Pro Bowlers on the Super Bowl teams will be required to be in the stadium the night of the game or forfeit their Pro Bowl checks. Yep, the league has to bribe its own players to watch this game.
Between injuries, indifference and prep for SB XLIV, less than two-thirds of the originally named Pro Bowlers will play in the game.
Tom Brady, Philip Rivers and Brett Favre have joined Peyton Manning and Drew Brees on the unavailable-to-participate-in-pointless-spectacle list. (Ben Roethlisberger got out ahead of this one when Steeler team doctors recommended he decline the “honor.”) If one more QB had balked, the next invite was going to be Keanu Reeves.
At receiver in the NFC, Larry Fitzgerald was replaced in the starting lineup by reserve Sidney Rice who was subsequently replaced by Roddy White. In the AFC, both Patriot stud receivers will miss the game, one with a serious knee injury (Wes Welker), the other (Randy Moss) with one of those injuries that flared up the moment the real games ended.
At the rate players have been bailing on this Pro Bowl they may be playing eight-on-eight come kickoff.
So who’s left?
Just when you thought exhibition tackle football couldn’t get any less meaningful, David Garrard -- fresh off a 15-TD, 10-INT season -- is a Pro Bowler. Maybe the Jags wouldn’t have been playing in front of a sea of empty seats every week if their fans had known their QB was having a Pro Bowl season.
That’s right, the No. 1 criterion for a quarterback to make the Pro Bowl is no longer QB rating, TDs or total yards. It’s willingness to participate.
Garrard will join Vince Young on the AFC sideline. The sideline is where Young spent the first six weeks of the season. But once Young went under center for the Titans he started posting numbers. Not big numbers, nor particularly impressive numbers, but numbers nonetheless.
Young finished 22nd in the league in completion percentage, 18th in QB rating and 23rd in TD-to-attempt ratio, right behind Ryan Fitzpatrick. In other words, Roger Goodell’s kind of Pro Bowler! (Young did finish several spots ahead of Garrard in TD-to-attempt ratio as the Jags’ QB threw an astounding 34.4 passes for every touchdown.)
While no sport’s All-Star exhibition measures up to its real games, the NFL’s is clearly the most irrelevant.
Baseball’s Midsummer Classic has given us King Carl Hubbell striking out five Hall of Famers in a row, Ted Williams taking Rip Sewell’s Eephus pitch deep and Cal Ripken Jr. saying goodbye with an MVP. (And, yes, Bud Selig declaring a tie.)
Though the NBA All-Star Game has become increasingly unwatchable in recent years, it has provided some awesome moments: David Thompson vs. Dr. J in 1979; Magic Johnson’s MVP return in ’92; Michael Jordan outdueling a 19-year-old Kobe Bryant in ‘98
Even hockey has provided some All-Star memories: Mario Lemieux and Wayne Gretzky one-upping each other with alternating MVP performances from 1988-1990; a graying Ray Bourque winning MVP in Boston in ’96; the introduction of the shootout to the league in 2003.
Can anyone remember anything noteworthy about a Pro Bowl? Besides the autograph-seeking fan Marvin Harrison allegedly throttled in Hawaii in 2005.
I first learned the Pro Bowl was bogus as a little kid looking at my 1975 Topps football cards.
On the back of Eagles QB Mike Boryla’s card -- in that little space below the stats -- it said he had starred in the Pro Bowl following the ’75 season. He had thrown fourth-quarter TD passes to two different St. Louis Cardinals -- Mel Gray and Terry Metcalf -- to rally the NFC from a 20-9 deficit to a 23-20 victory.
What had Boryla done to deserve to be on that stage? Well, he had started five games for Philly and thrown six TD passes and 12 picks.
The guy wasn’t even David Garrard. Not close.
I still have no idea how Boryla made it on the field representing a conference that included 9-time Pro Bowler Fran Tarkenton, Roger Staubach (6 Pro Bowls), Jim Hart (4), Norm Snead (4), Archie Manning (2) and reigning Pro Bowl MVP James Harris (who won the award the last time the game was played in Miami). But the fact that Boryla played -- and excelled -- told me everything I’d ever need to know about the Pro Bowl.
Boryla appeared in a total of 23 NFL games, finishing his career with 20 TD passes and 29 interceptions. From his Pro Bowl success, it’s clear he fared better when the defense wasn’t trying.
The insignificance of the Pro Bowl may not be new, but moving it before the Super Bowl will showcase its sad irrelevance. It’s hard to believe this is an event the league wanted to shine a spotlight on when it so obviously should be ignored.
You just can’t make friendly, don’t-get-hurt football compelling.
And this year you’ll have the entire sports media army in Miami with nothing better to do than observe just how dull and listless the Pro Bowl is. (“These teams really do not hate each other.”)
Now that he’s dragged this cadaver into the spotlight maybe Commissioner Goodell will be able to see that it’s time to give it a decent burial.
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