Addressing the State of the Pro Bowl
This year’s Pro Bowl was the best in quite some time, but will that level of success continue in the future?
On Sunday night, five Titans players participated in the Pro Bowl, representing the American Football Conference. Because the AFC team won the game, DT Jurrell Casey, LB Brian Orakpo, LT Taylor Lewan, TE Delanie Walker, and RB DeMarco Murray flew back to Nashville a bit richer.
All members of the winning AFC team earned $61,000. Members of the losing NFC team, though, did not go home empty handed. They left with a decent consolation prize of $34,000.
The game’s two most valuable players, TE Travis Kelce of the Chiefs and LB Lorenzo Alexander of the Bills, were rewarded with brand new SUVs.
Additionally, many players brought their families along for the trip and were able to enjoy a fun and relaxing vacation. Many players, including Walker and Orakpo, went to Disney World during their stay in Orlando.
Players have always reaped many benefits at the Pro Bowl. It is, after all, hard to beat a free vacation open exclusively to the best football players the world has to offer. However, the game itself, especially in recent years, has often been the lowlight of the week.
The devolution of the Pro Bowl became most recognizable in 2012, when Aaron Rodgers and Adrian Peterson, both former NFL MVP’s, lollygagged around the field; seemingly, in an effort to accomplish nothing but an evening void of injury. A year later, in 2013, players from both teams stood idly by as a hook and lateral play resulted in a touchdown for C Alex Mack.
To reverse the curse, the NFL made tweaks to the Pro Bowl format. For three years, the teams were not divided by conference, but by a bizarre fantasy football style draft. Team captains over those years included Hall of Fame players like Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice, and Michael Irvin.
As bizarre ideas often are, the non-conferenced format was a dud. The player drafts provided many cringeworthy moments, and the game became more a novelty than anything else.
Instead of attempting to put their All-Star players in the best positions to win, coaches wasted time allowing WR Odell Beckham, Jr. to play safety, and defensive backs Richard Sherman and Charles Woodson to take snaps on offense.
The NFL announced in early 2016 that the Pro Bowl would be returning to an AFC vs. NFC format. Though the game was not played nearly as aggressively as a game that counts, it also became more than just something unique and weird.
Perhaps the best part of this year’s Pro Bowl was that both teams had a semblance of defense. A combined total of only 33 points was scored in the game, way less than the average of 78.6 since 2010.
The game’s highlight was easily when Redskins QB Kirk Cousins sprinted down the field chasing CB Aqib Talib, someone who is much faster than Cousins. Cousins caught up to Talib and tomahawk-chopped the ball out of his hand, only to have the fumble recovered by another AFC player.
2017’s Pro Bowl was a good one, with a lot of effort and passion shown by both sides. However, even if every Pro Bowl from this point forward were played with the same tenacity, the biggest issue would remain.
That issue is the fact that the Pro Bowl, deemed to be the NFL’s All Star game for players not in the Super Bowl, is never actually composed of players who had the best statistical seasons, particularly at the quarterback position.
Many players, such as QB Derek Carr and RB David Johnson are legitimately unable to play in the game due to injury, and thus must be replaced. The problem comes when players like Aaron Rodgers decide not to attend the game because they feel the risk of injury is not worth the potential reward.
Take injured players, no-shows, and Super Bowl participants out of the Pro Bowl, and you’re left with an often mediocre roster. The fact that Trevor Siemian, who threw for only 3,400 yards and 18 TD’s on a team that missed the playoffs, was reportedly asked to play in the game tells you all you need to know.
Unfortunately, this problem is simply without a feasible solution. Injury will always be a risk in contact sports no matter the level of aggressiveness, and it’s hard to blame the players that don’t want to tempt fate.
The quality of the Pro Bowl was much improved in its return to the original conferenced format. Has it reached its peak? Nobody really knows. All we can do, as fans of the NFL, is keep hope that the game continues to progress and keeps a semblance of competitiveness.