May 31, 2012

NFL Pro Bowl: Ugh

The news that the NFL considered suspending their annual Pro Bowl game hit yesterday. Long held the weekend after the Super Bowl, but more recently on the Sunday between the playoffs and the big game, the Pro Bowl pits the best players of the NFC against those of the AFC.

The potential suspension came as no surprise to anyone who watched this year's "competition." Though often a dull disappointment coming after four weeks of tough playoff competition, this year's game was unwatchable.

Players looked like they were attending a walk-through practice, making few tackles and intermittent effort to, you know, catch the ball when it was thrown to them. Running backs ran a few yards but largely gave up when the defense wandered in their direction. It was a pitiful performance, especially considering the talent on the field.

Election to a Pro Bowl squad is an honor. Even being named an alternate player is a big deal. Players work hard to gain notice during the season in hopes of making the squad.

Obtaining the title "Pro Bowler" has salary implications, as well. Player's agents can tout their client's inclusion when it comes time for contract negotiations, because being on the squad indicates a top performer.

Voting by fans and coaches, held over a span of weeks, is combined to yield a squad of skilled, well-respected players. You'd think that would make for an interesting game.

Every season, though, the hard work ends with the final playoff game.

Players on teams bound for the Super Bowl have bowed out to avoid injury ever since the NFL moved the Pro Bowl to the weekend before the big game. That eliminates the cream of the crop.

The rest of the Pro Bowl class takes a leisurely attitude toward the game, seeing the Bowl as a free, late January trip to Hawaii with a game of touch football thrown in for grins. This year's game was arguably the least interesting ever played.

The NFL Players Association negotiated a one-year extension with promises of better competition. In the interest of keeping alive the salary-increasing title of Pro Bowler we can expect to see this year's squad walk the line between effort and effect. Game play will look more lively, but stop short of actual competition.

Expect to see the squad acting better football rather than playing it.