I have a confession to make: I watched the Pro Bowl this year.
Well, not all of it. It probably amounted to around a quarter. And I had the television on mute for around half that time. But still... it was on my screen. *Shudders*
And it got me thinking, it really is a shame that the Pro Bowl has become the butt of many football-related jokes. This is the all-star game of America's most popular sport and it is nothing more than an afterthought. This should be something fans get invested in, like they do with hockey, basketball, and baseball. We should be able to fix this. And guess what, we can! I hope you're reading this, Mr. Goodell, because I am about to BLOW YOUR FREAKING MIND.
Without further ado, allow me to present...
Matt's Awesome Plan to Make the Pro Bowl Something That Isn't Completely Terrible
There is a whole lot wrong with the Pro Bowl, so it will take a process that I have lined out below. Let's start with the biggest problem.
Move the date of the Pro Bowl. One of the big reasons the Pro Bowl is awful is because it is essentially a "lame duck game" between conference championships and the Super Bowl. Only two teams are left, which means that a majority of fans have lost any interest in the sport until the draft. Nobody wants to watch a bunch of guys whose teams were eliminated from contention mess around for three hours.
But if we're moving the game, then when should it be played? We can't put it smack dab in the middle of the season like other sports because of the large discrepancy in the amount of games played. A guy that's hot to start the season could get voted in and then wind up having a mediocre one by the time January rolls around. That's why I am suggesting the game be played slightly later in the season, to the week after Thanksgiving.
Think about it. Thanksgiving is already devoted mostly to football; how cool would it be to also announce the Pro Bowl rosters during the break between the Lions and Cowboys games? Voting could open the second week of November and last until the Sunday before Thanksgiving. By this time the players who deserve to go would have built decent (and consistent) resumes.
This is also a win for both the players and the league. The players who aren't in the Pro Bowl get an extra week off for rest, while the league gets to extend the season (read: make more money), which is something they've been desperately trying to do for years. This way we get a longer season without putting the majority of players' bodies through additional punishment. And for the players that are going to the Pro Bowl, we can keep the relaxed rules with kickoffs and tackling to try and mitigate the chance of injury. For the fans, a larger crowd will still be hoping their team makes the playoffs and can watch their favorite players duke it out in the all-star game while they prepare for the postseason push.
So now that we've moved the date, how about the teams themselves? Well...
Bring back the AFC-NFC Contest. I'll be blunt: nobody wants to watch Michael Irvin stomp around the sidelines for three hours, shouting gibberish to get his players pumped. It's silly and childish and just a reminder that the Pro Bowl is essentially a glorified sandlot game that you played with your friends in high school. Reverting to the old AFC vs. NFC format would bring back a hint of competition and make it a LOT easier for the fans to pick a side to cheer on while they watch the game.
But what would make the players want to compete in the game? Say no more!
Offer a competitive advantage to the team that wins. This is similar in concept to baseball's all-star game, where the winning league gets an extra home game in the World Series. Of course, only one game is played for the Super Bowl and it would be too much to give one of the teams homefield advantage. Instead, I say that the winning conference in the Pro Bowl wins all coin tosses in the Super Bowl, which would include overtime.
This may not seem like much of an advantage, because it's not. But it's still technically an advantage. There have been pretty great plays in the Super Bowl on kickoffs; especially recently with Jacoby Jones' 108 yard kick return touchdown in 2012 or the Saints' surprise onside kick in 2009. You'll get an extra element of intrigue with the storyline that one team gets two weeks to prepare knowing when they'll receive the ball at the start of the game and halftime. Stories could easily be published about whether or not the shrewd coach of the Pro Bowl winning conference is brewing up any tricks because he can game plan around kickoff timing. And while overtime at the Super Bowl is a rare occurrence, it is certainly enticing to think that your team has won the coin toss before overtime even starts.
So there it is. The three-step system for making the Pro Bowl not suck. I'll take your call anytime, Roger.