The NFL’s Pro Bowl has always gotten short shrift in the American sports world. Part of it has to do with the timing of the game: coming a week after the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl usually is a pretty anticlimactic end to the season. Another part of it has to do with the nature of the game itself: unlike baseball, where winning the All Star game actually means something (the winner gets home field for the World Series), in football the Pro Bowl is meaningless. And lastly, you have the players themselves: many all-stars refuse to come, and those that do never seem to play all that hard because no one wants to get injured in a meaningless game.
But I’m here to defend the Pro Bowl. Sure, I don’t care about it much, either. But it’s here, and there are a few good reasons to watch it:
1) It has good rules. In the Pro Bowl, receivers cannot go into motion, you cannot have more than two wide receivers, defenses cannot blitz, pressing or bumping is not allowed, you cannot use a 5-6 cornerback set, and you must be in a 4-3 defense. In spite of all that (or, more likely, because of it), the Pro Bowl is usually lightning fast and offense oriented. And the lack of intentional grounding rule, coaches challenges and booth reviews make it actually fun to watch.
2) It’s kitschy! For the past 30 years, the Pro Bowl has taken place in Hawai’i, so there’s plenty of gorgeous HD shots of the islands, along with music straight from a 1970s playlist: Blondie’s “The Tide Is High”, The Safari’s “Wipe Out”, and the theme to Hawaii 5-0… and the whole thing is sponsored by State Farm! See, it’s like that Brady Bunch special already! And everyone’s in tacky Hawai’ian shirts, too! How awesome! If only they showed Al Michaels and Cris Collinsworth with mai tais in their hands!
3) Even the commercials are good! Well, they’re not “good”, but it’s funny to see all the ads from broke-ass, third-tier companies that couldn’t afford to buy airtime during the playoffs or Super Bowl. Castrol? Cash4Gold? A commercial for Whitman’s Sampler? Seriously? Did I just see that?
4) It’s miked! During the regular season and playoffs, teams jealously guard every single play in their playbooks. When coaches call the plays in, they even cover their mouths so that lip readers or videographers hired by the opposition won’t be able to tell which play is coming up. But since no one really cares in the Pro Bowl, throughout the game they’ll run the raw feed from the QB or sideline, so you know exactly what play they’re going to run. It’s pretty cool hearing Peyton Manning scream “32-Flapjack-Up Their Bums- Trip 2-Right Side-Hound Dog-Left!” It’s even cooler overhearing the coordinators call in the plays to the helmet receivers. It’s also kind of cool for Cris Collinsworth to break down what everything means for us, then see it actually happen.
5) Players like it. Oh sure, players moan about going to the Pro Bowl, especially once they’ve gone a few times. But many players see the Pro Bowl as a reward, a nice vacation to end the season. Next year’s Pro Bowl will be in Miami, and players have said that they really prefer Hawai’i over south Florida… and you can see why. Most players can go to Miami any time they want. And since the Miami Dolphins and Tampa Bay Bucs are already there, many players go there during the regular season. Dragging the wife, kids, and eight relatives to South Beach isn’t nearly as fun as Hawai’i. Many (smart) players also use the Pro Bowl as a kind of networking event. In a sideline report from Sunday’s game, Peyton Manning rattled off the names of at least four players that he didn’t know very well a week or so ago, but now knows much better… thanks to the Pro Bowl. The NFL has traditionally put all the players up in a secluded hotel, so it’s only a handful of tourists, the players and their families. The Pro Bowl is a place where they can let their hair down and just talk with other players.
6) This is it. Yes, the NFL Combine is coming up, followed by the draft. There’s some excitement there, sure. But let’s face it: the Pro Bowl is the last time we’ll see real sports on TV until the following August. Sure, I’ll take a half-hearted interest in March Madness, and I’ll probably spend at least one lazy Saturday afternoon in June drinking a few beers and watching a Braves game… but it’s just not the same.