When is the last time you watched the Pro Bowl? Better yet, do you know when the Pro Bowl is held? Because I don’t. I think it’s played in the week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, but I’m not going to look it up, because I’m writing this for you for free, okay? Anyway, if it is indeed played that week, that seems like a good idea, because the most breathtaking all-star games don’t include any players from the two best teams in the league.
The Pro Bowl is terrible, and Detroit Lions safety Glover Quin agrees. Wednesday, he was asked for his thoughts about Pro Bowl balloting, probably because he’s lagging in the voting despite having tallied five interceptions so far this year. He delivered a rousing speech that you can read here (I appreciate Quin’s attempt to help writers pad their word counts, but unlike ESPN’s Michael Rothstein, I have scruples!)
The short version is that Quin believes the voting should begin after Week 13, at which point all teams have played 12 games. He also thinks NFL scouts should create the ballots, and winnow the list of candidates for each position down to single digits, rather than the dozens that are included in the current selection process.
Would these ideas make the Pro Bowl better? Probably, if one’s idea of a better Pro Bowl involves having the league’s best performers on the field. But a larger problem exists: the high-risk nature of football makes it impossible for the NFL to host an exhibition game that has much in common with what we see on a typical Sunday. If there’s ever a Broadway play that includes an in-game football scene, it’ll look like the Pro Bowl. No one’s going to blitz, or lay a big hit, or fight for extra yardage, and that’s the way it should be. The MLB All-Star Game looks sort of like the real thing, save for a bunch of nonstrategic substitutions, and at least the NBA All-Star Game allows its participants to put on an offensive showcase.
The NFL’s best course of action would be to embrace the awfulness of the Pro Bowl. Hate-watching is a thing now, a cultural phenomenon that is best exemplified by our friends at NBC and their desire to have Christopher Walken “sing” on Peter Pan Live! (adding the exclamation point to the end of the Pro Bowl! should be the NFL’s first order of business during the offseason). Have a couple head cases from the NFL’s past come back and coach the teams; I don’t think Regan Upshaw is too busy these days.
NBA All-Star voting began yesterday, spurring discussions of whether injury-hampered stars like Kevin Durant would really deserve their inevitable selections. Jeff Van Gundy weighed in during Wednesday night’s telecast, saying that the game was “too important” to leave to fan voting, and marking the first time in history that “important” was used to describe the NBA All-Star Game. Mark Jackson responded with the ol’ “it’s been that way forever, you can’t change it now” argument, bringing precisely the dose of thoughtful, well-reasoned argument that we’ve come to expect from him.
The most interesting dynamic at play here is that Glover Quin, a zero-time Pro Bowler, considers the game an honor, while those who are elected year after year probably think of it as a slog, an all-day meeting scheduled smack in the middle of their vacation time. So, maybe if we really wanted these games to be taken seriously, and if we were also a bit crazy, we would allow players to play in the Pro Bowl once and only once in their entire careers. That would never work, but as a thought experiment, it’s kind of intriguing. At least players would give it their all, instead of performing the same half-assed tap dance we see every year.
But maybe that tap dance is good for us. Maybe it allows NFL fans to unite in their hatred of the Pro Bowl, giving us a break from the bad blood of the playoffs. We like football too much as it is, so maybe an annual reminder of just how unwatchable the sport is at its very worst is what we need.