It’s the worst All-Star game in all sports: no one really wants to play, no one really wants to watch, and those promoting it pretend that it’s special. Indeed, the NFL Pro Bowl isn’t popular, isn’t particularly exciting, and isn’t the least bit relevant.
The reasons are many, but the main one is that an NFL game takes so much energy, preparation, and focus that there is no interest or benefit to playing something meaningless.
It’s still played, of course. There are touchdowns and all that, but it’s not really football. There is no hitting, there is no intensity. And that makes sense: no one wants to get injured. It’s less important than an exhibition game where the best players opt out even then.
However, the accolade still has to exist. We should reward those who had great seasons, we should add this honour to a player’s resumes. But it’s a game that is hard to watch.
Recent changes have made it somewhat better: moving it to the bye week before the Super Bowl is a no brainer – no one is returning a week later to watch an exhibition game. That’s a start, but there is more that needs to be done to get this back to something the least bit entertaining.
The only questions that matter deal with how to get people to watch while also making it interesting for players who don’t want to get hurt. Both fans and players are more interested in who is named than the actual game. If we all agree that the Pro Bowl is for pure entertainment, and that it has no semblance to actually football, then let’s have fun with it and make it something worthwhile to check out.
There are few things to consider, or rather accept, as we attempt to fix it. The Pro Bowl cannot be and will never be a game where players try so hard that they might get hurt; that is, there will be no hitting, barely any tackling, and not a lot of action at the line of scrimmage. With that in mind, here are the 10 way we can fix the Pro Bowl to make it the least bit engaging.
10 Player Coaches
Head coaching in the National Football League is stressful enough, and like players, they’re not going to want to waste their energy. And really, what’s the point? Why do we need coaches in Pro Bowl? We need to stop pretending this is a serious game. So, let’s make players be the coaches. Let’s throw a handful of players on the sidelines to take care of all the duties. Like the rest of the answers here, the biggest case for is simply why not? A nice bonus would be seeing players done raggedly hoodies or fake mustaches to look like Bill Belichick or Andy Reid.
9 Make Games Within the Game
Let’s throw in some tricks and tests here. One team scores on a pass to a wide receiver? Check. You’re done. No more passes to WRs, they don’t count. You get to score with passes to RBs or TEs now. Once you’re fullback runs it in, that’s it, you’ve completely that score. Let’s make it just like bingo. In some way or another let’s make some caps and limits and keep it varied. Sure, Antonio Brown can’t break out for three TDs, but it’s the All-Star game and it doesn’t mean anything.
8 Hold It Around The World
Part of the appeal of the Pro Bowl in the past was that it was in Hawaii, and players really loved to travel there; it’s a pretty great reward. Well, why not put it elsewhere in the world? The idea of having in it the city that is playing the Super Bowl isn’t a bad one, but let us take this circus on the road. It won’t be an accurate representation of the league for foreign audiences, but neither are the Jacksonville Jaguars when they head to London. So hello, Sydney! Hello Shanghai! Here come our best players who aren’t injured, lazy, or tired of playing.
7 Make It Interactive
Again, in the vein of ‘why not?’ let’s make it interactive and have fans call in plays every so often. Surely there can be some sort of ridiculous live-voting tool where fans at home, in some 15-20 second span, can decide if the play is a run up the middle, a play action pass, or a crazy reverse that we always think works in video games but never does. This can actually be pretty easy. Maybe it happens on the first play after a change of possession, or only on fourth downs, but, seriously, why not? When it doesn’t work, well, the fans can be blamed.
6 Switch Up the Positions
Let’s see Jimmy Graham play quarterback, and Tony Romo catch a pass from him. No one is hitting anyways, so change it up. Pitch it to an offensive lineman and have Ben Roethlisberger snap it to Julio Jones. If we accept that the game is silly, and there is no incentive for winning, then mess around with it. No one is ineligible downfield because everyone is going out for a pass. Jason Peters is open in the flat, and because Nick Mangold is covered downfield, Marcel Reece must check down. Okay, maybe this one is pretty ridiculous, but it would be fun to see for a series or two.
5 Fantasy Draft
The NHL did this with their All-Star Game and it livened it up a little. You have a pool of players and you make captains select. It would be some pretty interesting drama, and it’s pretty straightforward and easy to execute. You pick captains for each team and they are tasked with assembling their team. It can go a few different ways too; perhaps you have a leader on defense and offense and they select their squads. It would be more entertaining having a few more people responsible for drafting players, which inevitably will result in some cheeky drama and playful chatter. Then of course there will be talk swirling around that player who is picked last. That may be sad, but remember, they’re Pro Bowlers on vacation and they get paid a lot.
4 No Punting
This is a no-brainer. Sorry punters, you will be named to the team and you can embrace the honor, but while we value you with field possession in the game and the playoffs (definitely Cardinals fans now), you’re kind of boring here. So we’re getting rid of you. There will be no punting in the Pro Bowl, so you better be ready to go for it all the time. This will change the way the game is played and called for the better, and definitely make it high scoring. We’re not wasting any downs here. The only time I want to see a punter on the field is if he is throwing an awkward pass.
3 No Extra Points
We got rid of punters, now we’re going to lessen the role of kickers too. Extra points are boring, and they have no place in the Pro Bowl (and really, they need to be adjusted in the game overall). So you are going for two every time (unless of course they decide to play with the extra point and move it back to the 30). Like punters, kickers will be named to the team and receive the accolade, they just won’t play much. In actuality, they shouldn’t really need to kick off either: we accept that is the most dangerous play, so no one should be returning kicks in the Pro Bowl.
2 Skills Competition
Again, we look to the NHL, but also the NBA and MLB as well. The NFL is the only North American professional sport that doesn't have any skill competition associated with their All-Star game. MLB has the home run derby, the NBA has the dunk competition, along with other skills competitions, and the NHL has a variety of skill competitions. Here, we don’t even need the game anymore, let’s just come up with various competitions for players. We can do accuracy for a QB, that’s an easy one. How about a catch drill for a WR? It would be like watching Odell Beckham Jr. in warm-ups making absurd catches, so let us watch that for a while. We can give something to the kickers and punters, giving them targets or smaller windows to hit. The games write themselves.
1 Get Rid of It All Together
Unfortunately, the best way to save the Pro Bowl is to forget about it entirely. As we mentioned earlier, none of the players want to play hard, few want to watch, and it resembles nothing the least bit close to actual football. So what’s the point? It’s the one sport where an All-Star game is completely antithetical to the sport itself. There is a very real risk of injury each and every week; with only 16 games in a season, a major emphasis is placed on rest, recovery, and workload. Coaches are incredibly cautious when it comes to preseason, and when in a blowout, on either side, they’re more than happy to rest their starters. The Pro Bowl doesn’t fit. Select the name, put it on player’s resumes, send them on a trip and give them a bonus, and that’s it.