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On Saturday, the NFL’s current Pro Bowl stars were given the unique opportunity to play in what was expected by many to be the last Pro Bowl ever played. Following the abysmal effort from players in the exhibition last year, coupled with a strict warning from Commissioner Roger Goodell that the Pro Bowl’s future would be decided this year, the portents were not looking kind for the event, which was first played back in 1939.
Although many expected the Pro Bowl to write its own eulogy, the viewing public were treated to a surprising compelling game, and the players could well have done enough to breathe life into an event that was all but on the scrapheap.
Both teams displayed considerable effort given the circumstances, and could have found a comfortable ‘middle ground’ which could see the Pro Bowl remain a feature on the NFL calendar.
A perfect example of this was evident when Denver Broncos defensive end Elvis Dumervil had a big blindside hit lined up on Drew Brees, but pulled out of it, seemingly remembering where he was as he got closer to the quarterback. Protecting the quarterback in a game such as this seems fair, especially when you consider the defensive hustle that was shown throughout the game (by this I mean tackles were made, an odd sight in recent Pro Bowls).
The game also featured its madder moments, not least so the inclusion of JJ Watt as a wide receiver at one point, but to the Pro Bowl detractors, let’s not forget that this is an end of season showpiece – If you can’t do the crazy here, where can you?
One of the most resounding arguments for keeping the Pro Bowl was surely made by Peyton Manning and Jeff Saturday. Manning and Saturday played together for the majority of their careers in Indianapolis, and following Saturday’s recent retirement announcement, the NFC center was allowed to snap the ball one last time to the AFC’s Manning. It was a poignant moment, and if Goodell does end up scrapping the Pro Bowl, it was a fitting moment for the exhibition to go out on.
It will inevitably, if unfairly, be compared to the NBA’s ‘All Star Weekend’ which far exceeds it in popularity and effort displayed by its players (the joys of a non-contact sport). However, could the Pro Bowl learn something from its round-balled cousin?
All Star Weekend is littered with extra events that all lead up to the All Star game, such as the three-point shootout, slam dunk competition, and a celebrity game, all of which contribute to the success of the weekend. It is difficult to imagine similar events at the Pro Bowl, with perhaps the exception of a highly appealing quarterback shootout, but it is something which Goodell could consider to help rejuvenate the event.
Unfortunate, it is unlikely that we will ever see a Pro Bowl competed for with the intensity that the players play with in the NFL. Due to the money these players risk losing if they suffer a serious injury, sensibility will always cause them to reel in their efforts.
In the world of Rugby Union, the Barbarians invitational side play with passion and effort abound, despite the fact the players are at just as much risk of injury as those in the Pro Bowl. There is however a large disparity in earnings, and most rugby players also have guaranteed contracts, meaning that all but the most serious injuries should have little to no affect on the players’ earnings.
With the Super Bowl, Free Agency, Combine and Draft all looming on the horizon, anxiety over Goodell’s decision in regards to the Pro Bowl will be very low. This essentially has left many with decidedly mixed feelings over the Pro Bowl. It is a nice event to have, but if Goodell does decide to do away with it, I certainly won’t lose any sleep over it.
Image Courtesy : NFL