Growing up I always loved the Pro Bowl. I couldn’t wait to see all the star players from the NFL together on the same field. To me the game was always meant to be a fun time for everyone who watched. It also meant a relaxing trip to Hawaii for the players lucky enough to be selected as well as their families. I never looked at it as an important game or an overly competitive game. It was a game meant to give the fans a good show and to say goodbye until the start of the next season.
Recently there have been discussions about possibly canceling the Pro Bowl due to lack of effort from some players as well as less interest from fans. If the NFL is determined to keep playing the game the week before the Super Bowl then I will have to agree that the game needs to go away. For the last three seasons that is when the Pro Bowl has been played and I believe that is the reason why things have become so different with the game. I don’t want it to go away because of how much I enjoy it, but the game cannot survive being played before the Super Bowl. It effects player participation and it effects the fans enjoyment of the game.
The game officially became the Pro Bowl back in 1970 after the NFL and AFL merged. From 1970 through 1978 the game was played at different NFL stadiums after the Super Bowl. Starting in 1979 the game was moved to Hawaii where it was played in Aloha Stadium until 2008. Before Super Bowl XLIV in 2009 it was decided to move the game to the site of the Super Bowl in Miami and to play it the week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. In 2010 and 2011 the game was moved back to Hawaii, but it was still played the week before the Super Bowl.
So let’s look at where the problem started which was changing when the Pro Bowl was played. By playing it before the Super Bowl meant that the two teams that advanced to the Super Bowl would not have any of their players who were selected to the Pro Bowl playing in the game for fear of injury, which is understandable. The Pro Bowl is meant to be fun and enjoyable for the players and the fans. It’s the fans chance to watch the best of the best from that NFL season play and just have a good time. The NFL has always preached that they do things in the fans best interest because they are such a big part of the success of the league. If that is really true then the NFL needs to recognize that the Pro Bowl needs to be moved back to where it should be and that is after the Super Bowl.
I understand that many fans are frustrated with the effort of some players and the quality of the game, but the game also needs to be taken for what it is. It’s the gathering of the best in the league who just want to go out and have a good time. And let’s face it the rules also prevent the players from going all out, especially on defense. The rules were put in place to hopefully prevent injury and to allow the players to just have fun. The game planning if very vanilla and the rules benefit the offense more than the defense. There is no blitzing and no rushing on a punt or even field goal attempt. Also, if the quarterback gets into trouble he is allowed to intentional ground the ball. The game is built for the offense’s to showcase their talent, which is why most games are high scoring.
I don’t believe the Pro Bowl was ever meant to be a highly competitive game. The players get to be around each other and build friendships during the week leading up to the game. In the last three years the game has stopped being fun mostly because of it being played before the Super Bowl. So many of the star players have started declining the invitation to go as well as the Pro Bowl players from the Super Bowl teams not participating. I believe with the game being played after the Super Bowl players are more likely to attend so that they can relax and just enjoy the week.
When it comes to being competitive let’s take a look at some of the numbers. Most of the games have been close depending on how you look at it. In my opinion a blowout loss is winning by 20 or more points. It has been 41 seasons since the Pro Bowl started back in 1970. In those 41 seasons only seven times has a team won by 20 or more points. In 33 of the Pro Bowls the winning margin was 14 points or less and in 21 of the games the winning margin has been seven points or less. Three of the highest scoring games have come in the last three years when the game was played before the Super Bowl due to lack of interest and effort in my opinion.
As far as the attendance, in 32 seasons that the game has been played in Hawaii the attendance has been over 50,000 25 times and the other times it has not been below 48,000. Two of the lowest attendance games have been the last two seasons, which is most likely because many elite players are not participating due to getting ready for the Super Bowl or being involved in Super Bowl events.
When it comes to the success of the Pro Bowl I think the solution is simple. Move the game back to where it belongs. Play it after the Super Bowl so that those playing in the Super Bowl will be able to participate and will want to participate. Knowing the season is over and knowing that the off season starts with a vacation in Hawaii must make things so much easier on the players. They can go and enjoy themselves with their families and be around their peers so that they can say goodbye to everyone. Then they can go and play the Pro Bowl the way it was meant to be played, a fun and entertaining game for the fans. And us as fans can get closure on the NFL season to prepare for the long off season.