- Bill Williamson, ESPN Staff Writer
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There is no doubt: The Pro Bowl -- the annual all-star game of the NFL -- is not a shining light of the game.
But it can be fixed. It does not need to go away. It is salvageable.
The Pro Bowl, which will be played Sunday at 7 p.m. ET, has lost steam for various reasons in recent years. There is a chance the league will end the traditional game between the AFC’s and NFC's best.
A big part of the reason the game has lost its luster is a couple of changes NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has made.
For years, the game was always played in Hawaii the weekend after the Super Bowl. It would send the NFL into the offseason. Now it is played the Sunday before the Super Bowl and Hawaii is no longer the exclusive site of the game.
I think the league has to come to an agreement with Hawaii to be the permanent host. I’ve covered a few Pro Bowls there and they are always a raving success. Yes, it’s a long way away from the mainland and, yes, Aloha Stadium is an epic dump.
But so what? It’s an once-a-year affair. Many fans travel to the game, and local fans love it. Players also enjoy the Hawaii experience. Hawaii treats players and their families like royalty all week.
I also think the league needs to put the game at the end of the season again. I know the game has gotten some good television ratings in this current format, and that is vital to the league. But the product will be better if players from the Super Bowl get a chance to play.
It was always a cool tradition when the players from the winning team showed up every Wednesday to a ton of island fanfare. Without the Super Bowl players available, it dilutes the talent base even more. Every year, players bail out because of injuries, whether they are big or small. Why build in another way to lose talent?
Of course, one of the biggest issues for why the Pro Bowl has lost interest is the quality of play. The action isn't exactly fierce. Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers has complained about the effort level of some players in the game.
This week, Denver quarterback Peyton Manning gave a speech to the Pro Bowl players to play hard during the game to ensure they all get the opportunity to go to future Pro Bowls.
Regardless of any pleas to perform, this will never be a regular-season quality game. But it doesn’t have to be. Fans want to get one last look at their favorite players for the season and they want to see points scored.
It is attainable.
At the end of the day, I’m not passionate about the Pro Bowl. If it goes away, I’ll thank the Pro Bowl for the memories and move forward.
But I do think it can be salvaged with some easy fixes. The NFL is the greatest product in all of sports and it is the most popular and most financially successful of American sports.
If baseball and basketball can have all-star events that are put on well and that are anticipated parts of the schedule, why can’t the NFL do the same?
2dEric D. Williams
2dEric D. Williams