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Brainstorming Pro Bowl alternatives

1/30/2012

How low-impact was the 2012 Pro Bowl? Chicago Bears tailback Matt Forte made the unusual decision to play despite a knee injury that sidelined him for the Bears' final four regular-season games, and you heard almost no concerns voiced about possible re-injury.

No, Sunday night's Pro Bowl was an unfortunate mix of half-speed football and silly gimmicks. The television at NFC North blog headquarters quickly moved to red carpet coverage for the SAG Awards, an event that offered better depth and more intriguing storylines than anything I saw from Honolulu. (Brad Pitt's cane is no more!)

I've never hidden my disdain for the Pro Bowl, but I also know it's easy to complain about something without proposing an improvement. The nature of football makes it difficult to raise the relevance of the Pro Bowl, and there are no obvious answers for making it more competitive.

So now it's your turn to brainstorm. How can the NFL turn a clunker of an event into something worthwhile? Feel free to post your suggestions below. I'll start with mine, which is actually stolen from a colleague and a reader.

AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky has been advocating for a skills competition to replace the game, and to that I'll to add a suggestion submitted through the mailbag by Patty of Spooner, Wis.: "How about Pro Bowl players get a voucher from the NFL for, let's say $50,000, which is about what they get to go to Hawaii, and give to their favorite charity. And then have them compete to see who can raise the most money for that charity. We already know what they can do playing real football. Let's see what they can do as a person, trying to help others that haven't been as lucky as they are to play a game for their job in life."

Some thoughts and complications on this idea:

  • Those on the winning Pro Bowl team earned $50,000 this year. The losers received $25,000. So dropping the game would take money away from players, even though many also receive Pro Bowl bonuses as part of their contracts. Perhaps the NFL and the NFL Players Association could split the difference so that players are compensated for their participation in the event while also creating the pool for "vouchers," as Patty called them.

  • Creating a menu for the skills competition would be tricky given the ramifications of an injury. In 1999, for example, New England Patriots running back Robert Edwards suffered a career-altering knee injury during a flag football game on a beach in Hawaii. He didn't play again until 2002. Players have too much money at stake in their careers to make a significant commitment to competing outside of the so-called lines. Likewise, the NFL wouldn't want to risk the futures of their most marketable players.

  • Last year, we recalled a legendary tug-of-war battle between the Minnesota Vikings and Pittsburgh Steelers. As much as people would want to see their favorite players competing in traditional feats of strength and skill, maybe a "Fear Factor" approach might be safer. Let's see, for example, how many snails Aaron Rodgers would eat to benefit the MACC Fund. I would tune in for that, especially knowing how competitive elite NFL players are.

  • ESPN.com columnist Scoop Jackson had some strong thoughts on the Pro Bowl last week.

  • Again, there won't be any perfect answers. But I think we can all agree it's time for something different, even if it has its own flaws. Change would be good in this instance.