January 26, 2014; Honolulu, HI, USA; Philadelphia Eagles teammates Nick Foles (left) and Evan Mathis pose after the 2014 Pro Bowl at Aloha Stadium. Team Rice defeated Team Sanders 22-21. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

A Shining Hope: The Return Of A True Pro-Bowl


 

Being a pro bowler was once considered an incredible honor. Players loved the recognition from peers and fans, but times have certainly changed. In recent years it appears to be more of a burden than anything for many players. The National Football League has struggled to keep their version of the All-Star Game alive and well over the last number of seasons, nearly kicking the bucket in the 2012.  This season the league began its path to reviving the once glorified weekend of sensational all star football.

The pro-bowl has been around since the merger in 1970, and has seen its fair share of change and criticism throughout its history. Pitting the conference all stars against each other as any other all star style game, the pro bowl has never received the following or passion as the other major sports similar events. It never draws the crowds or television ratings, and has often been seen as the most lackluster of any all star game. Also complained of being too expensive and out of the way, numerous fans skip the event all together every year. Many complaints especially recently have also come out about of the total lack of effort and desire by players in the game, making it tough to watch when it doesn’t even look like professional football.

The timing of the event, which for many years was held the week after the Super Bowl, has often been the most criticized part of the pro bowl. The grind of the regular season for players in the NFL  followed by the three to four week post season has often made the extra game just too much for many banged up all stars. So recently, the league moved the game between the championship weekend games, and the Super Bowl, but this more or less has had no effect in the amount of players who still skip the trip due to injury concerns. Unlike most other all star events, the players also have nothing other than a small bonus check to play for. No home field advantages or trips to Disney World. Bragging rights would apply in a sense, but even now that is no longer a factor. Players just don’t enjoy another game even if it’s in Hawaii after such a long season.

After the past few seasons falling far short of the even lowered standards, the NFL tried to take some action. They tried moving the game for a year to Miami, and that resulted in absolutely no positive impact. They even threatened to cancel the game if they didn’t see drastic player improvement. The fans were all but ready to jump ship, the past generations of pro bowlers seemingly just a more and more distant memory. Then this season happened.

While there were still plenty imperfections with this year’s new revamped version of the game, it had that taste of what the pro bowl used to be like. A brand new non conference roster style, picked by captains from a fan voted pool of players was the start. The new uniforms were also a nice addition though not anything terribly exciting. The part that most excited me and most other fans was that they played what actually seemed like a real game. Defensive players made efforts to tackle and stop the offense, so we didn’t see a forty or fifty point shootout of pitch and catch.

While it isn’t all that exciting, the new additions have certainly helped improve interest and following of the pro-bowl. The idea of captains also was a nice addition, especially bringing in legends like Jerry Rice and Prime time Deon Sanders. Having these guys who played during the glory years of the pro bowl mentor and coach the young guns, it put some fire in the bellies of the players this year. As any fan remembers, the skills competition is one aspect that has been sorely missed since its elimination. It added a whole day to the events, and was easily one of if not the highlight of the pro bowl in years past and would certainly give the game some more to watch for.

This season’s pro bowl certainly showed promise of an all star game that can return to its former glory. It brings about all the familiarity of a backyard football game, but with the best players on the planet. It has this unique nostalgia to it that reminds us of the time of pick-up games at the park with the best kids in town. Too much lately, football has gotten away from its roots, which is just to play the game that you love. This year at the pro-bowl, I finally saw what I’ve been missing for so long…a classic football game of guys who love to play it. Welcome back football.

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