by John Cihon
by John Cihon

Pro Bowl Trends and Future

by John Cihon

The rules in place for the NFL Pro Bowl are designed to create a game where the chance of injuries is less, but they also serve to create a game that is heavy on offense, and this year was no exception. Both the AFC and the NFC put up such potent offenses that a punter wasn’t called into service after a turnover on downs until the third quarter. The passing-heavy offensive game also served to mirror the direction the NFL in general seems to be heading in. It’s been said that defense wins championships, and while the New York Giants did put on an amazing defensive display in Super Bowl XLII last week to give themselves the win, the New England Patriots were the best team over this past NFL season, and they were the best team primarily because of their aggressive offense. Granted, the Patriots did stumble by the time they got to the big game, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t the best team over the course of the season. Look for the trend to continue, as the NFL is currently enchanted with a pass-heavy game that relies less on the run than ever before, and even the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team with a long tradition of ‘smash-mouth football’, passed the ball more than they ever did last season.

Speaking of the Pittsburgh Steelers and passing, Ben Roethlisberger looked good but not great in his first ever Pro Bowl appearance, throwing five for nine for a total of forty-two yards, although he played the least amount of time of the three AFC quarterbacks. It certainly was an odd sight to see Cleveland Browns quarterback Derek Anderson calling the plays in to Big Ben’s headset from the sidelines. One stat from the game that truly surprised me is that Big Ben led the AFC in rushing yards. Might have been different if ‘Fast’ Willie Parker had been able to make it out this year. . .

Pro Bowl television ratings have been in dire straits for the past several years, and the NFL is currently attempting to brainstorm a solution to this problem. I personally love watching the Pro Bowl, as I enjoy seeing the greatest players playing together and seeming to have a lot more fun that they usually do in the regular season, not to mention the cool matchups on the field, like when Big Ben was looking to throw to Cincinnati Bengals on purpose. It’s also cool that the television broadcast allows you to hear the playcalls from the coaches to the quarterbacks, something that by necessity could never happen in the regular season. The less competitive nature of the game makes it seem like the greatest pick-up football game in the world.

But the ratings are what they are, and I believe some changes could drastically increase ratings. The first thing you have to do to make the fans take the game more seriously is to have the broadcast crew take the game more seriously. The broadcast crew exchanged anecdotes and extended interviews over the actual game far too many times to allow the viewer to believe that they were interested in the game itself. Save the interviews for before and after the game, and just call the game and comment on the game. The Pro Bowl is presented as a game, not a former player interview show. During the game the broadcast crew actually discussed the same anecdote involving one of them having to borrow Brett Farve’s helmet following an equipment theft during a prior Pro Bowl twice! It was an interesting story the first time around, but twice? If they can’t pay attention, why should the viewers feel like they should?

The other change that I think is absolutely necessary is changing the date of the Pro Bowl. The entire country gets hyped up for the Super Bowl and then largely forgets the NFL exists until the first official game of the next season. Why not play the Pro Bowl during the otherwise football game-free week between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl? Turning the Pro Bowl into essentially Super Bowl hype, rather than a coda on the season would be like eating a little snack when you’re really hungry to tide you over until Thanksgiving dinner, rather than going to McDonald’s an hour after Thanksgiving dinner, which is essentially what it is now. You’ve got to give it to the public when they’re still hungry for football, not after they’ve been stuffed. I believe that changing the date will have an immediate impact, but I would prefer to see the game remain in Hawaii, as I think if anything a change in the longstanding location coupled with a date change would be too much. The Hawaiian setting adds to the vacation atmosphere surrounding the game, and has become an essential part of the game over the years. Granted, if the game was the week before the Super Bowl, no Super-Bowl bound players would bother to go, but I don’t believe that would be that big a loss, since those players would be showcased in a bigger game the following week.

The last thing I’d like to see is the NFL making available for purchase those snazzy Hawaiian shirts the coaches wear. Given the almost limitless amount of products the NFL has licensed, it boggles the mind that the Hawaiian shirts aren’t available.