AS SEASON finales go, the Super Bowl is arguably unrivalled in its spectacle and pulling power. By virtue of its size, the United States is a major contributor to the hysteria surrounding the showpiece of gridiron. Advertisers are falling over themselves to book prestigious seconds of airtime to promote their brands. Yet why does the brand of the Super Bowl so far outweigh its preceding event: the Pro Bowl?
Criticism of the Pro Bowl varies, from the minimal competitiveness of the players, to the timing of it, to the girth of call-offs by nominated players.
Analyst and NFL expert Michael Carlson says:
“The Pro Bowl is an idea long past it’s time.
“Games are all televised, people see the stars all the time, and the players risk too much money to play the game for real, and even a touch game on the beach can be lethal (Robert Edwards’ career was ruined the one year they had a rookie touch game).”
As an organisation, the National Football League has made great strides in trying to expand the reach and appeal of the overall brand, with the International Series a prominent example. On the other hand, the games which are held at Wembley Stadium are still competitive affairs, with a precious win at stake in what is essentially a regular season match played on neutral soil.
The significant difference between the Wembley games and the Pro Bowl in sunny Honolulu is the ‘competitive deficit.’ Restore the competitive element and it becomes almost identical to any other game played outside the mainland U.S: a medium by which to promote the NFL, while still motivating players to give their all on the field of play.
Perhaps more notable is the unique nature of the Pro Bowl itself. It is the only example where you can watch players like Peyton or Eli Manning teaming up on the same teams as Arian Foster or Adrian Peterson. To many fans, the mere idea of A.J. Green receiving a touchdown pass from rookie Andrew Luck is a feat only achievable through Fantasy Football drafts.
For most fans, the SuperBowl is a fair distance greater than their teams can reasonably achieve, so seeing their star players nominated must surely hold some form of credit?
Darrin Marsh, a Cincinnati Bengals fan based in Indiana says:
“I enjoy seeing all those players together, seeing the best versus the best. I liked it more when they had skills challenges though.
“It is definitely my favourite allstar game. It just irritates me that some players do not try harder in game. They get paid, so they should try.
“I really enjoy seeing, let’s say, what Peyton Manning can do with A.J. Green or another great WR. It is fun to see the mix’n’match.”
The issue of players under contract is a double-edged blade. As Darrin says, players are paid to perform, so why do they appear to make an exception in the case of the Pro Bowl? The contrasting perspective to this argument, is that with contracts come insurance liabilities if a player gets injured, and in the case of agents of nominated players who may be subject to free agency, it is a risk which could end their clients’ seasons before they have even had a chance to talk to a potential employer.
Even the college equivalent, the Senior Bowl has come in for some criticism of malaise, as Michael Carlson explains. He says:
“The college all-star game was great, but its time passed too as the pros pulled way ahead of the college players, and now the Pro Bowl is an anachronism.”
Sentiments and business interests are valid contributors to both sides of the Pro Bowl argument, but what about the practicality of it? With pre-season games viewed as an unnecessary precursor by fans because of the lack of intensity and actual ‘starter’ players participating to avoid injury, does a similar scenario like the Pro Bowl even allow for proper gridiron to be played?
Reflecting on this practical aspect, Mike Carlson says: “Baseball can still play a semblance of a real game, but even there managers try to manipulate their pitchers to avoid their working the game.
“The NBA/NHL are playground stuff. You can’t play football without playing football, and no one really wants to in Pro Bowl.”
Whichever side of the argument followers of the NFL take, and the overwhelming majority appear to favour the negative view, the Pro Bowl accommodates a rare opportunity for the flagship players of the league to test their mettle against the best it has to offer. The issue of how serious or competitive it is can only be solved by the league organisers themselves. Commissioner Roger Goodell is a thoughtful and open-minded man, so if anyone can come up with a potential solution to the woes of the Pro Bowl, it is likely to be him. After all, it is all about selling the brand.
As for the 2013 edition itself, and there are one or two significant details. None more significant than the likelihood that this will be Tony Gonzalez’s final ever game before retiring after a strong season with Atlanta which saw them lose the NFC title to San Francisco. The inclusion of Ndamakong Suh in any game, whether competitive or not, is always worth a watch to see how Detroit’s enigmatic powerhouse handles the game. Two of three of the breakout rookie QBs from the season will be involved in some form, with the Colts’ Andrew Luck called in as a replacement for Tom Brady on the AFC team, and Russell Wilson of the Seahawks stepping into the NFC team ranks.
Furthermore, it allows a lap of honour of sorts for some of the star performers in their positions as voted for by the fans themselves. A quick peruse of the respective AFC and NFC rosters is enough to whet any NFL fans appetite, even if it is just a post-season ‘friendly.’
The NFL Pro Bowl will be screened live on Sky Sports in the UK at 2330 GMT on Sunday 27 January 2013. The Super Bowl follows a week later, and will be shown on Sky Sports and BBC Sport.
Pro Bowl Rosters (correct as of 22/01/2013)
QB Peyton Manning (DEN, starter); Andrew Luck (IND)
RB: Arian Foster (HOU, starter); C.J.Spiller (BUF)
FB: Marcel Reece (OAK)
WR: A.J. Green (CIN, starter); Andre Johnson (HOU, starter); Reggie Wayne (IND); Demaryius Thomas (DEN)
TE: Jermaine Gresham (CIN); Owen Daniels (HOU)
T: Joe Thomas (CLE, starter); Duane Brown (HOU, starter); Andrew Whitworth (CIN)
G: Richie Incognito (MIA); Wade Smith (HOU); Zane Beadles (DEN)
C: Maurkice Pouncey (PIT, starter); Chris Myers (HOU)
DE: JJ. Watt (HOU, starter); Cameron Wake (MIA); Elvis Dumervil (DEN)
IL: Geno Atkins (CIN, starter); Randy Starks (MIA); Kyle Williams (BUF)
OL: Von Miller (DEN, starter); Tamba Hali (KC, starter); Robert Mathis (IND)
MLB: Jerod Mayo (NE, starter); Derrick Johnson (KC)
CB: Champ Bailey (DEN, starter); Johnathan Joseph (HOU, starter); Antonio Cromartie (NYJ)
FS: Jairus Byrd (BUF)
SS: Eric Berry (KC, starter); LaRon Landrey (NYJ)
P: Dustin Colquitt (KC)
K: Phil Dawson (CLE)
QB: Drew Brees (NO); Eli Manning (NYG); Russell Wilson (SEA)
RB: Adrian Peterson (MIN, starter); Marshawn Lynch (SEA); Doug Martin (TB)
FB: Jerome Felton (MIN, starter)
WR: Larry Fitzgerald (AZ, starter); Julio Jones (ATL); Victor Cruz (NYG); Vincent Jackson (TB)
TE: Tony Gonzalez (ATL, starter); Jason Witten (DAL)
T: Russell Okung (SEA, starter); Jermon Bushrod (NO); Trent Williams (WAS)
G: Jahri Evans (NO, starter); Josh Sitton (GB); Chris Snee (NYG)
C: Max Unger (SEA, starter); Jeff Saturday (GB)
DE: Jason Pierre-Paul (NYG, starter); Julius Peppers (CHI, starter); Jared Allen (MIN)
IL: Henry Melton (CHI, starter); Ndamakong Suh (DET); Gerald McCoy (TB)
OL: Chad Greenway (MIN); Ryan Kerrigan (WAS); Anthony Spencer (DAL)
MLB: Daryl Washington (AZ); London Fletcher (WAS)
CB: Charles Tillman (CHI, starter); Tim Jennings (CHI); Patrick Peterson (AZ)
FS: Earl Thomas (SEA); Thomas Decoud (ATL)
SS: William Moore (ATL)
P: Thomas Morstead (NO)
K: Blair Walsh (MIN)
Roster information sourced from NFL.com
A fan on fitba, NFL and ruggerby league in that order. Dundee exile, based in Perth. A journalist as well apparently.