This past Tuesday it was announced that Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was added to the Pro Bowl roster. I, being a relatively social person, brought this up the following day at work , to a stunning array of "mehs" and "you watch that nonsense?" that I've come to expect from anyone when they think of the NFL's annual exhibition of their sup[posed top talent. Of course, the fact that Taylor's nomination came on the heels of ESPN's report that this year's Pro Bowl is now officially the most declined invitation probably didn't help the interest level. Quarterbacks alone were so disinterested that Jameis Winston, the eighth alternate to the six selected QBs, will be suiting up Sunday. Not that he doesn't deserve it or anything, but they were roughly two phone calls away from selecting a random fan.
With Pro Bowl ratings down 16% last year, and not trending upwards, it begs the question; What could the NFL do to get an excited Pro Bowl audience? I looked at the All-Star game formats of other sports for inspiration, and then I drank a beer or several for a few more
- NFL vs College All-Stars - The MLS all-star format may be the most outside of the box one in sports these days. Rather than divide up their players into two squads, they make only one team, and then play a top team from somewhere else in the world (the EPL's Tottenham Hotspur this year). Now, since there isn't another good football team anywhere in the world, they would have to face someone closer to home. For reference, the American World Cup of football team won the championship game 59-12 with no professionals on the team. Get it together, rest of the world.
This could work because it gives both teams something to play for. The collegiate players would be looking to impress potential suitors, and the NFL team would be dead set on not losing to a bunch of college kids. Now the NFL team would be much more talented, but they'd also be much more worn down after their season. Even a one-sided version could be fun.
- The Refs Play, and the Players Ref - The players have to deal with a progressively more and more criticized set of calls for sixteen games or more, and there's nothing they can do about it unless they coach Texas high school football on the side. In this format, we split the refs into two teams, and give the most penalized players from both conferences the whistles and striped shirts. Nothing says must see TV like Jerry Hughes telling Clete Blakeman that he was celebrating excessively. Also, there's a pretty good chance that Ed Hochuli would have a couple Marshawn Lynch-esque runs, which alone would make this worth our time.
- Hold It in the Middle of the Season - A few different leagues do this nowadays, and it may actually play into a different concern we've started to hear with regards to player health these days; namely, a second by week. Push week 9 back another week, and give the best of the best a free week in Hawaii to pretend to play defense.
Now this would probably lead to even more declined invites as people clamor to keep themselves in shape or the stretch run, but they could always make it for Super Bowl home field in the same vain that the MLB does these days. Now that means a bit less at a single neutral site game as opposed to a best-of-seven series, but still.
- Let Kobe Bryant Play - The NBA All-Star rosters were released not too long ago, and Kobe was in a familiar spot at 2 guard in the West. I know it's the Grand Mamba Retirement Tour 2k16, but let's make something clear here; Kobe is playing at an unwatchable level this year. He has the third worst shooting percentage on his own team, the currently 9-38 Lakers. He's behind Marcelo Huertas. Go ahead and Google him, I'll wait.
But hey, the fans clearly want to see the man play, no matter how he's doing, so this could only help Pro Bowl ratings. And if you're thinking that he doesn't play football, you may have me there, but he also isn't really playing anything resembling basketball at this point, and look where that's got him. He may be less qualified to play in his league's All-Star game than John Scott. At least Scott fulfills his role on the team.
- Play Flag Football - There are a separate set of rules that are applied to defense in the Pro Bowl. I could spell them out here, but I'll save you the time and just say that you can't play defense. No blitzes, and no coverage outside of a basic cover 2 or man is allowed. Now I know the NFL is in the business of protecting their stars in an exhibition game, but since we're one step away from playing touch football at this point, you may as well go all the way.
Can you imagine how aggressively JJ Watt grabs a flag? I can only imagine that it looks like a starved lion seeing an injured gazelle within swiping distance, flared nostrils and all.
- Adopt a 7 on 7 format - The NHL has embraced their All-Star game's own lack of defense by opening up the ice for more scoring. If you don't want anyone to get hit (except Brian Moorman that one time), then removing more defensive players may be one way to do that. Just imagine what Odell Beckham can do with no one to even try having to run past.
- Play Arena Football - You guys remember the excitement that surrounded going down to Marine Midland Arena to watch the Buffalo Destroyers? Turns out that league still exists, full of passes off nets, running head starts at the line of scrimmage, and teams owned by Gene Simmons.
With all the torn ACL's we've seen this season, maybe a healthy alternative is a game involving less running, and what says "less running" more than literally cutting the size of the field in half. Seeing players who could easily throw the length of the field would make for the quick score, anything can happen mentality that makes sports fun, unless you hate fun.
- Players Swap Sides of the Ball - We all know how great of a running back Adrian Peterson is, but can he play bump and run coverage? These players go out all season and are typecast into these set roles, so this format would allow the stars to explore another career path they could have chosen. Minus the terrible passing, route running, and tackling, it'd be hard to take your eyes off the set. Just think about all the crazy hijinks we'd see!
- Peyton Manning at Linebacker? Hilarious!
- Khalil Mack at Tight End? Probably still a machine!
- JJ Watt at Punter? There's literally no rules!
- Skills Competition - I recently had the chance to cover the National Womens Hockey League's inaugural All-Star game, which was kicked off by a skills competition. Sitting there watching the players having that level of fun trying to out-maneuver each other in the shootout made me wonder why every league doesn't do something like that. Now the NHL and NBA are in on it, and the MLB has the home run derby, but the NFL has nothing of the sort. Now it may be because the NFL believes that having fun is a disease akin to polio, but there's so much money being left on the table here! Here's my list of what I'd propose for a NFL skills competition.
- Quarterback dodgeball
- Defensive linemen compete in the hundred yard dash
- Kickers and punters play soccer
- Wide receivers try and catch items that the audience found in their trunk
The list is a work in progress, but you get my point. After this I wouldn't even care if they played football, because I would have seen Eli and Peyton get into a fight over whether or not the ball bounced before nicking Tyrod's leg.
Of course, with the game being this Sunday, I don't expect the league to get this list and make the necessary changes in time. But there's always next year, and I work for cheap. Call me, Roger Goodell.