Sunday night’s NFL game was a slugfest at times. Quarterbacks were hit without mercy, and in the end, the game came down to a gutsy decision to go for a two-point conversion and the win. Had the players not been wearing helmets from around the league, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a regular season contest between two teams with something to prove.
But that’s not what Sunday’s game was. It was the Pro Bowl, the most meaningless game of them all. A game that was on the chopping block just a year ago. After such a competitive performance, there’s no doubt the new “un-conferenced” format was a big hit.
The big draw, at least for the players, seemed to be the set of rule changes that the NFL rolled out for this year’s all-star game. For instance, cover two and man coverage were permitted whereas they had been illegal in the past. In addition, the players were energized by their alumni general managers. Intrinsic motivation took over, and the players in the game actually acted like it mattered, even if it didn’t.
Aside from the real speed of the game, the story was the defenses in this year’s Pro Bowl. With a final score of 22-21 favoring Jerry Rice’s squad, it was the lowest scoring all-star game since 2005.
With the Pro Bowl seemingly finding solid footing during the Roger Goodell era, we now have to wonder whether the intensity in the game will continue in future years. Two years ago, the game was an absolute joke. Last year, up against threats to discontinue the game, the stars of the NFL, led by Peyton Manning, played far more inspired, and the game was saved for at least a year.
The Pro Bowl may be as pointless as ever, but there’s no denying how fun it was. The players enjoyed themselves, and the fans enjoyed themselves too. Furthermore, fans aren’t abandoning the game. Although the Grammys were the highest rated show Sunday night, the Pro Bowl wasn’t a slouch. If there’s anything the NFL can do well, it’s making money, and the new format allows them more avenues of generating revenue.
The old format functioned well for many years, but there’s no denying how stale the Pro Bowl was in recent years. I don’t want to blow up this year’s game like it was approaching Super Bowl status, but it had a novelty effect that gave me, as a fan, a chance to celebrate the season that was as well as looking forward to the Super Bowl in less than a week. Some will continue to complain about how pointless the game is, but that’s the nature of all-star games. Even in the MLB, where there is some lasting impact of their own all-star game, it’s taken largely as a pointless exercise.
Let’s just remember this; the Pro Bowl is as much for the players as it is for the fans. The new format allows both sides to benefit from the experience, and it allows the NFL’s all-star game to continue into the future, and that was the goal of the format change to begin with. As far as I’m concerned, Sunday night’s game was a big hit, and I’m more than happy to see the Pro Bowl sticking around.