Fixing the NFL’s Pro Bowl Problem



A fan holds up a sign during a Pro Bowl at Sun Life Stadium in Miami Gardens, Florida. (Joe Rimkus Jr./Miami Herald/MCT)

By Dan Sostek / Sports Editor

It’s that time of year again. That time when the biggest stars in the National Football League face off against one another, playing in one ultimate contest where pride and respect are on the line.

Just kidding.

The 2016 NFL Pro Bowl kicks off this Sunday in Hawaii and, quite frankly, is perhaps the least relevant and interesting sporting event any of the four major leagues have to offer. It’s basically a lackadaisical televised touch football game with zero purpose other than satisfying bonus clauses.

It’s a game devoid of stars, devoid of physicality and devoid of any real intrigue or significance — I am not sure why the NFL didn’t just follow its own inklings and cancel the whole event.

If the league isn’t going to end the Pro Bowl, it better try to improve it. Last year was a start, utilizing narrower field goals. But the league can go even further. Ratings prove that people — inexplicably — still watch this noncompetitive programming, so the least the league can do is try to spice up the action.

I have a few suggestions.


There is no play quite like the “Fat Guy Touchdown.”

An offensive lineman who checked in as eligible hauling in a pass in the end zone, or a stout defensive tackle picking up a loose ball and rumbling all the way for six is way more exhilarating than seeing a speedy kick returner dart through a lane and score in six seconds. There’s just more to savor.

This proposition would allow for more of these moments. I’m not talking switching tight ends to wide receivers. I’m talking Pitt’s own Aaron Donald getting snaps at quarterback, or offensive lineman Joe Thomas getting a shot at wide receiver. The NFL is playing with house money in this game — injuries are rare and the outcome is meaningless. They might as well embrace the backyard football nature of the game.


Punting is boring. Sure, it’s an extremely significant part of the game, serving as a key decider in the eternal battle for field position. But getting rid of the play is an entirely logical step, following in the footsteps of the league’s decision to remove kickoffs from the game two years ago. Ignoring the fact that punt and kick coverage is one of the more liable areas of the game injury-wise, this is logical from an entertainment standpoint.

Just look at the Patriots-Broncos game this past weekend. The four most exciting plays were the four times New England attempted to go for it on fourth down — foregoing field goals over punts three of the four times. But the point still remains. Fourth downs are one of the rare moments in football where, no matter what, one team will celebrate at the end. The plays always have climatic results, something the Pro Bowl desperately needs.


Do the coaches really, deep down, care about the result of the game? I doubt it. I’d bet Andy Reid is just coaching for the all-expenses-paid trip to Hawaii — and who could blame him? With that being said, this would be a great chance to give the average couch potato a chance to prove just how large their football IQ is — every fan thinks they could coach better than their favorite team’s signal caller.

I’d institute a live vote, where fans can vote run or pass for every play, and rules would require the coach to use whichever play call received the higher percentage. If they tie at 50 percent each, the coach has to run a trick play of some sort. The NFL is constantly looking to up the fan experience — allowing them to call plays would be the height of sports interactivity.


Since the Pro Bowl lacks any semblance of hard-hitting play — and why would it? — there’s no reason the league couldn’t expand rosters to other sports. The lack of intensity in the game makes injury risk extremely minimal — any active professional athlete could surive a few snaps. While NBA players in season would likely say no to playing in a football game, maybe, just maybe, Roger Goodell could sweeten the pot enough for LeBron James to take a few snaps at wideout.

Other athletes on the Pro Bowl wish list would include performers from all different sports. Usain Bolt would be dynamic — just get him the ball and watch him run. New York Yankees’ designated hitter Alex Rodriguez was an elite quarterback prospect before choosing baseball, so I’m sure he could hunker down and throw a few pretty spirals. On the defensive side of the ball, UFC fighter Jon “Bones” Jones is already a step ahead thanks to his gene pool, as his two brothers, Arthur and Chandler Jones, are both talented defenders.

Also, if this premise would extend to coaches, I’d love to see the surly San Antonio Spurs’ Gregg Popovich out there — he’d be a great stand-in for the grumpy Bill Belichick, who hasn’t coached the game since 2011. Poppovich would probably care just as much as any of the players, coaches or fans anyway.