Saturday, December 05, 2009

Pro Bowl problem

The final Sunday in January. For years that day was synonymous with one thing and one thing only.

The Super Bowl.

But January 31, 2010 - the final Sunday in January - will bring an awkward and eerie feeling to the football world as the NFL plays it's Pro Bowl one week before Super Bowl Sunday on February 7. It's something that was decided prior to the 2009 Pro Bowl which took place in the traditional comforts of Aloha Stadium in Honolulu. But in 2010, the NFL's all-star game will be played in Miami in the exact same stadium as the Super Bowl, just one week earlier.

2010 Pro Bowl moving to Miami

It's not a new notion to have the game moved up to take place between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl. The NFL has discussed it multiple times in recent years, and Goodell told the Associated Press last month that having the game precede the Super Bowl would avoid a "somewhat anticlimactic" ending to the season.

The initiative to experiment with the Pro Bowl schedule and location was discussed over the past two years with NFL club owners, the NFL Players Association, the NFL Player Advisory Council, and other players, and it received wide player and club support.

"Moving the Pro Bowl to the Sunday prior to the Super Bowl can add even more excitement to Super Bowl week, one of the most anticipated weeks of the year," said Frank Supovitz, the NFL’s senior vice president of events. "Taking the Pro Bowl to new locations can showcase our top players to more fans around the country. We are also in discussions with key leaders in Hawaii to continue our partnership with the State of Hawaii, which has embraced the Pro Bowl for 30 years."

I suppose there are some positives for this game: fans in the 48 contiguous states may be more likely to go to the game, especially in a rough economy where travel to Hawaii could get pricey. However, since when is travel to a Super Bowl city ever cheap? Fans may flock to Miami to see the Pro Bowl as part of the Super Bowl week festivities, but this game is too close to other playoff games as well as butting into the Super Bowl's spotlight.

Here's a few Pro Bowl problems that must be considered with the game being played one week ahead of the Super Bowl:

1. Participation of Super Bowl participants
Over the past three decades with the Pro Bowl calling Hawaii home, players and coaches would report to Honolulu for a week of fun and sun. The Super Bowl participants? They wouldn't get there until a day or two later, taking a winner's walk into the locker room. It's a pride thing, not being able to be there on time because your team made it to the biggest game of the year.

Now with the game preceding the Super Bowl, if a player like Peyton Manning or Drew Brees has a chance to prepare for BIGGEST GAME OF THE YEAR or horse around in some dinky exhibition game, which do you think they will choose? There are usually players who pull out of the Pro Bowl and are replaced by alternates in the game, but with the game being held a week before the Super Bowl, the teams playing for the championship - which usually represent a significantly high number of Pro Bowlers - won't be participating this season.

2008-09 Season
The original 2009 Pro Bowl roster included eight players who played the week before in the Super Bowl - five players from Arizona and three from Pittsburgh. All eight players participated in the game. (See final roster)

2007-08 Season
In 2008, the Giants and Patriots played one of the most memorable Super Bowls in recent memory. One week later, six of the eight Super Bowl participants played in the Pro Bowl, with Tom Brady and Randy Moss skipping the trip to Hawaii.

2006-07 Season
In 2007, the Colts and Bears had a combined 12 players originally selected to go to the Pro Bowl. All five Colts went, including Peyton Manning, Marvin Harrison and Jeff Saturday. The Bears originally had seven selections, with four of those players (C Olin Kreutz, LB Tommie Harris, LB Lance Briggs, LB Brian Urlacher) bypassing the game after a tough Super Bowl loss citing injury/personal reasons. The Bears did have one player selected as an alternate Pro Bowler who reported for duty.

2005-06 Season
In 2006, after a Pittsburgh-Seattle Super Bowl in Detroit, the nine combined players on the original 2006 Pro Bowl roster from each Super Bowl participant all showed up (four Steelers, five Seahawks). In fact, these teams combined to send three additional players who were originally alternates for the game.

2004-05 Season
In 2005, the Patriots and Eagles met up in Super Bowl XXXIX. One week later, three of the five Patriots and seven of nine Eagles on the original 2005 Pro Bowl roster played in the game (total of 10 of 14 selections played). New England's Corey Dillon and Richard Seymour withdrew citing injury, as did Philadelphia's Terrell Owens and Tra Thomas. Each team also had one additional player make the Pro Bowl as an alternate.

To sum up the last five years to gage Pro Bowl participation among Super Bowl participants, 41 of 51 original Pro Bowl selections - not the injury replacements - did go on to play in the game, a rate of slightly more than 80%. It's easy to see where there could be a drop off, as many players will push themselves to play hurt in the Super Bowl, such as Terrell Owens who played on half a foot for Philly after a strong 2004 season.

The trend is easy to see. Super Bowl participants - for the most part - go to the game. That will absolutely change this season. I guarantee it! Not only do I not think that the average watermark of 80% won't be reached. I doubt that any Super Bowl participants will play in the Pro Bowl, even if it is in the same city as the Super Bowl, thus negating any extensive travel from point to point.

2. Participation of NFC/AFC Championships participants
Not only will we see a drop-off (who are we kidding, a complete NO SHOW) from Super Bowl participants, but there will also be a lack of participants from the conference championship games. The game will be played one week after these teams missed a chance to advance to the Super Bowl. When the consolation prize for some players of going to the Pro Bowl usually three weeks away, it at least allows some time for the heart to heal. Instead, for players selected to the Pro Bowl who lose in the conference championship game, this will be an ugly afterthought that many players will respectfully decline. Here's a look at players who lost in the conference championship game who have/haven't participated in recent Pro Bowls...

2008-09 season: Pittsburgh d. Baltimore, Arizona d. Philadelphia
The conference runners up last season - the Ravens and Eagles - had seven combined Pro Bowl selections, with five from Baltimore and two from Philly. All seven played the Pro Bowl three weeks after their respective conference loss.

2007-08 season: N.Y. Giants d. Green Bay, New England d. San Diego
The Packers had four original Pro Bowl selections, led by Brett Favre in his final season with the Packers. The Chargers had eight selections, with seven of the original eight playing in the game with only Antonio Gates missing the game. The Chargers did have tackle Marcus McNeill play as an alternate for the AFC. Still, of the 12 original selections, 11 suited up for the game.

2006-07 season: Chicago d. New Orleans, Indianapolis d. New England
In the year of the resurgent Saints, QB Drew Brees, T Jammal Brown, and DE Will Smith were selected to the Pro Bowl, with Brown missing the game with an injury. As for the Patriots, who finally were toppled by the Colts en route to the Super Bowl, they had one original selection - Richard Seymour - who did participate in the game. Total combined: 3 out of 4.

2005-06 season: Pittsburgh d. Denver, Seattle d. Carolina
The Panthers were trying to get back to a second Super Bowl in three years while the Broncos were looking to finally break through without John Elway. Neither came to fruition. Instead, each team sent four original selections to Hawai'i, as all eight participated in the game. (Note: this was the season the AFC went to it's third and fourth alternates to fill all three Pro Bowl QB spots. The three original AFC QB selections: Peyton Manning, Carson Palmer and Tom Brady. Palmer and Brady withdrew from the game. First alternate Drew Brees (then of San Diego) didn't play. Second alternate Jake Plummer didn't go either. So Manning was joined by Trent Green and Steve McNair as the AFC quarterbacks. Crazy.) Total combined 8 out of 8 original selections played in the game.

2004-05 season: New England d. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia d. Atlanta
Of the 2004 season's conference runners up, the Steelers sent all six original selections (along with three alternates) to the Pro Bowl to join the four Falcons originally named to the game. That's a total of 10 out of 10 original selections.

Combining the totals over of the past five years, we see that of conference championship participants originally named to the Pro Bowl, 39 of 41 players (95%) suited up in Hawai'i. How many of those players were banged up in the NFC or AFC championship game but still were able to make the trip to Honolulu after three weeks off from the physical and mental strain suffered from falling one game shy of the Super Bowl? It seems that a lot of these guys will decide not to push themselves to get ready to play just one week after perhaps the most disappointing loss of their careers.

3. Game-planning of Pro Bowl coaches
The Pro Bowl teams are coached by the coaching staff of the teams that lose the conference championships. Last year, it was Andy Reid (Philadelphia) on the NFC sideline and John Harbaugh (Baltimore) running the AFC squad. In past seasons, those coaches had three weeks to get over their recent loss that left them one game away from the Super Bowl, take a bit of time to relax, and then head to Hawai'i and create an admittedly scaled-down game plan for the Pro Bowl.

Now with the Pro Bowl being played one week ahead of the Super Bowl here is the timeline for these coaches:
Sunday - Lose conference championship game, miss out on going to Super Bowl
Monday - Get over a loss that could have put you on the "next level" of coaching
Tuesday - Travel to the city you would have gone to a week later, but instead of reporting to Miami to coach the Super Bowl, you're prepping for the Pro Bowl amid the hype of the team that just defeated you a few days ago.
Wed/Thurs - Begrudgingly begin coaching up all-stars instead of your team
Sunday - Take the field in Miami one week ahead of when you really wanted to

Regardless of when the Pro Bowl is played - a week before or a week after the Super Bowl - it's never going to be as rewarding as coaching your team to the Super Bowl. I get that. However, it's got to be infinitely easier to deal with the consolation prize of coaching in the Pro Bowl when it's done three weeks after your team lost opposed to just seven days later as an appetizer to your conquerers showcase.

4. Trip to Honolulu Miami?
Is it really that much fun to go to places like Miami, New Orleans, San Diego, etc for the Pro Bowl? Yes, it's great for the economies of those local areas, and any city who could acquire the rights to the game would love to have it. Why not have the Pro Bowl go to other cities in the US that don't have NFL teams (hell, like Los Angeles). All you'd need is a big enough college football stadium to hold at least 50,000 or 60,000 fans. Play it in Lincoln, Neb. or Fayetteville, Ark. What about Las Vegas? (oh yeah, Pacman Jones, nevermind). Maybe Portland, Oregon or Oklahoma City.

That being said, there is a reason that the NFL doesn't shop this game around and play it in different cities each year. It might be nice for that city to have the game, but that's really all it does. There is still the matter of getting other fans up for traveling to the game, not to mention attracting players to actually PLAY in the game.

There is already a percentage of players who pull out of the Pro Bowl each year even when they aren't hurt. The lure of playing in Honolulu and bringing the whole family to the islands for a fun end-of-season vacation isn't quite the same as going to Detroit the week before a Super Bowl at Ford Field. No one wants to be in the cold weather of North Texas in January 2011 the week before Super Bowl XLV. Sure the stadium is domed, but certain places just aren't travel hotspots during winter. Honolulu presented a platform for the Pro Bowl to always have a unique feel of being somewhere special, somewhere different, somewhere that isn't on the regular road map of NFL teams. By moving the game to a location that simply follows around the Super Bowl like a wannabe lackey, it certainly tarnishes the luster of the Pro Bowl.

The official experiment will begin after the conference championships wrap up on January 24. We'll see just how willing and able the coaches and players of the teams who reach the conference championship game are to work the following week. Don't expect a big turnout from some of the bigger names who advance deep into the postseason. And when those big names decide not to make the trip, the fan turnout will react accordingly. And don't expect the Pro Bowl to continue it's deviation from Honolulu after this experiment flounders, flops and ultimately fails.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey! Great topic, but will this really work?

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