Make The Pro Bowl Great (Or At Least Watchable) Again
By Johnny Carey, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) --- "Are you going to watch the Pro Bowl?" sounds like a dumb question. Most football fans would scoff, cite how awful the style of play is, how it doesn't count, even how ridiculous the jerseys usually are. Of course they aren't going to watch!
Most people are liars.
Last season, the Pro Bowl (yes -- the same one no one would never watch) earned a 5.6 overnight share. It was the highest-rated show on television that Sunday night, impressively beating out big time competition such as "The Real Housewives of Atlanta" and "Alaskan Bush People."
So, as much as many of us hate to admit it, we do watch the Pro Bowl. Roger Goodell and the NFL have a stranglehold on our lives that isn't easily (if even possibly) broken.
As ashamed as I am to say it, I'll watch the 2016 Pro Bowl. I'll watch "Team Irvin" and "Team Rice" jog around the field and occasionally tackle each other just hard enough to receive their bonus yet not hard enough to risk losing any money on their next contract. No matter how bad the game is, I can't get myself to watch a re-run of "Undercover Boss" over any football game.
Still, there is no getting around the fact that the Pro Bowl is not a good product. Not good at all. And fans have taken notice. While its 5.6 overnight share is impressive (last year's Stanley Cup Final averaged a 3.2), it was way down from a 6.7 in 2014 and a 7.7 in 2013.
But it doesn't have to be this way.
We can make the Pro Bowl watchable again.
("Again" might be a stretch, but hey, it sounded good.)
I have quite a few suggestions that probably will never happen, even though they should.
Growing up, I absolutely loved the skills competitions. While the best football players in the world couldn't get psyched up to go at each other on the field in Hawaii, they certainly went all out in the individualistic, "look-at-me" skills competitions. The NFL nixed its skills competitions after 2007 because they never received top ratings. This issue, though, was due to the lack of a primetime slot for the skills competition. Judging by the success of the NBA Slam Dunk Contest and the MLB Home Run Derby, that could change in primetime -- after all, anything football-related sells. I know I would find these competitions much more compelling than the actual Pro Bowl game, and I for one, need some form of these skills competitions to come back.
The quarterback accuracy competition was awesome. What really makes a quarterback accurate after all? Is it a 65 percent completion percentage as a result of an offense designed around check owns (oh hi, Pro Bowler Teddy Bridgewater), or is it the ability to hit a moving target at different distances down the field all the while wearing a visor and lei?
People seem to love Jon Gruden's QB Camp, so with this year's Pro Bowl on The Worldwide Leader, why not combine the two and have a Hawaiian-shirt wearing Gruden ask some of the best quarterbacks in the NFL if they know what "Spider 2-Y Banana" is before they throw at some targets?
That'd be awesome, man. (It'd also be pretty annoying, man. But people would at the very least have some good GIFs to share on Twitter.)
The Pro Bowl also absolutely needs to bring back kicking competitions. It's the one time when kickers get to look cool. We always hear announcers tell us the kickers were hitting from 70 yards in warm-ups, so here's their chance to prove it. Start from the extra-point and move further and further out until there's only one kicker standing. Then have them boot 60-plus yarders at a target of the fans' choice. Maybe even some lucky fans could scramble behind the goal posts like the kids in the outfield during the Home Run Derby. Toss in a few trick shots and I'm sold.
The skills competition even used to include a 40-yard dash race and Bench Press-Off. Since we already have the Combine, which is ever-so-thrilling television, we don't need these competitions to return. What we do need, though, are 40-yard dash races and Bench Press-offs between the slowest and the weakest players.
Who would you rather watch race: running backs or nose tackles?
Who would you rather watch bench press: linebackers or punters?
Maybe it's just the inferiority complex in all of us, but there's always something fascinating about watching an athlete do something that you didn't think they could do; it's why Hard Knocks is so popular and why everyone loves to share videos of a young Vince Wilfork running faster than a wide receiver. In today's social media age, these types of competitions would be perfect for quick sharing.
Once the skills competitions are over, there does still need to be some form of a game. There have been rumors of the Pro Bowl switching to a flag football game, but since today's NFL has already come close enough to flag football, something more drastic needs to be done. Instead of playing something that sort of resembles football, "Team Irvin" and "Team Rice" should split up and spend their time in Hawaii facing off in an annual revival of one of the most popular competitions in television history; Nickelodeon's "GUTS."
A few track and field competitions with some cycling, trampoline basketball, wall ball, and floor hockey all thrown in there would be fascinating television. Whoever makes it to the top of the Aggro Crag first wins the Pro Bowl. Tell me you wouldn't rather watch Adrian Peterson and Todd Gurley race up a fake mountain full of obstacles (in full pads) than watch them attempt to not get hurt on the football field.
What I'm trying to say is that the Pro Bowl is boring. Yet, people watch. Since it still produces good ratings, it probably isn't going anywhere, but why not at least make it a little bit more entertaining? While I don't see the addition of the Aggro Crag coming any time soon, adding some skills competitions and some more fan-friendly ideas into the mix would make the Pro Bowl much more exciting.
So call me up, Roger -- I'm ready to squeeze a few more hours and plenty of more dollars out of the NFL season.
Johnny Carey is a senior at Boston College. You can find him on Twitter @JohnnyHeights.
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