The NFL has successfully promoted its brand over the past 30 years to become the preeminent professional sports league. The league dominates in terms of merchandising, attendance and television ratings. It's a multi-billion dollar business that has been built on brilliant and coldly calculated presentation of its product. No sport comes close to emulating the reliability and uniformity of the product that the NFL supplies. That's why Sunday's Pro Bowl creates a problem for the NFL.
Forget the TV numbers, for once. Those are a mirage. What we witnessed Sunday night was a joke, a farcical imitation of the game. Yes, most of the stars were there: Rodgers, Brees, Newton, and for Bengals fans, AJ Green and Andy Dalton along with Jermaine Gresham and Geno Atkins. The problem was they were just there in uniform. The intensity level of the game didn't even match a high school powder-puff game.
I get that this is an all-star "exhibition" and that the players are there to "put on a show" for the fans. The number one objective for the players is to enjoy a free week in Hawaii and not get hurt. But the "show" for the NFL is its intensity. For all the talk about the eye-popping offensive numbers and how that increases the popularity of the league, the truth is we watch for the intensity.
We want pads popping. We want pass rushers twisting and stunting, giving their last ounce of effort to get to the quarterback. What we got Sunday was less intense than a preseason game. Heck, I've seen pre-game shell drills with more emotion.
We want showdowns between wide receivers and cornerbacks, between running backs and linebackers, "mano-a-mano" contests of brute strength and will. To say the effort put forth Sunday was half-hearted would be an understatement. Darrelle Revis' "go ahead and catch it" coverage on Larry Fitzgerald was a joke. College intramural teams make it more difficult to score.
i couldn't bear more than half a quarter of watching that. I did turn the game back on in the second half to see Andy Dalton and AJ Green play a bit. That was nice to see them in stripes one more time before training camp in August.
The folks I really sympathize with were the Hawaiians who paid good money to watch that live. It's the first time I've ever heard booing at an all-star game in any sport, save when a rival player gets introduced in basketball or baseball all-star games.
I don't know what the NFL can do to fix this game. There's no way to make it meaningful. They don't want to go the ridiculous route baseball did and hinge any kind of home field advantage to its outcome. The players are raking in the cash, so its doubtful monetary incentives could be high enough to make a difference either.
Maybe it's time to scrap the Pro Bowl altogether. With players from both Super Bowl teams absent and others deciding not to go, getting the nod to play in one isn't nearly the same honor it used to be. Just select an All-Pro team and perhaps send them to the Super Bowl city to have a bowling tournament and sign autographs for fans. I'd be more interested in watching or attending that than what I saw on Sunday.
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