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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The calm before the storm: the Pro Bowl

Published: January 28, 2011
Section: Sports, Top Stories

Long before the AFL-NFL merger, the NFL has played various forms of “All-Star” games. The current incarnation, with teams divided between the AFC and NFC, has been played continuously since the 1970 season when the merger between the two leagues began. From the 1979 season through the 2008 season, the game has been played at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii. After a brief hiatus last year, when the game was played at what is now called Sun Life Stadium (although this stadium’s name changes so often one can hardly keep track), the Pro Bowl has returned to the more traditional home of Honolulu.

While the move back to Honolulu is a welcome change, the continued change of playing the Pro Bowl in the week between conference championships and the Super Bowl still doesn’t make much sense from any perspective. Why this is a problem is quite simple. By having the game the week before the Super Bowl, players from Super Bowl-bound teams are made ineligible for the game. While the idea of the Pro Bowl and other all-star games is to have an entertaining game played by a combination of fan, coach and player votes, playing the game at a time that requires some of the best players to miss out basically for just being top-caliber players is incredibly stupid. The Pro Bowl simply should not be played before the Super Bowl because the risk of injury during a “for the fans” game prevents players from playing due to fear of being unable to play in the Super Bowl.

With the Super Bowl placed after the Pro Bowl this year, 10 players including fan favorites such as Clay Matthews (Packers) and Troy Polamalu (Steelers, he shared the Madden 2010 cover with Larry Fitzgerald) are unable to play. While the Pro Bowl’s move to the week before the Super Bowl was aimed to add interest to the game, it arguably fails this objective. By removing players elected to the game for reasons other than injury or disinterest, fans have even less reason to watch the game when the players they elected are arbitrarily removed. Fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers, while they may have a bigger game to look forward to next week, arguably have nothing to look forward to in this week’s game. The issue rises when large numbers of players from the same team are elected, as displayed last year.

During the 2009 season, 10 players from the Minnesota Vikings were elected to the Pro Bowl. While the Vikings did not advance to the Super Bowl (losing to the Saints 31-28 in overtime ended the problem), it raised the issue of needing to replace a significant portion of the teams a mere week before the game. Luckily, unlike Major League Baseball’s all-star game deciding a homefield advantage in the World Series, this game has no effect on the Super Bowl since its location is determined long in advance of the actual games.

Whatever your opinion on the Pro Bowl’s worth, it cannot be denied that it has become a big attraction to sports fans like the many all-star games in other sports. While the value of changes can always be debated, ultimately the Pro Bowl breaks down to simply being a game for the sake of a game, and any changes luckily shouldn’t harm the overall entertainment value of the game. Even while the game counts for nothing, it’s a fun way to get excited for next year and indulge in a little AFC/NFC pride.