Apparently, 8.77 million people watched the 2015 Pro Bowl. You are not one of them. You were not at Best Buy doing some casual window shopping at the wrong time, you were not stoned at TGI Friday’s, and nor were you being held hostage in Ron Jaworski’s basement. As these are the only rational reasons for watching the Pro Bowl, I can reasonably assume you didn’t tune in because you are a football fan and football fans don’t watch the Pro Bowl.
You did, however, watch the Hall of Fame Game.
It’s okay, you don’t have to be ashamed of it. You, like me, like Ron Jaworski, like every other red-blooded American who makes the conscious choice to give Roger Goodell their money or at least their attention, spent a beautiful Sunday night in August on your couch smitten with spare parts like Dri Archer and MyCole Pruitt because damn it, it’s football and you haven’t seen it live since Pete Carroll’s Super Bowl aneurysm. You crave football by the time August rolls around. You get physically excited by the thought of a five-yard slant. You have a positive opinion of Andy Dalton. You would watch fifty-three Trent Richardsons line up against fifty-three Ryan Lindleys and let fifty-three Gregg Williamses coach them all just to save you from a few months of pretending to like baseball.
Therein lies the solution to football’s Pro Bowl problem. The league has a game filled with its biggest stars that nobody wants to watch. It also has a time-slot in which fans are so desperate for football that 9.7 million of them were willing to watch Landry Jones flail around the pocket for three hours simply because he was wearing a Steelers’ jersey. So what if the league moved the Pro Bowl to early August as the first game of the season?
The logistics would be fairly simple. Take the players from the previous season who were named Pro Bowlers and, rather than playing in January or February, make them play in August. In fact, let me throw the league a bone: why not make the selection process a league event? Nothing’s going on in the middle of June. Stick it right in there and let ESPN cover it for a few hours.
Suddenly the league has a game it wants to consider marquee being played at a time people might actually choose to watch it. It solves nearly every problem typically raised with the Pro Bowl. Aaron Rodgers has a mysterious case of Deli’s Elbow or an insecure hamstring or a bruised friend? That’s not flying in August. Everyone’s healthy. Everyone plays. No more of this ninth-alternate crap. Guys don’t want to play hard and hit? The entire Hall of Fame will be on hand. Nobody wants to look like a slacker in front of Dick Butkus. Have you seen Dick Butkus? You just got concussed reading his name twice in one paragraph. Nobody’s playing soft in front of guys from that generation.
Of course, coaches are bound to complain about the time their stars would lose from training camp, but at least it’d be true for every team. Besides, not having J.J. Watt at camp for a few days is the ultimate first-world football problem. At the very least it would open up some reps for younger players. You think Peyton Manning is giving Brock Osweiller any snaps in camp? No way. He’s locking him in Mike Leach’s concussion closet and feeding him the occasional Baby Ruth, like Sloth from Goonies. But nothing’s standing in Osweiller’s way during those seven days when Peyton’s off practicing for the Pro Bowl.
In fact, training camp presents an opportunity to jazz up the coaching side of the game as well. Since full coaching staffs obviously wouldn’t leave camp to handle the Pro Bowl, the league could get more creative in running the teams. Why not let Mike Ditka coach one of the teams? Why not let Mike Ditka coach both of the teams? Or maybe auction the spots off to fans? Nobody needs to see Andy Reid in another Hawaiian shirt pretending like he wants to be there.
And you know what? You’d eat that up. We all would. The NFL needs to protect us from ourselves, lest we spend yet another summer night wondering if Rob Housler might be a viable fantasy sleeper. That’s how the league can save the Pro Bowl: by sticking it on the one night of the year we won’t be able to stop ourselves from watching.