The NFL recently announced a series of changes to the Pro Bowl in hopes of boosting interest in the oft-criticized contest.
One player who was named to the Pro Bowl team 13 times doesn’t think that eliminating kickoffs, picking teams in a schoolyard style or additional two-minute drills are going to do the trick. Jerry Rice, who will serve as an honorary captain for the 2014 game, shares the opinion of fellow Hall of Famer John Madden that the game will only become more compelling if players take the game more seriously than they have in recent years.
“You’ve got prima donnas, egocentrics, who act like it’s not an honor,” Rice said, via Jarrett Bell of USA Today. “Plus, they’re thinking, ‘Why should I go and jeopardize what I’m doing?’ But it should be for the fans. How can you get the players to recognize that it’s an honor? You’ve got to play your best football in the Pro Bowl. So the spirit of this needs to be changed. I’m not sure that can be accomplished now.”
Rice balked at the idea that players have too much at stake to risk injury in a meaningless game, arguing that you can get hurt walking down the stairs and saying that players in his era treated Pro Bowl selections with honor. While Rice is right about the possibility of injury happening at any time, even if he’d have to concede that it is more likely when engaged in a game against players blocking and tackling you, it’s hard to remember a time when the Pro Bowl was played with anything close to the intensity of an actual football game.
That said, Rice and Madden are correct about the correlation between effort levels and the watchability of the game. The changes to the game actually appear to move things in the opposite direction by making it less like a competitive football game and more like an exhibition which suggests that we’re not on the verge of changes to the “spirit of this” that Rice believes are necessary.