Once upon a time, the Pro Bowl was a big deal. But that was before the players began to realize that, in the business that is pro football, they need to think like businessmen.
The result, predictably and justifiably, became a game that entails far less hitting, far less intensity, and (in turn) far fewer injuries. And no one should blame the players for that; anyone who has made it through a full season healthy enough to suit up one last time should be wary about suiting up one last time, since that could result in spending the only free weeks and months of the year recovering from surgery. For players about to become free agents, it could diminish or destroy their earning potential.
From time to time, the NFL huffs and puffs about the quality of the game. Efforts have been made to make it more interesting (more accurately, less uninteresting), but nothing can make it into something it isn’t, something it shouldn’t even aspire to be.
And yet it endures. Even if it takes an Oprah-spray of invitations to fill up two rosters with a reward that has shifted from the seclusion of Hawaii to touristy bustle of Orlando, the revenue generated by the game outweighs the costs of staging it. As long as that’s the case, the NFL will continue to present the Pro Bowl.
Still, nothing about it moves the modern needle. The skills competition, added last year in response to suggestions that the NFL should hold a skills competition instead of the Pro Bowl, already has gone from being a curiosity to irrelevant. Compounding the problem is the fact that ESPN, which televised the skills competition, can’t figure out whether to play it straight or to treat it like an hour-long joke with no punchline.
The Pro Bowl will continue to have no punch, until the point at which it generates no profit. And that will be the point that it goes away.