Nine years ago, Peyton Manning urged Pro Bowl players to play the Pro Bowl with enough gusto to keep the league from pulling the plug on the game. Now that the league has Kevorkian’d the Pro Bowl, it has turned to Peyton’s production company to come up with a replacement that players and fans will choose to embrace.
But first, the players.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement, at Article 38, Section 6(b), gives the league the sole ability to cancel the Pro Bowl in any given year, and to replace it with something else. However, the CBA is clear on one key point: “Participation by a player in such a replacement event shall be voluntary.” (As to the Pro Bowl game itself, the CBA requires the NFL Players Association to “actively cooperate with the NFL to ensure participation in the game and prompt reporting by players selected.”)
In other words, any, some, or all Pro Bowlers can choose without pressure or consequence or obligation to say “no thanks” to the post-Pro Bowl Pro Bowl.
On Monday night’s ManningCast, Peyton said, via Sports Business Daily, that “all ideas are on the table” for the replacement activities that will culminate in a flag-football game.
“We’re going to make it fun,” Peyton said. “We might have some beer chugging contests, hot dog eating by offensive linemen. We’ll take suggestions.”
The Pro Bowl had become an embarrassment in recent years, but for good reason. It made no sense for players who were healthy enough to play in one more game to play so hard that they risked an injury that they’d spend the offseason rehabbing. For looming free agents, an injury would derail a payday.
The league for years was willing to keep staging what had become two-hand-touch in full pads, because people kept watching it. The question now becomes whether anyone will watch whatever Peyton cooks up, along with their favorite players playing flag football to cap the week.
Whether fan will watch hinges on whether players will show up. And that will be the first challenge for the league. If participation is truly voluntary, why do anything that entails any amount of physical risk?
And if anyone thinks that flag football entails no physical risk, it would be wise to Google the name “Robert Edwards.”