Fans love All-Star weekends. It’s always exciting to watch exhibitions of the sport's most elite players on one stage for the world to see, with additional activities and events to enhance the overall experience. It is truly incredible, and those who are lucky enough to witness an All-Star game or weekend experience a unique event.
However, the NFL has always had an issue with making the Pro Bowl enjoyable. For one, the Pro Bowl, unlike the other major 3 sports, hosts their form of an All-Star game after the season, a week before the Super Bowl, causing many fans to neglect it.
Another issue is having such a high contact sport as an exhibition, as the intensity that a player plays with during Week 12 of the regular season is a far cry from the intensity by which they play the Pro Bowl. And with injuries that take place during the season, it decreases the chance that all of the elite players will get the opportunity to play or even want to put their body through more harm to play in a meaningless game after the season.
But the NFL is looking to not only keep the Pro Bowl, but upgrade it to an extent that makes it relevant again. The new rule changes, proposed by NFL Players Association president Domonique Foxworth, features elimination of kickoffs, expanded coverage and clock management, and a Pro Bowl draft, eliminating the conference designation, and making the game a free-for-all, backyard pick-em' from a pool of 43 players from both the AFC and NFC.
An exciting twist that the NFL put on the Pro Bowl next season is including Hall-of-Famers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders to assist the teams as honorary captains. Rice and Sanders, along with the top-2 vote getters in the league, will be captains and select the team they want four days prior to the Pro Bowl.
Let me tell you four reasons why the NFL is on the right track with the rule changes that stick out the most to me:
1. Drafts are fun
The NHL got it right a few years ago when they introduced a draft for the All-Star Game. Think about it. The NFL and NBA Drafts are events and spectacles in and of themselves. And to do one for your exhibition game evens up the playing field and just carries that additional excitement needed for a game like this.
2. No kickoffs, no problem
Sure kick returners are now eliminated from the game. But on a play where we've seen numerous serious injuries, including various concussions and spinal injuries, eliminating kickoffs gives Pro Bowl players one less reason not to play hard in this still meaningless exhibition.
3. More DBs
Expanded defensive back coverages make it easy for Pro Bowlers to play effective defense without giving much effort through Cover 2 defense, or forces them to give more effort on press coverage. Either way, it’s much better than the lackadaisical man coverage that gave up 1,692 passing yards and 22 touchdowns in the last 2 Pro Bowls.
4. Scrap the conference constraints
I love this idea, because it allows us to see Drew Brees throw to Andre Johnson or Peyton Manning throw it up to Calvin Johnson. It allows us to see different matchups and truly integrate the teams to see a great game. It’s unique in that no one else really does it this way, outside of the NHL, whose format recently changed to feature a draft as well. But I think the mix adds another exciting element to the game.
If not for the mere fact that Sanders and Rice will factor into the team selection portion of the game, the new rule changes will definitely draw fans to watch the NFL’s stopgap between Conference Championship weekend and Super Bowl Sunday. The NFL and NFLPA did a great job finding and implementing a set of rules and changes that will, to an extent, force the participants to play with effort for a final time during the season.
Whatever product will be put on the field next year, I know it will be better than those awful, defenseless, 50-40 games that causes me to look past that game and on to Super Bowl Sunday. It’s about time, NFL!
By: Kenny Bunch