Okay, so admittedly the NFL Pro Bowl is not the most exciting game in the NFL season. The fact that this game has been played AFTER the Super Bowl each year categorizes the game as far down as any preseason game in intensity and excitement.
The teams do not play for any home field advantage. Accumulated stats do not earn bonuses or guarantee starting spots for the next season. In fact, the risk of injury in a game that has no tangible meaning is enough to keep many players away from the field and certainly does not encourage the individual player to give his all and risk injury to himself or another player.
Honestly, as big of a football fan as I am, I have to admit I probably tuned in for a few plays in a few games in the past. The Pro Bowl is AFTER the Super Bowl. Who cares?
In 2007, however, I happened to be vacationing in Honolulu the same week the Pro Bowl was being played. The resort where I was staying hosted many current and former NFL players, in town to play in the Pro Bowl or just to enjoy the many, many pleasures Hawaii has to offer. I recognized some famous faces and marveled at the sheer size of some obvious pro football players whom I did not know by face alone. The excitement of just being on vacation in Hawaii was more than enough. Being such a big football fan, simply being in the middle of such a casual and fun football atmosphere, was enough to bring me to the point of downright giddiness.
Then I went to the GAME! Drew Brees and Peyton Manning started at quarterback for their respective conferences. Notable players in the game included LaDainian Tomlinson, (pre- Ocho Cinco) Chad Johnson, Tony Romo, and the game’s MVP Carson Palmer. This game also marked the last appearance as a player by Giants running back Tiki Barber. For the record, the AFC won 31-28. Although the game went down to the wire and was exciting to watch from inside Aloha Stadium, I am sure that television ratings that year were as low as usual.
For a brief history of the Pro Bowl, you need to know that for 30 years, this game has been played in Honolulu’s Aloha Stadium, home to the University of Hawaii Warriors football team. The Pro Bowl is certainly more famous for attracting celebrities and athletes for the atmosphere rather than the sport of it all. The draw for the athletes who play is the opportunity to wind down from a long season and spend time in the sun in Hawaii.
The 2009 Pro Bowl, played this past Sunday, was the last scheduled Pro Bowl in Honolulu. Next year, the game will be played in Miami the weekend before the city hosts Super Bowl XLIV.
What changes will that bring? First, you can count on any player scheduled to appear in the Super Bowl being spectators only at the Pro Bowl. This year’s Pro Bowl MVP, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, played a stellar game just a week after his team lost in Super Bowl XLIII, leading the NFC over the AFC 30-21. He would have been sidelined if the schedule were as it will be next year. Many players, including Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, have pointed out that the draw of Hawaii is the getaway and the scenery, while many players already live in Florida in the off season and are not likely to be drawn to Miami for a virtual exhibition game.
Will television ratings increase? My guess is yes, at least for next year. This will be the first Pro Bowl played on the mainland since 1979. It is actually scheduled DURING the season, when football is on the minds of viewers. Miami will draw a large fan base and will, hopefully, attract a large number of big name players who are named as Pro Bowlers.
The future of the Pro Bowl after 2010 remains uncertain. There are rumors that the NFL is in talks with the state of Hawaii to return in 2011 and continue playing at Aloha Stadium. There are rumors that the host site will continue to be that of the Super Bowl, as in 2010. The site for Super Bowl XLV? Dallas, Texas. Not likely a big draw for the players. Let’s just hope the NFL and the players come to a consensus and can manage a plan to satisfy both the players and the fans before the idea of a Pro Bowl is dropped altogether.