This year the NFL only made it worse by clumping the game with the Super Bowl, which is like pairing a filet mignon from The Capital Grille with a plastic cup full of Kool-Aid.
It's time for the NFL to come to their senses and abolish the Pro Bowl, which has been played since 1951. Most players don't want to play in it. Most fans have no interest in it. And there is no need for it.
The league knows this, so in an attempt to broaden/force interest in the game, the NFL moved the Pro Bowl from its Honolulu home back to the mainland in Miami, putting it a week before the Super Bowl in an attempt to give it (more) relevance.
It's backfired. It was hard enough to get players to play in the game when it was a week after the Super Bowl, but at least there was the lure of a free trip to Hawaii. South Florida isn't exactly South Dakota, but NFL players party there all the time. The novelty is gone from the game, and so are they.
According to the Pro Bowl roster on NFL.com, there are 30 players who are not participating in the game because of injury or playing in the Super Bowl. That does not include 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, who dropped out today, but does include all three AFC quarterbacks who bowed out -- Peyton Manning (something about a Super Bowl), Tom Brady and Philip Rivers. They were replaced by Houston's Matt Schaub, Tennessee's Vince Young, and Keanu Reeves from "The Replacements."
Ok, so Neo is not going. It's actually Jacksonville's David Garrard, but would anyone notice if Reeves did play?
Do you know what all those AFC fill-in QBs have in common? None of them made the playoffs. On the NFC side, the only original Pro Bowl QB participating is Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers, as Drew Brees is preparing the Saints for the Super Bowl and Brett Favre is at Sears deciding which TV to not watch the Pro Bowl on.
The NFL is a quarterback league. They are the brightest stars, yet only one of the six originally selected premium passers is participating in the Pro Bowl.
Of the original 86 players selected to the Pro Bowl, more than a third have taken a pass on playing in the game. That includes 14 players from the Colts and Saints, who square off in Super Bowl XLIV. Ravens safety Ed Reed, who was conspicuously absent from the AFC roster on Thursday, but has not been officially ruled out of the game, is more likely to show up at your Super Bowl party than to play in the Pro Bowl.
The reality is that players want the prestige of being named to the Pro Bowl, but no one wants to actually play in it, except for first-timers like Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather, who made the team as an injury replacement. He joins teammates Vince Wilfork and Logan Mankins, who were voted in.
The players from the winning team at the Pro Bowl get $45,000. The losing team gets $22,500. While we're all aware of the current economic difficulties in this country, that amount of money is hardly incentive enough for NFL players to risk their bodies in a faux football game after a season of pounding and punishment.
The Pro Bowl is by far the most meaningless of the Big Four professional sports All-Star games. Tons of fans remember when Magic Johnson came back and played with HIV in the 1992 NBA All-Star game, winning MVP honors. They recall the 1989 major league baseball All-Star game in Anaheim, when Bo Jackson and Wade Boggs hit back-to-back homers to lead off the game. Or have fond memories of Ray Bourque winning the MVP award of the 1996 NHL All-Star game on his home ice by potting the game-winning goal with 37 seconds left.
All memorable All-Star game moments.
The most memorable recent Pro Bowl moment was late Redskins safety Sean Taylor plowing poor Bills punter Brian Moorman on a fake punt in the 2006 game. The most memorable Pro Bowl moment for most Patriots followers happened in 1999, when Patriots running back Robert Edwards blew out his knee in a beach football game played before the Pro Bowl.
All-Star games are by nature exhibition contests, despite what Fox and MLB -- "This time it counts!" -- would have you believe. The NFL already has an entire summer of meaningless exhibition games that its players want no part of it and that fans have to pay for. It's euphemistically referred to as the preseason. That's enough exhibition football for the NFL.
Realistically, the league probably won't cancel the Pro Bowl anytime soon, but it should recognize piggy-backing on the Super Bowl is not a good idea. Neither is requiring that players from the Colts and Saints voted to the Pro Bowl be in town for the game, arriving in South Florida a day earlier than their respective teams, a decision that irascible Indianapolis team president Bill Polian called "stupid."
He is right.
Fortunately, the Pro Bowl is scheduled to be played back in Hawaii in 2011 and 2012. No date is set for the game, but as part of the agreement with the Hawaii Tourism Board, the league agreed to consider moving the Pro Bowl back to the Sunday after the Super Bowl.
What the league needs to consider is saying, "Aloha" to the game altogether after 2012. You can still vote for the team. Just don't play the game.
...That's what the Patriots have when it comes to picks in the 2013 NFL Draft, which starts Thursday. After all those years of stockpiling picks the way a survivalist does non-perishables the Patriots have just five picks in this year's draft, thanks to Band-aid trades for Albert Haynesworth, Chad Ochocinco and Aqib Talib. Five picks would be the fewest draft picks in franchise history. (Part of that is attributable to the trimming of the draft to just seven rounds in 1994). Further complicating matters is that two of the Patriots' greatest needs are at wide receiver and cornerback, positions where they have sustained draft droughts. With that in mind, I'm convinced the Patriots are going trade back out of the first round of a quanity-over-quality draft where you're just as likely to pick a Pro Bowl player in the second and third round as you are in the first round.