Catch any of the Pro Bowl? (Pause for a moment of silence.) I confess that I watched a few minutes of it, sucker that I am.
Uh, that was the Pro Bowl, wasn’t it?
In its latest attempt to keep the game on a respirator for at least one more year, the NFL had golden oldies Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders select the rosters without regard to conference. You know, like fantasy football. The ball was put in play at the 25-yard line – pssst, kickers, I think the commish was trying to tell you something – and it automatically changed possession at the start of the second and fourth quarters.
Then there was something that I hadn’t seen in years, something so strange, so out-of-the-box, so far out of the ordinary that I had to be revived with smelling salts.
A hard tackle!
In the first half, Team Rice linebacker Derrick Johnson bowled over Team Sanders franchise back Jamaal Charles, which was an unwritten no-no in this game. Johnson and Charles also happened to be Kansas City Chiefs teammates, which the hoaky format made possible. A concussion knocked Charles out of the postseason only weeks earlier.
This took place before a bikini-clad fan revealed her assets on the field, a New Mexico flag in one hand and “I Did It 4 Gary” on her back.
“I didn’t expect it,” Charles said afterward in reference to Johnson, not the young woman, “but he’s out there doing his thing. I can’t get mad at him. It’s just about football, and you’ve just got to be ready.”
Johnson Tweeted later, “Have to give my fellow teammate some friendly fire. LOL! I can’t lie, it felt pretty good!”
Oh, yeah, I bet Chiefs head coach Andy Reid laughed his ass off about that one.
Meanwhile, the league’s best quarterback (Peyton Manning), best power back (Marshawn Lynch) and best defensive back (Richard Sherman!) were nowhere to be found. They were en route to New York for the Super Bowl next weekend.
At least the league put on a more competitive game this time, one in which defense wasn’t optional for a change. Still, the more facelifts the Pro Bowl gets, the more it looks like Ruth Buzzi just the same. What’s the next gimmick – a co-ed game with the best of the Lingerie Football League in sports bras and Speedos?
“It’s become an embarrassment,” former head coach-broadcaster John Madden lowered the Boom! on the Pro Bowl in a SiruisXM Radio interview last week. “It’s become a joke, and as they seek to improve it, it’s become an even bigger joke.”
Well, I’m here to tell you tell that there is a way to solve the Pro Bowl dilemma once and for all, and it’s one that most professional athletes can relate to nowadays.
It’s called money. M-o-n-e-y.
Why not have the best of the AFC and the NFC square off in a real game after the Super Bowl and make it a winner-take-all affair? That’s right – the winners get nice, big, fat, juicy checks that really make it worth their while. The losers get lovely consolation prizes – a most-expenses-paid, one-week stay in Honolulu plus guest passes to the All-Star Block Party with Steve Aoki and the BQ Girls.
The New Pro Bowl – It’s All About the Money!
See, the fundamental problem with the current format is that, in this age of seven-figure contracts, the risks outweigh the rewards by a country mile. The winners receive a piddlin’ $53,000 apiece, or 2.7 percent of the average salary this season. Richie Incognito could barely take his linemen to a Miami strip club for that amount, for goshsakes. So how can it convince somebody to break a sweat let alone risk a sprained pinkie for 60 minutes?
But suppose you increase the winner’s share to, say, $176,000 per player. That’s double what the Baltimore Ravens took home from the Super Bowl last year. Think you could find 86 guys to bring it for that amount?
For the fans, the Pro Bowl would be more fun than a flea flicker all of a sudden. Maybe the AFC-NFC rivalry would heat up a bit. Television ratings would spike considerably. Sponsors would stiff-arm each other to get a piece of the action.
For the players, the game would be the ultimate test of their manhood. Know how guys like to beat their chests when they make tackles 25 yards downfield and their teams three touchdowns behind? Well, this would be a gold-plated chance for them to put their mouths where the money was. Sure, a few would hold out for guaranteed money, but how would you like to branded as a guy who wimped out on his conference?
The real competitors would find it difficult if not impossible to leave all that green on the field.
“Know that Aston Martin that we looked at the other day, honey? Well, I bought it with the Pro Bowl money! So good luck, sweetie, we’re accounting on you . . .!”
The only other option is a Wayback Machine, as far as I can tell. Because believe it or not, there was a time when pride and commitment didn’t have price tags. And, no, the players didn’t wear leather helmets, either.
They were future Hall of Famers such as Gino Marchetti, one of the greatest Baltimore Colts of them all.
Marchetti was among the most dominant and respected defensive ends of his time, not dirty or vindictive in any way, but a different man emerged from the 1964 NFL Championship Game. The Browns had their way with the Colts in Cleveland, 27-0, and Gino the Giant was still hacked off about it days later. In the final minute, while the locals had begun to celebrate on the field, the referees were ready to call it a game. According to Marchetti, however, Browns quarterback Frank Ryan would have none of it and insisted that the final seconds of the rout be played out.
“I didn’t think to try and rub it in was really fair, to throw a couple more passes when that was it,” Marchetti told Sports Illustrated a few months later. “I didn’t like Ryan’s attitude. I talked too much and said I’d like to get another shot at Ryan.”
Ryan was known to be a loose cannon in more ways than one at times. Not only didn’t the veteran refute the story, but he acknowledged that, in a fit of giddiness, he had informed Marchetti of his desire to throw one more touchdown pass, this one to a well-liked teammate who hadn’t played particularly well that day.
Two weeks later, Marchetti and his posse chased Ryan around the Los Angeles Coliseum floor until they got their payback. Finally, the quarterback went down and went down hard enough to separate a shoulder in the third quarter. Marchetti wasn’t the guilty party, TV replays confirmed, but there could be no doubt who led the assault. The West won in a rout, and he was about a thousand bucks richer for it, not a bad chunk of change at the time.
This isn’t to suggest the Pro Bowl should be a death match complete with body bags. But wouldn’t it be nice if the players brought some motivation and competitive fire with their sunscreen each year?
Whaddaya say, guys? Bring your A games and plenty of testosterone, and we’ll show you the money. Deal?