Every day here at Read & React, we strive to bring you informed analysis, knowledgeable breakdowns and (mostly) sober perspectives on the biggest stories in sports. Every day, that is, but today. As we prepare for the long football-free slog of the next few months, we’ll keep warm with some scorching hot takes. Let’s begin Hot Take Friday by focusing on the biggest event of the weekend.
“I've read a lot of your stories over the years. I think this is your biggest challenge.”
That was my editor on Thursday afternoon when I told him that I wanted to debut Hot Take Friday with a simple thesis: The Pro Bowl is good.
I’ve always loved all-star games in any sport. Who doesn’t want to see the best gathered up with the best? It’s why I love the Avengers gathering heroes from 10 different movies, why I love the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame induction jam, why I love the mile-long steak-pizza-seafood-cobbler spread at the Rio. To me, more is more.
In theory, the Pro Bowl works like this: the game’s greatest quarterback throws to the game’s greatest receiver while the game’s greatest cornerback lies in wait, and the game’s greatest running back runs headlong into the game’s greatest linebacker. The thought of, say, Lamar Jackson airing it out to Julio Jones or Derrick Henry throwing a shoulder into Aaron Donald ought to delight anyone. It’s a great idea … in theory.
In practice? Put it this way: Mitch Trubisky was a Pro Bowler.
The problem with the Pro Bowl as it exists now is that no pro football player wants to keep on playing, particularly if his team was eliminated from the playoffs. To them, it’s like summer school, or being asked to work on a Saturday. They’ve done their job for the year, they want to clock out and take a well-earned rest.
And it’s tough to argue with that. So what we're left with is the NFL equivalent of people who weren’t smart enough to get out of jury duty. And have you ever looked around a jury pool room lately? Yeah. (Maybe you’re reading this in one now. Scary, huh?)
The end result is a game that’s devoid of most star power, a game with all the inherent drama of a heartburn medication commercial. But here's my point: the foundation is solid, it’s just the decor that’s a mess. The Pro Bowl right now is a Maserati driven only in first gear, a birthday cake covered in a scrim of kitty litter. Let’s clean this baby up, shall we? A few ideas:
First, money doesn’t compel players, but pride does. So do this: give each player a $50,000 stake. Then, when they pull off a big play, they get a chunk of their opponent’s cash. A wide receiver gets $10K from the cornerback he burned for a touchdown. A cornerback gets $5K of the quarterback’s coin with every interception. Sure, Jameis Winston would end up owing someone his house, but that’s part of the fun.
Next, follow through on the playground-picking-teams routine of a few years back by re-picking at halftime. Nobody wants to be the last guy picked in front of the world; everyone will play harder in that first half as a result.
Finally, make this stupid little game fun. Have a series where the quarterbacks have to draw up the plays in the dirt. Mandate one big-guy touchdown play per half. Require teams to play a non-quarterback in the QB position and a non-kicker to line up for punts. And if you’re worried about injury, hell, make the whole game two-hand touch and use instant replay to see if a fingertip grazed a shirt-tail.
The Pro Bowl has the potential to be one of the finest events on the sporting calendar. Right now, it’s a bunch of uncommitted players trundling through an unimaginative game. But we light a fire under those players and crank up the game a few notches, and it’ll become the must-watch event a Pro Bowl should be.
Thanks for riding along on this week’s HTF. Want in? Let us know your best sports hot take. Think Kobe’s better than MJ? Or that Peyton’s a better quarterback than Brady? Do you believe the steroid era was actually baseball’s best of times? Hit us with your scorchers and we’ll argue them on a future Friday. Till then … stay hot.
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