|Roger Goodell may get rid of the Pro Bowl, but several players think it should stay. (US Presswire)|
With Roger Goodell on record saying he might junk the Pro Bowl, people want to know who outside of Honolulu would oppose the idea. Well, I can think of someone ... someone like Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald ... and Philadelphia's Michael Vick ... and San Diego's Antonio Gates and Oakland's Richard Seymour.
They're among the 20-25 players I polled last summer about the NFL's annual all-star event, and they spoke out in favor of it.
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OK, so they also conceded the Pro Bowl needs something ... anything ... to make it more attractive to players and spectators. But they agreed that they don't want it eliminated -- just as most of them agreed that, if they made a change, it would be in the timing.
They want the game moved back to the weekend after the Super Bowl.
"I feel like the players in the Super Bowl aren't rewarded for their great seasons," Fitzgerald said. "Eli Manning and Justin Tuck should be there; they should have an opportunity to play in that game. I remember when I played in 2008 after we went to the Super Bowl, and it was great to go over there and spend 'down time' with the guys."
So, then, Fitzgerald would ...
"Keep the game," he said.
But why? Some players regularly skip it. Injuries are a concern. Ratings are miniscule. The pay isn't particularly enticing. And the effort? Well, rewind the videotape of last season's game and maybe then you'll understand why Goodell is thinking about putting the Pro Bowl on life support -- saying that if players can't improve on that performance there's no reason to continue.
"The onus," Fitzgerald said, "has to fall on the players. We have to do a better job of going out there and performing and making sure the product we put out there is pleasing to the viewers and pleasing to the league. So that's all about the effort.
"Now, how to improve that? I don't know. Maybe the stakes could be changed, the pay scale ... maybe that could be modified. Because it's rewarding for a guy after a long, maybe 20-week season, to be able to take his family over there. It's the greatest experience in the world."
That's a bold statement. It's also one that was echoed by others. But rather than tell you what they said, I'll let them tell you themselves. Granted, there are dissenting voices, but the majority endorsed the game ... and they're here to explain why:
Michael Vick, quarterback, Philadelphia: "Absolutely, they should keep it. It's a personal accolade for every individual success in the NFL. We work hard, and that's something we look forward to. The opportunity to go out to Hawaii -- or wherever it may be -- to play that game and represent the NFL's best ... I wouldn't change anything about it except maybe bring the game a little closer to home and make it more convenient for families; put it in a place where everyone can enjoy it. I know, I heard it was a joke last year. But guys need to understand if you're selected to that game you have fans that come out and want to see the NFL's best. So play up to your standards. That's the way it's supposed to be."
Vernon Davis, tight end, San Francisco: "I think the Pro Bowl is cool, but if I were to change it maybe I'd give guys a vacation instead of playing a game. You know what I mean? Maybe a skills competition instead of playing a game because you can get hurt out there. Guys don't take the game seriously, but in this game you've got to take it serious. A lot of guys go out there and relax, while other guys are going hard -- and a lot of things can happen then. A lot of guys usually get picked for the Pro Bowl, but they don't go just because of those reasons. So if they can do that (make it a vacation) that would be nice."
Richard Seymour, defensive lineman, Oakland: "I'd like to see them keep it. As far as changing it, there isn't much you can do. I mean, it's football. It's a physical, tough game. Anybody who has ever put on the pads and a helmet knows you can't go half-speed playing football. It's all or nothing. You can't just lay it out there because that's when injuries happen. Obviously, it is a business, and guys want to take care of themselves. A lot of them went through grueling seasons, and some are coming off playoff runs. But it's a special time, and it's a special time for the players because of the achievements they received for their hard work, and it's a special time for the fans."
Patrick Willis, linebacker, San Francisco: "That's a tough one. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy going over there with my family, and they enjoy the hotel and the camaraderie with the other guys -- and talking to them and having them talking to you. But that game ... it ain't like an NBA All-Star game where you can just throw up an alley-oop at the end and start playing a little off defense. You have to hit, and some guys have been done for four weeks. So it's like, awwwwww, I'd rather have a banquet where they display your highlights and talk about you and you come up and get an award. That game ... you can have a lot of older guys who make it; then you have younger guys who come over and they think it's lot bigger than what it is. It's crazy, man."
Darren McFadden, running back, Oakland: "I would like to see them keep it, even though the last couple of years it wasn't as intense as people wanted it to be. Guys were going out there to have fun. They weren't trying to hurt anybody. But everybody is there for a reason, and the reason is that they did a great job during the season."
Antonio Gates, tight end, San Diego: "It's always good to reward guys and take your family on a vacation. It's hard now because I guess the fans are talking about the competition and how the guys are not playing hard. But the game generates money, and it generates excitement at the same time. It's good for players going over there to get experience and have a chance to rub elbows with the guys they hear about year-round from both sides -- so they can get a chance to meet those guys and talk to them. People tell me that maybe a skills competition could replace the game, but they used to have that. They had the speed with the 40-yard dash and hands competition and weight lifting competition, and I thought it was perfect. Guys would go there wondering who was the strongest in the National Football League and who was the fastest. At the same time the winner got a bigger incentive as opposed to everybody who participated. That's the way it used to be, and I would love to see them have that. But what happened with that was that guys started running and hurting hamstrings. So there's more to it. What happens, too, is that people have to understand is the advancement in the player has changed. Back then there was maybe one (gazillion dollar) player. Now, it's like every team has one. It's like Drew Brees is over there, and how hard do you want to sack Drew Brees? If they can make the money guaranteed (for contracts), which the NBA does ... guys would always compete. But the money's not guaranteed. So you have to weigh those options. So the NBA can go play an all-star game and be competitive because, regardless of what happens, their contracts are guaranteed. In major-league baseball their contracts are guaranteed, too. But in the NFL, you have to get it while you can."
DeSean Jackson, wide receiver, Philadelphia: "I definitely think the Pro Bowl is huge. People work so hard to get accolades that it's definitely deserving to acknowledge the top players at positions. If you're asking me how I would change it, I'd say they should just keep playing the game after the Super Bowl so everybody can enjoy it and so the Super Bowl people don't have to sit the game out."
Larry Fitzgerald, wide receiver, Arizona: "Could they do something in Hawaii instead of a game? No. I mean, what incentive would I have to go over there? I can take my family to Hawaii without the league (paying for it). The thing I really enjoy most is being around the Ray Lewises, and that's the thing that young guys don't understand. Being around the Peyton Mannings and guys like that -- Tony Gonzalez, for instance -- guys who have been there 20 times and you're able to pick their minds and see that it's still important for them to be there. It makes you appreciate the honor and appreciate how important it really is. When you think about it, five percent of all NFL players make it to the Pro Bowl, and that's a very, very small number. So I don't think it should be taken away. There are guys who really do appreciate the honor."