NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's suggestion last month that the league should consider moving the Pro Bowl to the weekend before the Super Bowl has received lukewarm reaction.
"So what happens to the guys who make the Pro Bowl who are on the Super Bowl teams?" said Baltimore Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, an eight-time Pro Bowler and member of the franchise's 2000 championship team. "They can't play? No way, that's not gonna fly."
Goodell's motivation for moving the game up is to generate more interest for the poorly viewed event by capitalizing on the excitement surrounding the playoffs and the upcoming Super Bowl.
Along those lines, 13 combined Super Bowl participants of the Indianapolis Colts and Chicago Bears – featuring stars such as Peyton Manning and Brian Urlacher – would have skipped the Pro Bowl to avoid risking injury.
NFL owners are expected to have a brief discussion about the subject next Tuesday during the fall meetings in Philadelphia. Further discussion of the matter will probably be put on hold until the offseason when the competition committee and owners can address it during extended meetings in March.
However, Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome, part of the league's competition committee, is skeptical of moving the game before the Super Bowl.
"I just don't see it," Newsome said. "Right now, we write contracts that say you have to play in the game to get a Pro Bowl incentive unless you have a medical reason not to. You want your guys to play in the Pro Bowl and that's going to change all that."
Which is one of the problems Goodell is trying to address: disinterest and withdrawal of players initially selected for the game.
"Everybody has football hangover by that point," said Ravens left tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has made 10 consecutive Pro Bowls. "You just got done with the Super Bowl and the playoffs and the whole season and it's like, enough. Even we're tired of talking about the game.
"It's a great honor and everybody loves getting voted to the Pro Bowl, it means a lot. You always love it. But after awhile, that trip gets long. The first couple of times you go to Hawaii, it's great. But then, you don't want to get on that plane."
While Goodell should get plenty of credit for innovative thinking and making efforts to improve the visibility of a game that receives little interest, there are going to be obstacles. For one, moving the game up doesn't guarantee increased interest from players and viewers. Nor would a move increase the amount of contact and action.
"It's not like we're all hitting each other like it's the regular season," said Miami Dolphins linebacker Zach Thomas, a seven-time Pro Bowler. "Nobody wants to get hurt. In the fourth quarter, guys try (to play hard) because they want to get the winner's share rather than the loser's, but it's still about not getting hurt."
Or as Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said: "They're not playing for anything … now, if they had something on the line, that might make it good. I don't know what you're playing for, but something. Maybe home-field advantage like they do in baseball. Something."
How about winner take all?
"Nah, because then nobody would want to be on the sorry team. All the guys in the NFC would say, 'No way, I want to be on the AFC squad,'" said Scott, who played in his first Pro Bowl last year. "It's still just an all-star game. I don't even watch that stuff. It's like the NBA All-Star game. I stop for a second and then just click to the next thing. I don't have any attention span for that. I don't have an attention span for football if I'm not playing. I just can't do it."
Few players ever take the game seriously and Pro Bowl practices have all the intensity of a tailgate party. Last year, San Francisco 49ers running back Frank Gore took the game seriously enough to work out hard for two weeks beforehand. All he heard from friends and teammates was the same question over and over: Why?
Baltimore defensive lineman Trevor Pryce believes Goodell's idea is a good one that could be made even better.
"Play it in the same city as the Super Bowl; just do it the week before," said Pryce, a four-time Pro Bowler. "Everybody wants to be in town for the Super Bowl and all the parties. Just start the party a few days earlier by bringing in the Pro Bowl."
While that concept makes a lot sense on some levels, it means moving the Pro Bowl from its annual vacation destination.
"I don't know if anybody is going to go for that," Ogden said. "If you're going to go, you want it to be in Hawaii."
The bottom line: there are a lot of logistics to work out.
"I don't blame (Goodell) for thinking about it, but I don't see how you're going to do," Newsome said. "No team is going to let those guys play in the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl, so I don't see it."
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