Ask around about the Pro Bowl, and you'll hear a lot of, "Who would watch that game? I never watch it." Many of the people who tell you that are lying.
The Pro Bowl does monster ratings. Someone has to be watching the NFL's all-star game. The Pro Bowl got a 7.9 rating last year, which dwarfs the NBA All-Star Game's 5.4 rating last year and makes NHL Stanley Cup Finals' ratings look like a 2 a.m. infomercial.
So, you don't have to admit you watch, but we're here for you. Here are five things to look for in the Pro Bowl, which could actually be the last Pro Bowl ever if the players don't care as much as those millions of viewers who will turn it on:
The final game of Jeff Saturday's career: Wait, you're not excited to watch a center who didn't deserve to be in this Pro Bowl? Fine, we'll find some better reasons. But Saturday has had a great career, and he is retiring after the Pro Bowl.
Will the players play hard?: The game that nobody admits to watching but everyone tunes in to see might be going away. There have been threats this week that if the players don't play hard, this Pro Bowl could be the last one. Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning implored the players to play hard to save the game. Houston running back Arian Foster was honest: Football is a physical game and players aren't going to go 100 percent in an all-star exhibition.
"This isn't basketball - you can't go play a pickup game of football," Foster said, according to the Associated Press. "I think it's an honor and a tradition, but for you to expect the best athletes in the NFL to come out and play a game 100 percent when you can't game plan, you can't blitz, you can't do all these things, it's not going to be competitive like everybody wants it to be."
So it might be better than last year's debacle, but don't expect too much.
The players might want to think about their annual free vacation to Hawaii when they decide how hard to play. The best guess is they play just hard enough for the NFL to justify bringing it back. Think of it this way, how many times has a television network wanted to get rid of a show with those kinds of ratings? The TV partners would likely try to convince the league to keep the game going.
Larry Fitzgerald gets to play with a real quarterback!: Everyone misses Larry Fitzgerald. Still in his prime at age 29, Fitzgerald had 798 yards and four touchdowns this season. Arizona's front office should be convicted for stealing Fitzgerald from us. He is one of the NFL's best players, but has become an afterthought because nobody can get him the ball. Fitzgerald spent a season catching passes from guys like Ryan Lindley, but for one afternoon he gets to play with Drew Brees, Eli Manning and Russell Wilson. You know Fitzgerald will be playing hard. He might sob with joy over the rediscovered feeling of trying to catch a pass that isn't thrown four yards behind him.
Peyton Manning, J.J. Watt, and Adrian Peterson are there: Arguably the three best players in the NFL this season didn't drop out of the game, and they might be too competitive to take it easy. Manning already has implored the other players to play hard, so you know he'll be serious. Watt, the Texans' defensive end who had a dominant season and should be the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year, doesn't seem like the kind of guy who is capable of going half speed. And Peterson, the Vikings 2,000-yard back who is one of two legitimate MVP candidates along with Manning, already said he'll play hard.
"When you play down, you put yourself in jeopardy of getting hurt going through the motions. So I won't be playing down," Peterson said earlier this month, according to Associated Press. "I'm going to play hard."
The greatest players are wired with a certain competitive streak, and while they're not going to be playing at the same level as their playoff games this month, if they're playing to win, it's worth tuning in to see them.
It's football: The 2013 season is probably going to kick off on Sept. 5. Once the Super Bowl's final gun sounds next week, we have more than seven months before another game that counts. While most of the Pro Bowl players are going to play hard enough to fool us into thinking the outcome matters to them, you're going to miss football when it's gone after next Sunday. It's OK to tune in - we won't tell anyone you did.
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