In 2002, Major League Baseball held the All-Star Game in Milwaukee, which saw the ninth inning come to a close with each team sporting seven runs on the scoreboard, meaning fans would be treated to some free baseball for the 10th time in the history of the exhibition. However, things hit a bit of a snag after both sides realized they’d essentially exhausted their supply of pitchers, and after the managers consulted with Bud Selig, the commissioner announced the showdown would end at the conclusion of the 11th regardless of the score.
Neither squad was able to put up any more runs, which saw the contest end in a tie for the first time since 1961 (and just the second time in its almost 70 years of existence). Fans at Miller Park reacted calmly and rationally to Selig’s decision, and by that I mean they showered him with boos and the field with various objects to make their displeasure known.
Following the snafu, the league was forced to dream up a strategy to drum up excitement for a game Selig had implicitly suggested was virtually meaningless. The following season, it opted to raise the stakes when it announced the final result would dictate which of the two sides would get home-field advantage in the World Series—a policy that stood until it was ultimately repealed ahead of the 2017 season.
Now, I respect the decision to try to make things a bit more interesting, but in hindsight, it’s pretty laughable the league felt it had to atone for anything in the first place. Selig had to deal with an unreal amount of shit in the wake of the incident but he was really just acknowledging the reality that all-star games are an inherently pointless spectacle. In fact, I’d argue the decision to add some incentive undermined their raison d’etre: to give fans a chance to watch some of the best athletes on the planet show their skills without having to take things too seriously.
No one is tuning into the NBA All-Star Game because they want to see guys execute perfect pick and rolls and carefully designed plays; they want to see Steph Curry pull up from half-court and the game turn into an impromptu dunk contest by the time the last few minutes of the fourth quarter roll around. Similarly, NHL fans aren’t tuning in because they’re in the mood to watch a defensive stalemate; they want to see at least one team put up double-digit goals as the result of multiple guys deking goalies out of their pads and into the stratosphere.
This brings us to the Pro Bowl, the NFL’s version of an all-star game that people watch because…well, I honestly have no idea. The league has continually tinkered with the rules in order to lure fans into viewing a game almost no one gives a shit about, and with the exception of Sean Taylor making Brian Moorman’s soul leave his body when he leveled him during a fake punt attempt back in 2006, I cannot recall literally any other memorable moments the Pro Bowl has managed to produce since it was first played in 1951.
There are so many aspects of the Pro Bowl that simply don’t make any sense—like the fact that it’s currently held the week before the Super Bowl. That championship features the two best teams in the league, and in turn, at least a few standout players who helped get their squad there who are too busy preparing for a game that actually matters to participate in one that has no real reason to exist.
All-star showcases are basically glorified pickup games but the NFL’s insistence to treat them like a real one defeats the entire purpose. It’d be one thing if they went the Turkey Day route and had six or seven players on each side abide by two hand touch or flag football rules (with the quarterback telling at least one dude to “just go long” on every play), but instead, they insist on a full-contact contest in a sport where guys never know if they’re going to be able to walk off the field due to the risk of injury they subject themselves to every single time they step onto it.
On Wednesday, the NFL revealed it’s decided to cancel the Pro Bowl for the first time in the modern era in light of the current situation (although fans will still be able to vote for players they feel earned the right to play in the now-nonexistent game). Las Vegas will retain the hosting duties it was given this year when it’s played next season but I can’t think of a better time to issue the same proposal countless others have made over the years: let’s just get rid of it forever.
Some of the biggest names in the game have routinely neglected to turn down the chance to take a trip to some fairly exotic location that serves as one way to lure players to take part in the Pro Bowl, with the primary incitive being the $70,000 given to those on the winning side and the $30,000 given to the losers. I’ll admit I don’t really have any ideas to address that aspect, as it’s certainly not an insignificant sum. At the same time, if you have the talent to earn an invite in the first place, you probably possess a contract that makes the amount a drop in the massive bucket of cash you likely already have.
The NFL announced it will attempt to replace this year’s Pro Bowl with “a variety of engaging activities” it says will be held virtually. It’s yet to release any specific details but I can almost guarantee whatever it comes up with will be more entertaining than the product they’re substituting for, as extracurriculars like the dunk contest and the home run derby have arguably always been more enjoyable to watch than the games held the same weekend.
During his time as commissioner, Roger Goodell hasn’t exactly made great strides when it comes to gaining the favor of NFL fans, so even though he probably wouldn’t see a massive windfall of goodwill if he does what should’ve been done years ago, being the man responsible for getting rid of the Pro Bowl once and for all wouldn’t be the worst move if he’s looking for a way to improve his legacy a bit.
At the end of the day, I don’t actually care that much about whether or not he does because I could not care less about the Pro Bowl in the first place. As a result, the NFL can continue to hold it and I’ll continue to ignore its existence almost entirely but just because it can doesn’t mean it should.