Throwing Cold Water On The Flag?

The Pro Bowl isn’t what it used to be, and that’s a statement, considering it wasn’t all that much to begin with.

For decades, the game was the very definition of an afterthought, conducted after the week after the Super Bowl as one last gasp of meaningful outdoor football before the ravages of winter and the off-season took over.  It was eventually relocated permanently to Hawaii and offered up the reward of a week’s vacation in the Islands for participants and their families, and the fact that the Aloha Stadium venue was barely adequate enough for the University of Hawaii to conduct their games in was meaningless.  When the players did show up, even if for only a few plays as they would in pre-season exhibition games, the stands were usually still filled.

But eventually, as the rest of the sport grew in value and the season increased in length, the game became less and less meaningful to most.  And as players’ salaries increased to the point where many elected to the game could easily afford their own island getaway–in some cases, their own island–the allure of a week in Oahu grew dim.   Moving the game to the gap week between the conference championships and the Super Bowl to provide something to cover besides the participants’ team planes takeoffs proved to be immaterial. Moves to Orlando and Las Vegas were no less attractive.  More and more players feigned injuries and created opportunties for backups to hastily be invited just to create sides.  And the game became even less defensive-minded than the NBA.  Some scores even approached the levels of what an arena football game–or even– NBA regular season game was approaching at the time.  Choosing up sides and forgoing the meaningless conference alliances didn’t matter.

Now it’s not even an actual football game.  Last year, in an effort to provide SOMETHING that qualified as content, the game was “reimagined” as part of a weekend that included the kinds of skills competitions that have proven to be popular in other sports.  Read the word salad that NFL.com spits out to describe what this year’s “event” will be like:

The multi-day AFC vs. NFC event will feature new and returning skills challenges, where 88 of the league’s top players showcase their on-field and off-field skills in unique competitions, and culminate in action-packed flag football at Camping World Stadium on Sunday, Feb. 4, 2024. Peyton and Eli Manning will return as head coaches of the AFC and NFC, leading the NFL’s top 88 stars as they show off their talent and celebrate the season’s accomplishments in a fun, memorable way, surrounded by their families and fans. The competition will air on ESPN and ABC at 3 p.m. ET.

As a result of feedback from players, teams and fans, the NFL reimagined the Pro Bowl as The Pro Bowl Games last year, introducing an entirely new format that featured an exciting mix of live and taped skills competitions and spotlighted flag football as a critical part of the sport’s future.

And for as much as this seasoned expert might question exactly how much actual fans expressed their desire to see an actual flag football game, and not the contact-less de facto version that the game had long since evovled into, one can’t question the actual results that the league’s site could crow about that resulted from last year’s efforts:

The 2023 Pro Bowl Games in Las Vegas garnered 6.4 million viewers across Disney, ESPN, ABC, Disney XD and digital and more than 58,000 in-person fans at Allegiant Stadium, up 16% from the previous year. The skills challenges on Thursday averaged 1.06 million viewers on ESPN in primetime, up 23% for the program the year before, and social video views from Sunday’s event were up over 16% from last year.

No, those aren’t levels that approach even actual NFL game levels.  But 6.4 million viewers and double-digit year/year increases for anything in media isn’t to be sneezed at, either.

And, per PRO FOOTBALL RUMORS, neither are the contractual incentives attached to many who were named yesterday to this year’s rosters:

There were a number of Pro Bowlers whose selections were tied to contract incentives. We’ve collected some of the notable Pro Bowl incentives below:

Eagles linebacker Haason Reddick didn’t have a traditional Pro Bowl incentive, but his selection will still result in more money. Per Corry, Reddick’s 2024 base salary will increase by $500K (from $13.75MM to $14.25MM) thanks to the Pro Bowl selection.

And in the case of the family of someone who Baker’s payday directly affected, they’re ticked off enough to protest. Per BLEACHER REPORT’s Adam Wells,

Former NFL cornerback Antoine Winfield Sr. has some thoughts about his son, Tampa Bay Buccaneers safety Antoine Winfield Jr., not making the Pro Bowl roster.

After the rosters were announced on Wednesday, Winfield called it “bulls–t” and demanded someone from the NFL explain why his son didn’t make it ahead of Arizona Cardinals safety Budda Baker.  Winfield pere was reacting to a X-eet from one Greg Auman, who lamented with these facts:

KInd of apropos that someone’s daddy would complain about his son not being chosen to a flag football game.  I suspect that very thing may have happened before, perhaps sometime around 2010?

Wells attempted to calm the family with logic and reason:

The simplest explanation is there’s probably no conspiracy beyond Pro Bowl voters are lazy and inertia is very real.

Baker made the Pro Bowl in each of the previous four seasons and five times in his first six years. He didn’t finish among the top-10 safeties in the fan voting, but coaches and players gave enough support to get him in the Pro Bowl Games.

I’m not sure it worked, considering it that Wells has likely never seen the kinds of paydays that the Winfields or Baker have.

But here’s one actual consolation.  The Buccaneers are playing a division title against the league-worse Carolina Panthers on Sunday, as well as a home playoff game.  They’re not a favorite, but strange things can happen in a playoff tournament.  Ask the New York Giants.  Ask the Texas Rangers.  Heck, ask the 2020 Buccaneers.  They rode a Wild Card to the Super Bowl title, and they won it in a partially filled stadium (their own home field, no less) not all that far from the Camping World venue of this year’s Pro Bowl festivities.  I know Winfield Junior remembers.  He was on that Bucs championship team.

So here’s my advice, Senior and Junior.  Put your efforts into the actual games that are still ahead of you.  And if you do wind up going to Vegas, you’ll at least be able to hit up Baker for a decent dinner venue recommendation.

In fact, it would be even nicer to offer to treat.  After all, even without incentives, none of you are going broke.

Courage…

 

 

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