The past few Sundays, we've extolled the virtues of, and then offered a post-mortem for, the New York Jets. As the Super Bowl will be played next week (Go Saints!), our Sundays of football commentary will soon draw to a close. In the meantime, though, here's one more.
Today the NFL presents the Pro Bowl, its all-star game. In a previous post, we expressed our disappointment in baseball's All-Star Game. But as irrelevant and dull as we find THAT exhibition, it is of significantly greater interest than its gridiron cousin.
One reason for our apathy--and, we suspect, that of other football fans as well--has been the standard scheduling of the game for the week after the Super Bowl: Fans exhaust themselves during the two-week hypefest leading up to the big game, and they are hardly in a mood to bestir themselves for one more game that counts for nothing. In an attempt to countervail these feelings, the NFL has this season moved the Pro Bowl to the Sunday BEFORE the Super Bowl, where it can occupy a space heretofore reserved for additional pregame hype that none of us truly needs.
Nice try, but we still don't care. Part of this stems from a major flaw in the rescheduling logic. By sandwiching the Pro Bowl between the conference championships and the Super Bowl, the league has ensured a lack of participation by some of the game's biggest stars. Players who participated in last week's games are either headed for the Super Bowl--in which case they are hardly going to suffer exhaustion and risk injury for a meaningless exhibition--or are heading home, sore, bummed out, and achy, after coming within 60 minutes of performing in their sport's ultimate showcase; they are not likely to be enthusiastic Pro-Bowlers.
But the main problem with a football all-star game goes beyond scheduling concerns. The problem is that football, for all the spectacular individual players--the Mannings and Breeses, the Fitzgeralds and Revises--is a TEAM sport, to an extent that baseball and even basketball are not. Indeed, there is NO SUCH THING as an individual play in football: A spectacular quarterback still needs someone to catch his passes; a terrific running back needs blockers. And while the Pro Bowl may feature the "top" performers at each position, the overall talent will inevitably be weaker than the sum of its parts. A great offensive line, for example, is not just a conglomeration of good professional athletes, but a SYSTEM--a group of players who work together week after week, each of whom knows the strengths, weaknesses, and tendencies of his colleagues, and each of whom utilizes this knowledge to create a dominating unit. This knowledge, it should be obvious, cannot be acquired by a group of relative strangers working out together for a week, no matter how skillful each of the individuals is.
So, back to the drawing board, NFL. Try reworking those X's and O's if you are convinced we need an all-star game. We'll be waiting.