There are certain once great American institutions that have outlived their usefulness, no matter how nostalgic a few people might be for them. Typewriters. Print editions of newspapers. The SI Swimsuit Issue. Nudie magazines. Deadspin. And one of them is not the NFL Pro Bowl.
The Pro Bowl is one institution that no one has ever really loved beyond players with incentive bonuses and Chris Berman Aloha Shirt enthusiasts. And the former could always collect their money without actually playing. While the latter have to deal with the fact Berman is no longer up to the task of rocking the shirt of which Homer Simpson said "should only be worn by Polynesian waiters and big, fat party animals."
The game has long been that thing you only half watch. The fish tank you have on in the back ground while you're doing something else. Or that can't hope you win a Two Screen Battle against whatever is on your phone.
If there was ever a day when the players were actually simulating competitive football, I didn't witness it. Nor would any sane person want to see that. I've always been perfectly content to have no skills guys doing anything that could get them hurt and no one in the trenches playing with any more urgency than the lady at the post office going out back to see if that package is there for you.
No Pro Bowl news is good news. And I say this as someone who watched the infamous Rookie Beach Touch Football Game where the Patriots Robert Edwards dislocated a knee - to the point where his lower leg was a hour away from having to be amputated - and went from a 1,000 rusher to a guy who had to spend three seasons rehabbing before carrying the ball 20 times and retiring for good.
Which matters today because the NFL is having internal discussions about what to do with this anachronism.
Sure, the viewership might be dropping. But even at its lowest ratings in 16 years, it still draws more eyeballs than a lot of actual competitive sports. And the USFL. Just to watch a grotesque, vaguely football-shaped spectacle. So it's less a question of eliminating it than it is replacing it with something. But what?
As usual, the league might not have answers. But the public does. And some of them would be a million times preferable:
My personal favorite, speaking as a Boomer:
With the exception of the idea about painting houses, I'm more likely to watch any of these than the PB as it's currently constituted.
But I'm being completely serious when I say what I'm about to. In fact, I've been saying unironically for about 10 years that this is where I think the game is headed.
I am not joking. You get to see all the players - which is to say their officially licensed likenesses - who were selected by for the two teams into the lineups. Not the ones who are skipping the game because they're in the Super Bowl or nursing injuries or simply not interested. You have the game played by two NFL greats like Marshawn Lynch vs. Rob Gronkowski. Or by celebrities. Or by a couple of the best E-Sports competitors in the country. Whomever. You get a simulated Pro Bowl with all the product tie-ins and sponsorships to make it wildly profitable. And in an era where Twitch is the fastest growing platform in the universe, you have two built in audiences: Football fans and gamers.
Would everyone watch it? Hell no. But it has the potential for a bigger audience than the current fake game has. Most importantly, the odds of anyone getting hurt are nil. All I ask is that when the inevitable day comes that the Pro Bowl complete becomes simulated, the NFL, the NFLPA, Madden and EA Sports cuts me in on the profits for my free idea. My genius deserves to be rewarded.