This week, Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning offered a direct and impassioned plea to those surrounding him in a Hawaii ballroom. According to Jeff Darlington of the NFL Network, Manning asked players to give better effort in Sunday's Pro Bowl to preserve the long history of the game.
Of course, the audience Manning spoke to included only one of the five other quarterbacks originally elected to play. Both of the NFC's starting receivers, Calvin Johnson and Brandon Marshall, were missing after opting out of the game. All five of the NFC's original linebackers were missing, as well. One player who was in attendance, Green Bay Packers center Jeff Saturday, had such a poor season that he was benched with two games remaining in the regular season.
The Pro Bowl as currently constituted is beyond repair, even if Manning's plea leads to a short-term dose of intensity. The selection process is flawed, to say the least, and there will never be a long-term motivation to play hard as long as the risks far outweigh the rewards.
There are plenty of ways to bring together the NFL's best players for a week of postseason honors and entertainment. Attempting to stage a typically violent game, with players selected by highly unscientific measures, isn't one of them.
Instead of a game, why not gather players for a tropical week of (safe) skill and physical challenges that benefit the charity? How about mirroring a reality show to appeal to a broad audience? I would watch Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady compete, "Top Chef" style. And I wouldn't mind finding out whether Justin Smith or Ray Lewis would eat, say, more cockroaches for charity.
While they're at it, why not make the rosters of players more legitimate by tweaking the selection process? Including the kind of analytics that all NFL teams now use to evaluate players would seem a logical shift. The NFL might think it is empowering fans, players and coaches by giving them the full vote each year, but the results annually disappoint and anger those same groups in equal proportions.
There is no reason to preserve something that has run its course. The Pro Bowl is worthwhile as an event, but the centerpiece shouldn't be -- and doesn't need to be -- a game.