New city, still no drama in Pro Bowl
And we mean that in the "goodbye" sense, as the best thing about this season's experimental Pro Bowl is that it's over.
The AFC outlasted the NFC 41-34 in a pass-and-catch exhibition before an announced sellout crowd of 70,697 at Sun Life Stadium in Miami and an ESPN TV audience that apparently had no interest in how Lady Gaga did at the Grammys.
A Pro Bowl collective passing record was set as the six-pack of quarterbacks combined for 835 yards (418 by the AFC, 417 by the NFC). Houston's Matt Schaub was named MVP for completing 13 of 17 throws for 189 yards and two TDs.
If nothing else, moving the game to one week before the Super Bowl and out of Honolulu gave media talking heads a philosophical question to debate that would have had Plato and Socrates tearing at each other's throats. Namely: "If you are irrelevant, do you become more or less irrelevant when you start two weeks earlier and on the other side of the planet?"
All the Indianapolis and New Orleans players had a pass from participating, but were announced to the crowd at 7:10 p.m., meaning they could be back in their hotel sauna by 8. Many other players dropped out, including Minnesota defensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, who was actually kicked off the NFC squad for skipping most of the week's practices and meetings. By text message, McKinnie told the Minneapolis Star Tribune that his "body is hurting bad."
If you were not keeping score at home, 34 players named to the Pro Bowl were not playing for various reasons.
Meanwhile, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell told the Miami Herald that while the game returns to Hawaii for at least the next two years, it may continue to be played one week before the Super Bowl. Goodell said, "Here's why I like it: I think you should stop or end your season when you reach the pinnacle. The pinnacle is the Super Bowl. I think it's anticlimactic when you come back with the Pro Bowl the week after the Super Bowl."
We can all agree the Pro Bowl is not the pinnacle. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Peyton Manning, gracious as always, made a little faux paux before the game when he told the ESPN audience: "We'll have a real game next week."
As for this "game," it quickly became a fantasy footballer's dream. Think of an NBA All-Star Game where no defense is played. This was no worse but also no better. Naive pundits thought the AFC might have an advantage because of its outstanding running backs, but it became obvious neither coaching staff was willing to risk injury to any RBs. The teams totaled 152 yards rushing. Quarterback Donovan McNabb was the NFC's top "rusher" with 26 yards on four scrambles.
This was strictly pass-and-catch. Brett Favre would have loved it.
After one quarter, the AFC led 14-10, meaning anyone who had bet the "under" on the 57-point over/under spread was looking for a bridge to leap from. The NFC's Aaron Rodgers and AFC's Schaub were taking turns scoring until the AFC replaced Schaub with Vince Young (a "Pro Bowler" who didn't start in Tennessee's first six games). With Young in the game, the AFC did give the fans a rare Pro Bowl treat: a punt.
(Meanwhile, in the stands, the spectators were doing "The Wave," again and again. Apparently they were desperate to amuse themselves.)
The game settled into a 17-17 tie at halftime, when Manning and New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees were called away from their respective saunas to chat about the Super Bowl with Chris Berman. Apparently ESPN had no interest in breaking down the first half.
It took DeSean Jackson seconds to break the tie in the third quarter with a 58-yard scoring jaunt on a screen pass from McNabb. Once again, defensive backs acted as if the ball carrier was wearing an invisibility cloak. (And in the time it took to write that last sentence, the AFC tied it with a 48-yard scoring catch from its designated Jackson -- Vincent of the Chargers. The quarterback on the play was Jacksonville's David Garrard, essentially the seventh pick from his conference.)
Wonder how Lady Gaga is doing?
Various players and coaches were wired for sound -- proving that real plays were actually being called instead of just "everybody go deep."
(Urgent suggestion to the commissioner for all future Pro Bowls: Let the clock run in the second half.)
It's the fourth quarter now and the score is tied again, 34-34. Please, no overtime!
Yes! Chris Johnson's 2-yard scoring run puts the AFC ahead 41-34.
AFC tries running out the clock, while the NFC is calling timeouts in an attempt to get back the ball. Oh stop it.
All in all, this Pro Bowl experiment did serve one purpose: It gave us something to hate more than the BCS.
Jerry Greene is a retired columnist for the Orlando Sentinel. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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