Brian Allee-Walsh

Pro Bowl slowly but surely losing its luster

Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) in the second half of Carolina’s 27-23 victory in October. Sunday’s rematch should be epic.
Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Kawann Short (99) sacks Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson (3) in the second half of Carolina’s 27-23 victory in October. Sunday’s rematch should be epic. dtfoster@charlotteobserver.com

NEW ORLEANS

In the past, the plight of the annual NFL Pro Bowl has not kept me up at night. Not lost one wink of sleep. Of all the all-star games staged by pro sports leagues on my radar, the Pro Bowl simply does not qualify as must-see TV under any circumstance.

Touch football played in full uniform by well-paid professionals with smiles on their faces on a sun-splashed Hawaiian afternoon doesn't exactly move my needle.

Especially when the NFL "friendly'' is played on the dead weekend sandwiched between two conference championship games and the Super Bowl. Heck, an over-priced preseason exhibition bears more promise.

Yes, the televised Pro Bowl draft is a lot of hot air, and incorporating Hall of Fame wide receivers Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice to serve as honorary captains indicates the length to which this game will go. But that's OK. If the players and the league want it, they can play the game wherever, however and whenever they want.

It's their game. Play the game in London or Dublin or Morocco for all I care. Have the participants play in bare feet, Mardi Gras masks, tank tops and kilts.

It is what it is.

Now, I feel compelled to address the current state of the annual Pro Bowl this year, and apparently so do many NFL players whose conspicuous absence speaks volumes.

Consider:

Of the original 86 players selected by fans, coaches and players to play in Sunday's game from Honolulu, (ESPN, 6 p.m.), less than half actually will be playing. Forty-seven have dropped out for various reasons (injuries, prior commitments such as Super Bowl 50, personal reasons, etc.), prompting the league to fill the rosters with alternates, including New Orleans Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan.

Of the six original quarterbacks voted to play, only Seattle's Russell Wilson will suit up. Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton is trying to win a Super Bowl. Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer have backed out.

Even alternates such as Andy Dalton (injury) and Philip Rivers (a pending child birth) declined invitations. So much for "next man up.'' It's unknown if the league approached Saints quarterback Drew Brees to play. If so, he had good reason to decline because of pressing contract and health issues.

Keep in mind, each player on the winning team makes $58,000, the loser's share is $29,000. Pocket change to these guys. A year's salary for many of us. Also, players only receive contractual bonuses if they are among the original players voted to play.

The point is this: If the game's marquee players stop participating in their own game, then maybe the time has come to end the charade and pull the plug. At the very least, the NFL Players Association and league officials should determine if the game needs to go in a different direction, or if the dead weekend can be better spent on a different all-star format.

I harken back to a statement made by NFL counsel Jeff Pash in response to an embarrassing level of effort put forth by the players in the AFC's 59-41 win over the NFC in April 2012.

"We understand what contributes to the low quality of the game,'' Pash said. "It does not mean very much either financially or competitively." Better yet, the NFL/NFLPA should make the game worth playing for the players.

Brian Allee-Walsh, a long-time Saints reporter based in New Orleans, can be reached at sports@sunherald.com.

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