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Now that the Super Bowl's over, a letter to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell

A veteran Monitor observer of the sports scene offers his two cents worth on the NFL's ultimate contest in a missive to the commissioner.

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2. This second suggestion somewhat echoes the first in its desire to eliminate play that doesn’t best represent the league. The focus in this case is on the Pro Bowl, which you have acknowledged last week raises quality concerns. Even NFL-starved fans in Honolulu, where the game is played, booed some of the lackluster effort exhibited in this year’s 59-41 AFC win. Aaron Rodgers, the league’s MVP, went so far as to say some of his NFC teammates “embarrassed themselves.”

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Clearly, there are many factors that gravitate against the Pro Bowl being a good showcase for serious football. First among them is the contact nature of the sport: No player wants to sustain an injury in what amounts to a postseason exhibition game. Add to this that there is very little practice time, players are in Hawaii vacation mode, and that many of them haven’t played in nearly a month and are a little rusty and out of shape, and it’s easy to see why this all-star contest either needs to be overhauled or eliminated.

Frankly, it’s hard envision how to satisfactorily improve the game. So maybe the best thing is to go in a different direction. Among the possibilities, incorporate recognition for the Pro Bowl players in the NFL’s prime-time awards TV show, “NFL Honors,” which debuted successfully this season as part of the Super Bowl week festivities. The star-studded, Academy Awards-style affair could include an on-stage introduction of the Pro Bowlers, some of whom, of course, might also collect Rookie of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, and MVP awards.

The players, of course, won’t want to miss out on vacations in Hawaii, so make those a separate reward for Pro Bowl selection, just don’t ask them to play in the meaningless game. Instead, go to something closer to the skills-type competitions that have become such popular attractions at the baseball, NBA, and NHL All-Star weekends.

The format for this has long existed in the successful youth “Punt, Pass & Kick” competition, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this season and which the NFL sponsors. At the Super Bowl site, bring together the league’s top season-long punters, passers, and placekickers (those not in the Super Bowl itself) for a Thursday night TV event.

The appetite for seeing NFL players during Super Bowl week would seem to support this kind of thing, based on what happened in Indianapolis last week. When the league opened the annual Media Day to the public for the first time, fans quickly snapped up the $25 tickets to the event, even though it meant they were only spectating on player interviews conducted at the Lucas Oil Stadium. If fans are that eager then surely they would flock to a Punt, Pass & Kick competition as much as they do to Major League Baseball’s Home Run Derby or the NBA’s Slam Dunk Contest.

An NFL skills competition would also serve as the perfect platform for letting the PP&K age-group winners – boys and girls from 6 to 15 – show off what they can do.  Introducing them at halftime of an NFL playoff game is nice, but seeing them in action would even be better.

Sincerely,

Ross Atkin

Boston, Mass.

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