I’m watching the Pro Bowl.
The last time I sat still through an entire Pro Bowl telecast, it was on a black-and-white screen. (Color television sets were a family-household luxury. Janis Joplin explained her yearning, and mine, when she sang: “Oh, Lord, won’t you buy me a color TV?”)
I finally bought a color TV in 1978, late January. The first thing I tuned in to was the Pro Bowl, a relatively suspenseful 14-13 NFC victory that ended on a controversial no-call of an illegal blitz. I didn’t see it. I switched channels midway through the first quarter, beckoned by a newer household luxury called “HBO.”
What’s wrong with the Pro Bowl?
A better question: What isn’t?
The participants want to be there only until it’s time for, like, the kickoff. Hard-wired to compete in a sport predicated on violent collisions at full speed, Pro Bowl players sensibly avoid both violence and collisions, and play at the speed of Sergio Garcia lining up a putt.
Strategy in the Pro Bowl essentially is limited to the standard dilemma posed in a football board game, circa 1966: Run or pass?
Shifting on offense is prohibited. So are sets with three receivers on one side, press defensive coverages beyond 5 yards, rushing punters and kickers, any base defensive scheme but the standard 4-3, and, of course, blitzing.
No wonder recent Pro Bowl scores suggest there are baskets with backboards on each side of the field. The NFL’s neutered version of an All-Star game, which began in 1952, didn’t find a team reaching 40 points until 1984.
Since 2000, the average Pro Bowl outcome is 42-30. Two years ago, it was 55-41. Last year, it was 59-41. The usually circumspect Associated Press described that travesty as “a pillow fight.”
Roger Goodell was even more succinct.
“Embarrassing,” the NFL commissioner said of the Pro Bowl during a SiriusXM NFL Radio’s Town Hall interview last October. “It’s really tough to force competition and, after a long season, to ask the guys to play at the same level they played.”
If future Pro Bowl scores are destined to be similar to 59-41, Goodell added, “I am inclined not to play it.”
Join the crowd, Rog. The players are inclined not to play it. Their work is done. Their bodies are battered. An all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii might have been an inducement for a previous generation of NFL stars, but today’s typical Pro Bowl selection not only can afford a trip to Hawaii, but he also can afford the private jet that takes him there.
As for the prize money at stake – $65,000 for each member of the winning team, $40,000 for the losers – this is the stuff of pocket change.
Which brings us to Wilson, added to the NFC roster after Atlanta’s Matt Ryan was scratched after sustaining a shoulder sprain last Sunday in the conference championship game.
The rookie’s non-negotiable contract with the Seahawks calls for him to be paid $526,217 next season. Wilson won’t be applying for any advance-cash loans to cover his utility bills in 2013, but $65,000 isn’t pocket change to him. He’ll want to win for the extra $25,000 he’ll gain instead of losing, and he’ll want to win because he’s, well, Russell Wilson.
The mood on the sidelines at the Pro Bowl is fun and casual. For that matter, the mood on the field is fun and casual: You don’t hurt me, I don’t hurt you, and by nightfall, we’ll be free, at last, from this godawful exhibition of semi-tough stupidity.
Except when there’s a football in his right hand, Wilson doesn’t do fun, and he doesn’t do casual, and he doesn’t do anything resembling semi-tough. When there’s a football in his right hand, Wilson’s sole incentive is to make a play. And if the play breaks down, his ulterior incentive is to make magic.
I can see Wilson pacing in front of an NFC bench where everybody else is tweeting, and posing, and grooving to the groove of a pillow fight substituting for authentic football. I can see him consulting with coaches and accumulating information about how to solve a defensive scheme that’s less exotic than a convenience store’s frozen sandwich.
I can see him liberated from the sideline in fourth quarter, breaking the huddle as if the score – 50-something to 40-something – is pertinent.
Wilson’s effort on Sunday might be remembered as miraculous, and it might not. Doesn’t matter. The miracle already is assured.
He’ll have inspired me to watch the Pro Bowl, all the way through, on a color TV.john.mcgrath@ thenewstribune.com