Chicago Sun-Times

Star show­case still not much of a show­down


OR­LANDO, Fla. — Like most of the play­ers at the Pro Bowl, Bills guard Richie Incog­nito hears the crit­i­cism.

The game lacks in­ten­sity. There’s not enough drama. It’s not real NFL foot­ball.

But Incog­nito is like the vast ma­jor­ity of the 88 play­ers in­vited to this all- star gath­er­ing Sun­day night. He sees the Pro Bowl more as a cel­e­bra­tion of achieve­ment and as a way to thank the fans.

He wouldn’t change a thing.

“In my mind, it’s as good as it should be,” Incog­nito said. “You re­ally can’t ask guys to come out here and fly around at full speed when we’ve been off for the last two or three weeks. And some guys are just com­ing down here af­ter con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship games. Maybe make it more fan interactiv­e, get the fans in­volved more, do more of the skills com­pe­ti­tion.”

The NFL has seemed open to ways to en­er­gize its end- ofthe- year show­case that is now sand­wiched be­tween con­fer­ence cham­pi­onship and Su­per Bowl weeks. A few years ago, the league broke from the tra­di­tional AFC- NFC matchup and al­lowed celebrity coaches to draft two teams.

Now, in hopes of giv­ing the game a lift, the NFL has moved the Pro Bowl from Hawaii to Or­lando, where it has be­come more of a week­long event, com­plete with a reimag­ined Skills Show­down. The AFC- NFC matchup has also re­turned af­ter three years of non­con­fer­ence games.

Still, it re­mains to be seen if the NFL can con­tinue sell­ing a game that bears lit­tle re­sem­blance to the prod­uct it puts on the field dur­ing the sea­son. The play­ers come to the Pro Bowl to have fun — not get hurt — and maybe win.

“This Pro Bowl is spe­cial be­cause you’re com­ing here to cel­e­brate what you’ve ac­com­plished,” Giants wide re­ceiver Odell Beck­ham Jr. said. “It’s a lot of fun.”

Sea­hawks cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man says the in­ten­sity would rise and more in­vited play­ers would show up if the NFL gave them their weekly game salaries. Un­der the col­lec­tive- bar­gain­ing agree­ment, each player from the win­ning team will make $ 61,000 this week and the los­ing play­ers will take home $ 30,000.

“You pay them what you are pay­ing them, and you get this per­for­mance,” Sher­man said. “It’s a dif­fer­ent el­e­ment. . . . I guar­an­tee you less guys would miss the Pro Bowl if you told them you’re going to pay them their nor­mal salary for one more game.”

For­mer NFL player and coach Herm Ed­wards says the game as played now is fine. He says the Pro Bowl is not about the game, it’s about the fans and the play­ers giv­ing back.

Thou­sands of fans have been out at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports com­plex this week watch­ing the AFC and NFC prac­tice.

Af­ter the prac­tices, most of the play­ers signed au­to­graphs and took pic­tures in the laid- back at­mos­phere. All of the prac­tices are short and glo­ri­fied walk- throughs, and the play­ers are mostly hav­ing fun with each other and the fans.

 ?? | AP ?? Sea­hawks cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man says the Pro Bowl would im­prove if the play­ers were paid their reg­u­lar weekly game salaries.
| AP Sea­hawks cor­ner­back Richard Sher­man says the Pro Bowl would im­prove if the play­ers were paid their reg­u­lar weekly game salaries.

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