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.