With the NHL All-Star game and the NFL Pro Bowl games being played this weekend, the excitement over them has changed within a few weeks. We learned in January that Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury all were making the trip to Raleigh, North Carolina, for the NHL All-Star game. They were 4 of the top 6 vote getters and it looked to be a Pittsburgh-dominated event. Then came the news that Crosby and Malkin weren’t going to make the trip due to injuries, and the excitement went down quite a few notches. On the NFL side, fans were happy to see Maurkice Pouncey, Brett ‘The Beard’ Keisel, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison all get recognized for their success this season and were ready for them to take the field in Hawaii. Of course, the Steelers win over the Jets last week clinched their spot in the Super Bowl which means that no Steelers or Packers players are able to play in the Pro Bowl. So I pose this question to you, no just in Pittsburgh but nationwide: Does anyone even care about any of the All-Star games anymore?
If I had to rank the current state of the All-Star games for the four major sports in terms of my own personal interest level, it would be: 1) Baseball, 2) Basketball, 3) Hockey and 4) Football. Baseball has always seemed to be on top when it came to the All-Star game. The secret to their success is in the events that they have with it. The Homerun Derby, Celebrity Softball Game and the Futures Game all add a nice touch to the showcase game. After the 2002 game, when the game ended in a 7-7 tie in Milwaukee, MLB shook things up a bit. The winning team of the All-Star game, would earn home field advantage for its league in the World Series. A brilliant move that I feel each league should do. It allows the players to actually have more incentive to try to play hard, and the managers to actually manage well. I wish they would get rid of the rule that each team must be represented, though. When Evan Meek is an All-Star, you know it’s a stretch. Basketball is successful for the same reason because they make a weekend out of it. Three-Point Shot Contest, Slam Dunk Contest and the Skills Competition, until recent years, have overshadowed the game. Stars aren’t willing to take part in the Dunk Contest anymore so that competition has decreased in quality over the past few years.
The main reason the NHL and NFL suffer with their all-star games in comparison is because they are contact sports. No one wants to see anyone get hurt during these exhibition games. They are to entertain the fans and allow the players to have fun. The NHL doesn’t allow checking so it just becomes an offensive explosion where the goalies become targets. What is hockey without hitting? Even many casual fans watch for that very reason. With the Olympics taking place last year, the NHL had a year off and put that year to good use. Former player Brendan Shanahan came up with the idea of a “fantasy draft” to constitute the teams, just like a backyard pick-up game. This year Nick Lidstrom and Eric Staal were the captains and picked their teams in a made-for-TV event. Without Crosby and Malkin, though, the excitement dwindled. I was looking forward to seeing who would be picked first between Crosby and Ovechkin to end the debate of who is the best player in the world, at least in the minds of the two captains. Better yet, seeing those two try to coexist on the same line, if picked for the same team, could have been interesting. The skills competition is decent but could use a shootout elimination-type event to it. A good start by the NHL to try to improve their version of an all-star game, but without any hitting, it’s going to take more than this to attract the casual fan.
As for the NFL Pro Bowl, my proposed solution is a simple one. Get rid of it altogether. The players don’t like it, and neither do the fans. If you want to reward them for their great season, name them to the All-Pro team and give them a trip to Hawaii. There is no blitzing in the game and the hits are soft (minus Bills punter Brian Moorman being lit up by the late Sean Taylor in 2007, YouTube Sean Taylor Massive Hit). What kind of reward is it to a defensive player to stand out on the field and let the opposing team put up 60 points on you? The NFL used to have the game the week after the Super Bowl when nobody cared about football anymore. Putting it in the 2-week gap between the Conference championship games and the Super Bowl was a good move, but does that help a substantial amount? I don’t think so. The NFL trails the other leagues (weird reading that isn’t it?) by not making a weekend of the event. They had a flag football game on the beach until players saw what it did to Robert Edwards, the Patriots running back, in 1998. Edwards was a rookie who rushed for 1,115 yards before dislocating his knee in the flag football contest which cost him not only the 1999 season, but the rest of his career. Send the players a plane ticket and a trophy in the mail, and get rid of the game.
What do you think? Are you excited about the All-Star games on Sunday or would you rather watch a Law and Order marathon on USA?
About the Author
Written by Michael Waterloo
I'm currently pursuing my Master's degree in Communication and Journalism from Clarion University. I currently work for Ohio Valley Athletics where I serve as the West Virginia Football Beat Writer and cover West Virginia Men's Basketball as well. I'm a big Pittsburgh Pirates, Philadelphia Eagles, Pittsburgh Penguins, Pitt Panthers and Oregon Ducks fan. Follow me on Twitter at @MichaelWaterloo or visit www.ovathletics.com