At last, I feel a little vindicated.
On Wednesday afternoon, I ran across a story on ESPN.com by ESPN staff writer Michael Rothstein with the headline "Slay: Pro Bowl 'pointless' after move to Orlando". Intrigued, I clicked on the link.
In the story, Darius Slay, a cornerback with the Detroit Lions, talks about how he felt that he got snubbed out of a NFL Pro Bowl invitation last season when he thought he deserved it. He went on to say he wasn't worried about getting selected for the Pro Bowl this year.
But his reasoning for not caring too much about it is what caught my attention.
"As long as my teammates really see me as a Pro Bowl player, I ain't really worried because I feel it's a politic thing anyway," Slay said, quoting Rothstein's story. "But I would just like to. But, I'm mad. Is the Pro Bowl even in Hawaii no more? It's really pointless. That's what I really wanted to do.
"That's why I wanted to go. I'd rather just get the All-Pro status and don't go Pro Bowl. Because I just really wanted to go to Hawaii, really wanted to just to go to Hawaii for the free."
Now, we argue from now until next year about whether a guy who signed a four-year, $48-million contract extension just about six months ago should be asking for a free trip to Hawaii. The point is that Slay finally (FINALLY) said something publicly that I've been saying for years.
I've contended for a long time now that these players love going to Hawaii, but they don't care one bit about playing in the Pro Bowl and Mr. Slay has proven me to be correct in my assessment.
Each year, the NFL pushes fans (mostly through social media now) to vote their favorite players into the Pro Bowl and each year, a lot of big name players who get voted into the game opt out for a variety of reasons. Most of the dropouts are due to "injuries", some of which actually might be legitimate.
But let's be honest. Players don't want to go play in a meaningless exhibition game, especially a month after starting to recover from training camp, pre-season games, regular season games and playoff games from the past seven to eight months. And they certainly don't want to risk getting hurt in the Pro Bowl, which could affect any upcoming contract negotiations.
Sure, players love being named All-Pro, but that's enough for most of them. It was the all-expenses paid trip to Hawaii that was the big selling point for the Pro Bowl and now that's become a thing of the past. The NFL, hoping to draw bigger crowds, is moving the Pro Bowl to Orlando, Florida starting in 2017, and I'm sure there are others, like Slay, that aren't too jazzed up about that. Orlando's great and all, but it's no Hawaii.
Therefore, I have come up with a solution that I think will suffice and benefit everyone involved.
First of all, we do away with the Pro Bowl after the 2017 season, since the players don't want to play in the game anyway, and any player named as All-Pro gets his award at NFL Honors, the Super Bowl Weekend awards show the league started about six years ago.
Then, beginning in the 2018 season, we designate one weekend of the regular season as "Big Island Weekend" or "NFL in Paradise Weekend" or some cheesy, but marketable name and the league sends four teams to Honolulu to face off in actual regular season games that mean something.
Two teams would play in a game that would be aired on NBC's Sunday Night Football at 8:30 p.m. Eastern (3:30 p.m. in Hawaii). The other game will serve as that week's Monday Night Football game the following night.
Now, here's where it gets sweeter for the players. Yes, they have to fly to Hawaii for a regular season game, but once the games are finished, they and their immediate families get to stay the rest of the week in Hawaii on the NFL's dime (at the minimum hotel, airfare and some meal money) for a little in-season mini-vacation AND those teams get bye weeks the following week to recover from the lengthy travel involved.
Teams would rotate each year, and since there are 32 teams in the league, each team would only go to Hawaii once every eight years. NFL fans in Hawaii get to see all the teams in an eight-year span and the money that the Hawaiian economy is losing from not having the Pro Bowl anymore is more than made up by having two NFL games there every season, bringing some much-needed jobs back to the state.
Now, as for the fans and season-ticket holders of the teams that will be losing a home game once every eight years, not to worry. In the years that their team plays in Hawaii, ticket prices will be adjusted so fans won't have to pay for a home game that isn't there.
Think about it. If the travel distances are relatively the same, wouldn't NFL players gladly take a game in Hawaii over a game in London, especially if they got to hang out on the beach for a few days afterward AND not have to play the following week?
Plus, fans wouldn't have to get up at 9 a.m. on Sunday on the East Coast (or 6 a.m. on the West Coast) to see their favorite NFL team play they way they have to do when the games are in London.
Happy players. No chance of them getting injured in a meaningless exhibition game. The NFL earns points with its players by doing something nice for them and their families in exchange for playing a game a few thousand miles from home and we help out some of our own, financially, in the process.
Nah. You're right. It makes too much sense. The NFL will never go for it.