Last Tuesday, the NFL announced this year’s Pro Bowl rosters. Nothing particularly significant to note, as usual. However, I suppose it’s always interesting to see who gets recognized for their play in a given season.
But that’s as far as the intrigue goes. No one–not even die-hard football fans like me–cares about the Pro Bowl. And the main reason why is because the players themselves couldn’t care less. As Lions cornerback Darius Slay said recently while explaining why he’s disappointed that this year’s game is not in Honolulu, “I’d rather just get the All-Pro status and don’t go [to the] Pro Bowl. Because I just really wanted to go to Hawaii, really wanted to just to go to Hawaii for free.” Former Pro-Bowl defensive back Brandon Meriweather even went as far to say that many players get “dead drunk” before the game. Plus, when you have others like Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert citing the risk of injury, what’s the purpose of this meaningless game after all?
The NFL has tried mixing things up. For the past couple of years, they’ve nixed the AFC vs NFC concept and had former players like Jerry Rice and Michael Irvin select the squads. They’ve tried to have skill competitions. They’ve moved the game around to different locations. None of it has worked. There’s simply no fixing the Pro Bowl.
Listen, NFL. You’re never going to have an All-Star showcase on par with the NBA or MLB. And that’s OK because professional football is not any worse for not having an entertaining exhibition contest. So stop trying to revive something that was dead on arrival and get rid of the Pro Bowl. Obviously you should still recognize those worthy of All-Star recognition. Just get rid of the game itself.
But now what are we going to do during the two-week interregnum between the conference championships and the Super Bowl? Don’t worry. There’s a perfect solution.
Imagine this: The champion of the College Football Playoff, roughly three weeks removed from winning a national title, facing off against the team with the worst record in the NFL. No, this wouldn’t just be a Madden simulation. Let’s do this for real.
Obviously I can’t take credit for this idea. It seems like whenever there is a dominant college team, someone will always ask whether they could hang with the worst team in the professional ranks. I’m just advocating for its execution, especially since this year, more so than others, could feature a matchup almost too good to be true.
In one corner, you’d have what I assume would be Nick Saban’s Alabama Crimson Tide coming off their fifth national title in eight years. And in the other corner, you’d have a Cleveland Browns team likely to finish 2016 without a single victory.
Forget about the logistics for a moment: How cool would this matchup be? Saban’s Crimson Tide are arguably the most dominant college football team in recent memory. Yet they’d be a sizable underdog against the ‘”pros,” assuming you feel the Browns are worthy of that distinction.
Those who say that a college team could never compete with professionals aren’t necessarily wrong. For instance, handicappers have estimated that Cleveland would be favored by close to four-touchdowns over ‘Bama on a neutral field. Games aren’t played on paper, though. To draw an analogy, we’ve all watched March Madness, right? I mean, no one actually picked George Mason to go to the Final Four in 2006 or predicted that Middle Tennessee State would upset Michigan State in the first round of last year’s tournament. Simply put, upsets happen.
But if you’re still not convinced that Alabama could potentially hang with an NFL team as bad as the Browns, consider how many future NFL players ‘Bama tends to have on its roster. Over the past five years, they’ve had an average of eight players drafted per season. Most of these guys tend to produce too: Six Pro Bowlers this year are ‘Bama products, most in the NFL. Other elite college programs such as Clemson and Florida State certainly boast similar talent as well. And as an aside, these college teams already operate like professional organizations anyway. So for those worried about ‘Bama stars like Calvin Ridley and Jonathan Allen missing another week of class, I doubt that will be an issue if enough television revenue is on the line.
Ultimately, the key is that a team like Alabama has the potential to beat a team as bad as the Browns. Just think about the stakes. Any college team able to knock off a professional team would be immortalized on a level not too far below the likes of the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team and Buster Douglas.
For those worried that the poor professional team might feel “disrespected” by having to participate in this game, get over it. Soccer teams in England and other European countries get relegated every year. If you don’t want to have to prove yourself against a bunch of college kids, don’t be the worst team in the league. It’s that simple. If anything, it might even discourage NFL teams like the Browns from tanking for the number one pick.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t address some logistics. How would the NFL players be motivated? Simple: You pay them. For instance, NASCAR gives the winner of its All-Star race over $1 million. The league surely has enough in its piggy-bank to make sure that an NFL team is motivated to beat the “amateurs.” Would the college players get paid, too? No, that would be ridiculous!
Where exactly would this game take place? Forget about the neutral site. That’s boring. If you’re one of those people that’s certain an NFL team would destroy the year’s best college squad, let’s put this game in the college team’s backyard to make it fair. After all, they’re professionals! They should be able to deal with 100,000 screaming college fans at Alabama, right? Right?
And what would we call this thing anyway? It’s a no-brainer. The Mega Bowl. Actually, check that. The Chick-fil-A Mega Bowl. Always got to have a corporate sponsor.
No matter how you slice it, substituting the Chick-fil-A Mega Bowl between Alabama and the Cleveland Browns at Bryant-Denny Stadium would be an immediate upgrade over the Pro Bowl. Regardless of how lopsided these matchups might get in certain years, it’s still the perfect remedy for the down-time in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl. And don’t think that some college team couldn’t knock off that year’s worst NFL team. Call me crazy, but ‘Bama’s defense this year has enough pro-talent up front to keep an anemic Cleveland offense in check. But could an eighteen-year old Jalen Hurts and the rest of the Alabama offense generate enough points for the Crimson Tide to actually beat Cleveland? I’d love to find out.