Monday, February 14, 2005

Pros, not poetry

I didn't actually watch the Pro Bowl. I had it on as background music while hanging shelves in the basement. And it wasn't actually this year's Pro Bowl. It was still afternoon, and NFL Network was rerunning last year's game. But really, is there even a difference? The uniforms look like something you'd see in a crummy movie where football is being played in the future. The teams put up 80, 90 points. The players just try not to get hurt. The players don't take the Pro Bowl seriously. No one does.

If anyone were to need evidence, they'd only have to check the play by play of last year's game. The following things happened:
  • The NFC was behind 38-13 four minuntes into the third quarter, then rallied to win 55-52. At the time, it was only the third NFL game of any kind to see more than 100 points scored.
  • Trent Green started the second half for the AFC and fumbled four times in about a quarter's worth of work. Yes, the center-QB exchange is tricky in an all-star game, but the other five quarterbacks had one fumble combined.
  • Mike Vanderjagt didn't miss a kick all year, yet honked field goals at the end of both halves, including the potential tying kick as time ran out.

Any of these occurrences would make a game memorable. They'd even make a preseason game memorable. Yet, here this game was playing on my TV, and I only faintly recalled any of it ever happening. That's because the Pro Bowl is the worst game of all. It's worse than a preseason game. At least in the preseason, guys are playing for jobs. And the games, such as they are, are a harbinger of an autumn's worth of bliss. All the Pro Bowl signals is six dark, empty months without football.

As I listened to a game a year past its freshness date, I laughed a little harder each time the ESPN crew -- calling the game as if it meant something, which was cute -- hollered that Green had fumbled. All I could think about was Atlee Hammaker. In 1983, Hammaker was a 25-year-old left-handed pitcher for the San Francisco Giants. At the All-Star break, he led the NL in ERA. He was on top of the world. Then, he was sent in to pitch the third inning of the All-Star Game. Six hits and seven runs later, he stumbled off the field. He was never the same pitcher again.

In the 2004 Pro Bowl, meanwhile, Trent Green fumbled four times in 10 minutes. Vanderjagt shanked two field goals. The AFC lost a four-touchdown lead. And by Tuesday, everyone had forgotten.


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