Dec 30, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Chicago Bears wide receiver Devin Hester (23) runs the ball against the Detroit Lions during the first half of a game at Ford Field. Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-USA TODAY Sports

Is the NFL Hurting Itself By Trying to Save the Pro Bowl?

Saving the Pro Bowl is an admirable endeavor.  Players enjoy it and it’s a great way to recognize those who had great years.  The problem is, at least in the eyes of the NFL, is that the game isn’t competitive or exciting enough.  So why in the world did they choose to eliminate the kick returner position?

Devin Hester and other kick and punt returns indignant over new rules

The Pro Bowl is getting a serious makeover from top to bottom.  For the first time in history the rosters will be shaped not by conference but by a special draft.  Hall of Fame alumni Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders will serve as the inaugural captains with help from two NFL.com fantasy users to undergo a player selection process that is hoped will entice fans to watch more.  On top of that the event will feature more two minute drills, the first allowance of zone coverage on defense, and an increase in game tempo by not stopping the clock on a sack by the defense.  However, by far the biggest change in the format is the elimination of the kick return.  No longer will the Pro Bowl have return specialists as representatives.  Their customary spots will get filled by an extra defensive back.  For big names like Devin Hester, Patrick Peterson and Antonio Brown this is the worst news imaginable.  Indeed in the eyes of a lot of fans this is a head-scratching decision that eliminates the potential for one of the most exciting plays in football.  So why is the league insistent on it?

Roger Goodell can only go so far in protecting players in a collision sport

The same reason they cited months ago.  The men in charge want to make football a safer game.  Kickoff and punt returns are viewed to have some of the most violent collisions in the sport.  Commissioner Roger Goodell is a huge proponent of safety, so eliminating the return game all together has to be on top of his agenda.  Yet for a guy who swears that pleasing the fans is his top priority, cutting out arguably the most exciting moment during a game outside of a touchdown pass in a two-minute drill is puzzling.  Player safety is a good thing but how soon does it become a detriment to the game itself?  Football was created as a sport for tough, physical men.  It is based on hard hits, sharp wits and true grit (pardon the bad poetry).  There is no doubt concussion fears are worth worrying about, but cutting out a huge piece of what makes football games so much fun to watch won’t solve the problem.  This maneuver in the Pro Bowl doesn’t sound like something meant to increase fan interest.  For those conspiracy theorists out there, it is more of a stepping stone towards banning kickoffs entirely.  Why is that bad?

How many teams around the league have good enough offenses to simply not have a need for a good return man?  Realistically it isn’t more than ten.  Devin Hester and others like him were drafted for changing games on that ability to take a kick to the house or at least set up his team with favorable field position.  Take that away and many teams become a little more boring to watch.  The NFL has good intentions in mind, but there comes a time when the surgeon has to stop cutting with the scalpel.

Tags: Devin Hester NFL Patrick Peterson Pro Bowl Roger Goodell

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