Column: 'The Sports Trail' - Sunday's Pro Bowl anything but a game, just an exhibition

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

I did a double take at the start of Sunday night's over-hyped, over-promoted, glitzy NFL Pro Bowl from south Florida.

A defensive end exploded out of his stance, blew past his defender, then slowly jogged past the quarterback while he waited for a pass to be thrown.

Ugggh!! It immediately became clear that this wasn't a football game, it was an exhibition, sort of like the 7-on-7 games high school football teams play in the summer.

Only those games are more honest. They tell you it's not going to be real football.

At the snap of each play huge defensive linemen would step forward and play patty cake with equally huge offensive linemen while everyone but the receivers and defensive backs waited for the ball to be thrown.

It was embarrassing! In past Pro Bowls they held contests before the games, with linemen seeing who could run through gauntlets the fastest, which quarterback could heave a ball the farthest, and who could bench press the most weight.

These contests were usually held on or near a beach in Hawaii and were great fun as these superb athletes matched skills with one another.

But that was before the game. When the pads came on, the players competed. Well, in the past they did. But ever since the money became so huge for the players, more and more have found a way to avoid playing in this end of the season honor event -- claim injury.

I guarantee no one who has ever claimed injury wasn't. They weren't lying. Pro football is a violent and dangerous sports. They all get injured every year, whether we read about it or if it is kept secret.

But if a game is going to be sold for the kind of money the NFL is asking, make it a game, not a high school passing exhibition.

I always admired seeing the best go up against the best, and looked forward to seeing which quarterback, with just a week's practice, could engineer a drive for six points.

Or which defensive back could frustrate an All-Pro wide receiver. There were those matchups Sunday night, but it was clearly a rigged game.

Running backs would charge toward the line of scrimmage, then duck their heads and stop when someone grabbed, not tackled, them. Several more would jog up, grab on, push a little, then let the runner go.

The occasional hard shot was clearly frowned on as everyone seemed more concerned with avoiding injury than competing.

One really funny moment was provided by Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, who pitched to a running back going right. The runner quickly reversed directions and Romo stepped in front of him to lead block to the left -- for a step or two.

As the defense closed in, Romo slid to the turf in a quarterback slide, ducked and grabbed his head, avoiding all contact. He hopped up laughing, knowing he had never intended to block anybody.

I would love to go on and on about how disappointing the game was but I can't. I turned if off after five minutes and woke up Boots, the football cat, who passed out in the first boring minutes of the, uh, exhibition.

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