Greg Cote

Greg Cote: If NFL players don’t care about Pro Bowl, neither should we

Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry signs an autograph for Justin Schwartz of the U.S. Navy during the NFL Pro Bowl football draft show at Wheeler Army Airfield, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Wahiawa, Hawaii.
Miami Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry signs an autograph for Justin Schwartz of the U.S. Navy during the NFL Pro Bowl football draft show at Wheeler Army Airfield, Wednesday, Jan. 27, 2016, in Wahiawa, Hawaii. AP

It is All-Star Game season. Please do not read that declarative with verve, as if it were meant to be chased by an exclamation point. It is not. Rather, I say, “it is All-Star Game season” just as I might note, for example, “It is mosquito season.”

The NFL’s Pro Bowl game is this Sunday in Honolulu. The NHL All-Star Game also is Sunday, in Nashville. Then it’s the NBA All-Star Game in two weeks, on Valentine’s night in Toronto.

I’ll again make every effort to watch not a second of any of them. OK, maybe a glance at the NBA game. But a concerted effort to avoid the NFL and NHL games as if they were emitting a laser that might blind me.

Baseball is the only big-four sport that almost sort of gets its right and merits a respectful look with its Midsummer Classic each July, with Miami and Marlins Park set to host in 2017. The MLB All-Star Game has a tradition dating to the 1930s, the result actually matters (the winning league gets home-field advantage in the World Series), and the Home Run Derby is the best of the ancillary events that orbit the games like satellites.

The other three ASGs are meaningless, utterly forgettable non-games. They could suddenly disappear (there’s a thought!), and even the most ardent fans of the sport likely wouldn’t miss them much, or for long.

Saying any of the three is the best of the bunch is faint praise, but I’d give the NBA the dubious nod.

The NBA buildup will include comedian Kevin Hart and the rapper Drake “coaching” a celebrity game, the Rising Stars Challenge featuring the league’s young up-and-comers, and the D-League all-star game, whose unfortunate name about says it all.

Two former star attractions in the buildup, the three-point contest and slam dunk event, have been demoted to being part of an All-Star Saturday Night.

The three-point contest lost its luster when the entire league turned into one. You want the ultimate three-point contest? Watch Steph Curry and Golden State, every night.

The slam dunk event used to be a tasty appetizer a la the home run derby, but withered to nonsense with the realization nobody worth watching dunk (talking to you, LeBron) would even participate.

The NBA All-Star Game itself is helped by the fact star players (unlike in football) actually seem to enjoy playing. The games are showy-entertaining at least to a point, like watching two teams of Harlem Globetrotters engage in a game with zero defense and a final score of 171-159. You have forgotten who won by bedtime.

The NHL All-Star Game is worse, partly because it changes format like criminals change names, as if confusing fans was the goal.

The only preamble event is the skills competition, including fastest skater, hardest shot and so forth. (This probably was interesting before the analytics-driven explosion of statistics let you know your favorite player’s top speed or the MPH on his slapshot as a matter of routine.)

The game itself? The latest new format has four mini all-star teams, one representing each of the NHL’s four divisions. Two teams will play a 20-minute, 3-on-3 game, the other two teams will do the same, then the two winning teams will meet.

That’s pending another format change next year.

Of course the undisputed king of bad all-star games remains the Pro Bowl. It isn’t close.

The NFL, which does so much right and is America’s favorite sport, just has never figured out a way to make either players or fans care about this game.

It sits buried anticlimactically between the regular season and the Super Bowl, which in turn means players competing in the following week’s Super Bowl are excluded. A great idea, that one: Schedule the Pro Bowl so that the best players from the best teams can’t play!

Now the game is “unconferenced,” the AFC vs. NFC format replaced by a Pro Bowl “draft.” So on Wednesday night the two teams were selected by captains Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice — the latest gimmick that has failed to resuscitate the dying beast.

The fatal flaw is that players don’t care about the Pro Bowl. They like to be selected, related to ego and contractual bonuses, but then can’t wait to dream up lame excuses to avoid actually playing. It is the NFL’s All-Star Shame.

Eighty-six players originally were voted into the Pro Bowl. But that number had ballooned to133 by Thursday, an NFL record, because of all the replacements who had to be invited once you subtracted the Panthers and Broncos players who could not play and the many others who dropped out with headaches or hangnails.

The Dolphins, for example, had only one player, Mike Pouncey, originally selected. But Jarvis Landry, Branden Albert, Reshad Jones and Brent Grimes have all since been added as alternates. Brag quietly, replacements. You are Pro Bowlers with an asterisk — the schoolgirl who only got invited to the prom because seven others girls told the boy no.

Aside to the NFL: Men who have just risked injury and beaten up their bodies to play as many as 24 games (exhibitions through playoffs) do not wish to play one more that is as meaningless as it is unnecessary.

Keep the Pro Bowl selections but kill the Pro Bowl game itself, and see how unlamented a death can be.

Read Greg’s Random Evidence blog daily at MiamiHerald.com and follow on Twitter @gregcote.

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