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NFL

Not Even Peyton Manning Can Save The Pro Bowl

Marc Sanchez/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

The National Football League finally killed its bastard child the Pro Bowl, and to the surprise of no one, nobody much noticed because, well, nobody is interested in any version of the Pro Bowl, even the new one as presented by the P.T. Barnum of his age, Peyton Manning. Flag football? Skills competitions? The question “Who asked for this?” comes immediately to mind, and since the answer is “television producers in conjunction with the NFL,” you know it’s going to be ghastly.

This, though, isn’t the real takeaway from this bit of non-news, sprinkled though it is with the entirely fraudulent imprimatur that “If it’s a Manning, it must be good.” Not everything the brothers M do is bad, but it is almost uniformly bland. Even the ManningCast, which began interestingly enough, is now a kind of NFL Network/Andy Cohen thing that manages to work only as well as it does due to the fact that the actual watching of the games is more of a chore than ever.

But even the Manning Empire isn’t the item here; if they can make College Bowl work better than Allen Ludden did, good for them. It is that they have taken on the dying art form of the all-star game, and that they cannot save it from its own creaky weight.

Blame technology; when you can see every player every day including the offseason, the lure of seeing them together in a contrived one-off on an otherwise dead Sunday is grossly diminished. The same is true of the baseball, basketball, hockey, et. al., all star games. They eat up a weekend, or in the case of baseball, the start of a week in July that would be otherwise devoted to sweating in a home with broken air conditioning. It’s just not that thingy of a thing any more, on any level.

Indeed, when Chelsea owner Todd Boehly suggested an all-star game for the Premier League earlier this year, he was laughed at for being an American (he owns a piece of the Los Angeles Dodgers) unaware of the structure and traditions of European football when in fact he should have been laughed at for trying to stick England with an idea that is 25 years past its sell-by date. Sort of like College Bow—well, you know.

As for flag football as a ratings grabber, well, that mocks the true value of flag football, which is played on holiday mornings in a local park within groups of families large enough to hold two generations of players. The football itself is properly risible, but when the game ends, usually when the fourth member of the older team starts bending over and faking an injury, the game ends and everyone troops over to the sidelines for the real spirit of the game—juice, coffee and cinnamon rolls as big as a baby’s head. Unless the Manning are bringing pastries to every home in the viewing diaspora, there is no real point to the exercise, and the show will die as the Pro Bowl has died—like George Halas, the AFL, the flying wedge and the Holy Roman Empire. Everything outlives its value eventually, and the all-star game is part of that circle of life.

In short, the Mannings got sold a bill of goods here, and that’s part of the risk you run as a television entrepreneur. Whatever you’ve bought is just something someone else didn’t want, and the hubris of thinking you can make a sucky old concept work just because you’re you is a persistent Manning trait. And frankly, we prefer the Mannings to most other showrunners—they’ve just chosen a vehicle that has spent too much time on the front lawn, is rusted out and has rats living in the engine.

But maybe if they sponsored a Super Bowl Week “Tie A Team Or League Executive To A Piano And Shoot Him Or Her Into The Sea” special—now that’s an idea whose time is more vibrant than ever.