The NFL could take a lesson from their younger antipodean brother, the Australian AFL.
The AFL Grand Final pre-game and half-time entertainment probably peaked in 1979 with KISS's half-time spectacular. Since then, acts have been as varied as Angry Anderson and the Batmobile to last year's abominable Meatloaf performance. But the one thing that entertains most between the Grand Final's halves is the sprint, where one player from each club races to earn the title of league's fastest.
Even though it's handicap nature means that usually resting ruckmen or even Brendan Fevola win the title; "Crackers" Keenan tells a wonderful story about drinking all morning and then having to run the event fueled only by beer. The race captivates 10 million barbecue-bound Australians in culture where any self-promotion is automatically dismissed as self-aggrandisation. Just imagine what it could do in the largest market in America.
NFL athletes are those best suited to run entertaining sprints: they've got the speed, they want the attention and finally - and to put it mildly - they're not afraid of self-promotion. Since Usain Bolt destroyed his rivals in the London Olympics, no end of challenges have been issued to the Jamaican blur by likely types. Chris Johnson, of the Tennessee Titans, says Bolt's slow starts could cost him in a head-to-head matchup, while Heisman Trophy candidate Denard Robinson thinks he could beat the Olympic champion. Terrell Owens recently earned a contract with the Seattle Seahawks based largely upon his sub-4.5 second 40 yard sprint.
|Rhys Stanley wins the 2011 Grand Final sprint|
Of course, installing a sprint doesn't increase waning interest in the Pro Bowl itself, but it would certainly attract a major television audience and generate the pub debate that the Pro Bowl just doesn't. The Slam Dunk and 3-point contests revitalised the NBA's All-star game but have suffered with time; the simple and elegant beauty of a sprint is that it never loses it's appeal. The event is wholesome, injuries are rare: a win-win for a league where anything controversial just runs and runs.
The Pro Bowl seems destined for ignominy unless major changes occur: it's time for the NFL to think outside the box.