Do I have to play?

NFL serves up Super Bowl entree in Hawaii but players' and fans' appetite for the all-star Pro Bowl is debatable.

    Those who decline a Pro Bowl invitation are replaced by players further down the NFL  pecking order [GALLO/GETTY]

    Imagine that, a week after the English Premier League champions raise the trophy, the league flies a planeload of its best players to the Faroe Islands. 

    They then divide the players up between two teams, who play at half speed because no one wants to get hurt or even cares about the game in the first place. 

    And imagine Wayne Rooney leaves at half time to catch an early flight home, without telling the skipper. 

    That's the NFL Pro Bowl. 

    It's taking place this Sunday at Aloha Stadium in Honolulu, Hawaii.

    Unlike every year until last season, it comes a week before the Super Bowl, with the Pittsburgh Steelers playing the Green Bay Packers at Cowboys Stadium in Texas on February 6.

    The "all-star game" concept has been part of American sports culture for more than a century. 

    Scoring festival

    Major League Baseball takes a break half way through the season to play a game with its best players, as voted by the fans. The National Basketball Association's All-Star Game turns into a scoring festival, with no one willing to play defense. 

    The National Hockey League changes their concept every year (this year it's "skaters who have claimed to have seen aliens" versus "skaters who are aliens"). 

    Even Major League Soccer has a summer all-star game, where the league's "best" take on a European club team that is in their first week of preseason training, with jet-lagged players still hungover from French Riviera holidays.

    The Philadelphia Eagles' Michael Vick is set for a Pro Bowl appearance [GALLO/GETTY]

    In the NFL, everyone is thrilled to make the Pro Bowl squad and claims they are Pro Bowlers, but very few actually want to play the game.

    The Pro Bowl is, if nothing else, a nice vacation after a gruelling season. 

    In 1993, Hall of Fame quarterback Troy Aikman took the vacation concept a little too literally when he left in the middle of the game to catch a flight to Dallas, Texas to attend a charity meeting. He didn't even tell the coaching staff that he was leaving. 

    Rosters are announced prior to the playoffs, based on voting by fans, players, and coaches. 

    This year, players from the Super Bowl competitors will not play in the Pro Bowl, but will still be acknowledged for making the team. 

    More players will miss out due to injury, or choose to opt out voluntarily. They will be replaced by players who accept invitations as alternates. If an invited alternate declines the invitation, they are not considered a Pro Bowler just for being asked.

    This is the second year that the Pro Bowl has taken place before the Super Bowl. Rather than taking place a week after, the goal is to generate more interest. The jury is still out on if viewer ratings will be higher.

    The sides consist of the best players from the National Football Conference (NFC) versus the best from the American Football Conference (AFC). 

    The two teams with the best regular season records are not playing in the Super Bowl this year. Instead, the coaching staffs for the Atlanta Falcons will wear the traditional Hawaiian leis and coach the NFC, and the New England Patriots staff will don the Hawaiian shirts for the AFC. 

    Patriots head coach Bill Belichick holds quite an advantage over Atlanta's Mike Smith, being a three-time Super Bowl champion. 

    Past and present

    His Pro Bowl squad is made up of many of his past and current players. And the players that have not played for him before will want to impress.

    Since Patriots quarterback Tom Brady is recovering from foot surgery, the starting quarterbacks will be San Diego Chargers' Phillip Rivers for the AFC, and Michael Vick of the Philadelphia Eagles for the NFC. 

    These are often high-scoring affairs, with last year's final score being 41-34. Six touchdowns were scored last year on long-pass plays.

    Atlanta leads the way with the most players being honoured as Pro Bowlers with nine individuals, followed by New England with eight.

    The Super Bowl-bound Green Bay Packers had six players chosen, as did the Kansas City Chiefs and the Dallas Cowboys, while the Steelers had four named to the squad, including defensive standout Troy Polamalu.

    The forecast calls for a sunny weekend and a warm breeze in the Pacific for the best players of the NFL.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera


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