Scheduling the NHL All Star game for the bye weekend before the Superbowl was clever. With football resting and basketball season still early in its second trimester, I took a moment for the struggling league of the “big four” sports: hockey. I didn’t watch the All Star game. I tuned in for the actual entertaining portion of the festivities: the skills competition.
All Star games shouldn’t even exist at this point. It’s a shame to have the most talented and/or popular players gathered together for a game no one really cares about. The truth of the matter is that All Star games don’t matter and the players don’t actually care. So why should fans care?
MLB has tried to make the All Star game matter by granting home field advantage to the winning league. Players on teams with no playoff hopes aren’t affected by the prize that hangs in the balance. Having consequences at stake has helped a little, but the game is still played as more of a parade of talent as opposed to a pride-driven meaningful game. Managers limit each player’s playing time in order to give all a chance to participate, so the game plays out like a strange montage of talent.
While baseball’s All Star game is the better of the bunch, the Pro Bowl is the worst. In such a physical sport, no one wants to get hurt for no reason. The Pro Bowl is nothing more than a honeymoon trip to Hawaii for popular players and another opportunity for the NFL to sell obnoxious merchandise. In an attempt to increase the number of viewers tuning into the Pro Bowl, the NFL has decided that in 2010 the Pro Bowl will be the week before the Superbowl. Great, anyone on a team playing in the big game will be shipped to Miami early, ripped away from their team preparation to figure out a clever way to sit out the Pro Bowl. The other players will be beaten up from the season, especially those who participated in playoff action.
Instead of pretending All Star games are celebrated occurrences, there should just be skills competitions. The NHL offers very entertaining events like: Fastest skater, Shootout, Obstacle course relay, Hardest shot, Breakaway challenge and Accuracy shooting. It’s terrific, like an Olympics of hockey. The NBA also does a good job with the popular Slam Dunk Contest, Skills Challenge, Three-Point Shootout and Rookie Challenge. This could be more exciting if other contests were added. Wouldn’t it be interesting to watch these guys see how many free throws they could make in one minute? Or maybe a dribbling race? What if the game was canceled and replaced with each starting position going one-on-one East vs. West?
The NFL has dabbled in skills competitions, but should completely shift focus so it is all about strange kicking, throwing for accuracy, throwing for distance, obstacle courses, running through tires and more. MLB’s Home Run Derby is already nearly as popular as the All Star game. Just imagine if there were more baseball competitions offered. I’d love to watch a base-stealing challenge, a “good-eye” competition and some sort of gold glove defensive dive-all-over-the-field-for-the-ball contest.
So come on sports, quit the lethargic games and highlight the entertaining skills!
Originally published on January 28th in Citizen News (Sherman, New Fairfield Edition)