HONOLULU — As bad as the Pro Bowl was by football standards, the NFL must consider its return to Hawaii a success.
Commissioner Roger Goodell’s decision to stage arguably the most irrelevant of all-star contests a week in advance of the Super Bowl, rather than after it, is paying off, if TV ratings are any indication.
Although the attrition rate among viewers had to be significant after the NFC blew open a six-touchdown lead in a 55-41 victory over the AFC on Sunday.
Ratings for the game were the highest in 11 years, and the players involved were repeatedly thankful that the Pro Bowl was back in Hawaii after a one-year stint in Florida.
“Everybody loves it here,” the game’s MVP DeAngelo Hall said. “Miami or any other is not just the same.”
For NFL junkies, even half-speed football helps fill the two-week void between the conference championships and the Super Bowl.
No matter that 13 Pro Bowl selections from conference champions Green Bay and Pittsburgh had more serious responsibilities elsewhere.
Still, 23 per cent of the homes in the Milwaukee market were tuned in to the Pro Bowl, twice the national average.
The game itself was an example, in prime time for most of the country, of why the NFL, easily American’s most popular sport, does not translate well to an all-star format.
A game that thrives on intensity and violence is robbed of both when the players’ biggest goal is to not let an injury ruin a nice week with the family in paradise.
The only real intensity came from four fans who, in the fourth quarter, made the ill-advised choice to dash onto the field and evade capture for several minutes with some electrifying moves.
AFC wide receiver Dwayne Bowe ended the cavorting of one of them with what might have been the game’s nastiest hit.
“It really shows offensive guys can tackle,” he deadpanned afterward.
Examples of the odd nature of the contest abounded. A defensive player was the MVP in a game that featured 95 points and 854 yards of offence. Alex Mack, a six-foot-four, 311-pound centre from Cleveland in his first Pro Bowl, scored the last of the game’s 13 touchdowns, on a 67-yard pass play that featured two laterals.
“I think they let me in,” Mack said of the NFC’s would-be tacklers.
Hall, a Pro Bowl selection in three of his six NFL seasons, is only the third defensive player to be named the game’s MVP since 21 years.
AFC quarterbacks Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning and Matt Cassel, combined for six interceptions, five in the first half.
Hall had the second of two first-quarter interceptions thrown by Rivers. Later, he stripped the ball from Wes Welker and returned the fumble 34 yards for a touchdown. He got the MVP award despite a second-half kickoff return misconnection, when Devin Hester tried to flip him the ball but it fell to the turf.
Montel Owens scooped it up and returned it 10 yards for an AFC touchdown.
The most weary player had to be Tennessee’s Marc Mariani, who set a Pro Bowl record with nine kickoff returns for 326 yards.
While NFC starting quarterback Michael Vick provided the game’s most intriguing story line, he played only the first quarter as NFC coach Mike Smith of Atlanta opted to go mostly with his QB Matt Ryan, one of a game-high nine Falcons in the contest.
Fittingly, the NFC’s final TD came on a pick, with Cleveland’s Jon Beason intercepting Cassel’s pass and returning it 49 yards.
David Akers, who surpassed Morten Andersen as the most prolific Pro Bowl scorer, booted his 13th point of the day as the NFC matched the single-team scoring record it set in a 55-52 victory in 2004.