HONOLULU — The NFL is hoping to decide the fate of the Pro Bowl by the time it releases next season’s schedule in April. And the fate of the league’s all-star game will largely depend on how much effort this year’s participants put into the game.
NFL Executive Vice-President of Football Operations Ray Anderson told reporters of the timing at a news conference Tuesday to kick off this year’s Pro Bowl week in Honolulu. He said the league expects its players to play a game that fans will be proud of.
“Our hope is that the players will give the same effort and energy that allowed them to become roster members of this Pro Bowl,” Anderson said.
Commissioner Roger Goodell nearly cancelled the game after uninspiring play last year, but it will be held Sunday at Aloha Stadium after discussions between the league and the player’s union.
Chicago Bears cornerback Charles Tillman, a Pro Bowler for the second year in a row, says the message to players has been clear. He said players need to balance playing hard with avoiding injury, to give fans the game they deserve without hurting their teams going into next year.
“We owe it to our fans, we owe it to our viewers, to give them a little more effort than we did last year,” Tillman said.
Anderson said the league has considered less intense substitutions for the game, including skills competitions, seven-on-seven scrimmages or other watered down events. But officials haven’t found anything that lives up to the standards of what fans expect.
Tillman said fans are used to touchdowns and interceptions.
“That’s what the fans want,” Tillman said.
Anderson and Tillman spoke as the league promoted a week full of events leading up to the Pro Bowl, including practices at Pearl Harbor and an exchange program with Japanese coaches.
Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell made a public plea to keep the Pro Bowl in Honolulu, saying perhaps the city and state don’t express their appreciation often enough for the game being held on the islands.
Anderson said the relationship between the league and Hawaii has grown strong over more than three decades.
Tillman, who said he is staying with his family at the new Disney resort on the west side of Oahu, said the Pro Bowl is definitely a good incentive for players.
“What’s better than this? It’s like negative-2 degrees in Chicago right now,” Tillman said. “That’s all the incentive I need.”