About a year and a half ago I wrote an article entitled Perspective. The focus of the article was the trade that brought us Matt Cassel and Mike Vrabel. I stated at that time that if either one of the picks panned out, the trade would be worth it. Vrabel is closing out a second solid season, and Cassel is coming around too as of late. In perspective, that turned out to be a great deal, not because Cassel and Vrabel turned out so good for us, but because that 2009 draft was otherwise wasted. Ultimately it yielded a third string defensive lineman, a third string cornerback already in the process of being converted to safety, a third string wide receiver who makes fans pine for Terrance Copper, a third string tight end who will likely have his ass marched out the front door if Brad Cottam can come back healthy, and a kicker. The remaining three are employed elsewhere.
By comparison, Old Man Vrabel and Tom Brady’s clipboard holder look amazing.
I don’t know if the improvement in 2010′s draft was a result of perspective on the needs of the team, perspective on the quality of the prior year’s draft, or just dumb luck. Regardless of the why, the what is obvious: the 2010 NFL draft put Kansas City in the position they’re in now: the most improved team in the NFL, first in their division, and playoff bound. Despite this, and despite a solid showing on both sides of the ball, only three Chiefs were elected to the Pro Bowl: Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, and the errantly maligned Brian Waters. Charles and Bowe clearly deserved it. Waters probably deserved it, but not as much as Ryan Lilja. Meanwhile, Brandon Flowers, Eric Berry, Tamba Hali, and, in the eyes of some, Matt Cassel, were robbed of the opportunity.
In the case of Hali/Berry, the players elected in front of them were all Pro Bowl caliber, so while I think that Hali is better than Terrell Suggs, I don’t view Suggs as unworthy of the honor.
For Chiefs fans, the salt in the wound of Cassel not being elected is that the Chargers are sending their quarterback. Here’s the tough news: they should be. Philip Rivers passed for over 1,000 more yards on the season than did Cassel, and he completed a much higher percentage of his passes (66.7% vs. 60.2%).
Then there’s Brandon Flowers, beat out by Darrelle Revis, Nnamdi Asomugha, and Devin McCourty, none of whom had a better season than Flowers. The accusation with defensive backs is that voters, particularly fan voters, pay attention only to tangible, readily available stats (interceptions, passes defensed) versus less tangible advanced stats (yards per target, yards after catch, etc.). If this was the case, Asamoah (0 interceptions, 6 passes defensed) wouldn’t have come close. He fared better in those advanced stats than he did in simple stats, but start looking at those advanced stats and you’ll find a clear winner: Brandon Flowers.
All of this points back to the general knock on the Pro Bowl: it’s a popularity contest. In essence, I’m okay with that. I always have the Pro Bowl on, but, just like early season college games, I’m not watching. It’s just background noise. The caveat is if Tony Richardson or Casey Wiegmann is playing. While they’re on the field, the game has my full, undivided attention. The players essentially agree not to play real trench warfare because nobody wants to get hurt in a meaningless game. This, of course, is why baseball’s All Star Game is so much more interesting: Roger Clemens has no objection to intentionally beaning a batter he doesn’t like. By contrast, you never once saw Warren Sapp try to break a guy’s ribs in a Pro Bowl. Still, regardless of whether or not anybody watches it, and regardless of how much we say it’s not a big deal, we all still look at making it as a measure of success for a player as well as for the player’s team. We call it meaningless, but we still want our guys to make it.
The idea of putting the Pro Bowl before the Super Bowl was ostensibly to attract more viewers. The epic struggle of the championship game is the climax of the season, one which needs no denouement. I disagree. To begin with, the season does need that denouement. Fans need to deprogram from the beauty that is the greatest competition in all sports. It’s superior because it’s one of the few conclusions to a season or an event that doesn’t draw out for the better part of two weeks (baseball, basketball – even the Olympics). It’s also superior simply because it’s football, and football is the greatest game ever played. Yes, I’m being subjective here, but I don’t care. I love baseball, but it will never be as riveting to me as football.
That aside, the more important reason for not having the Pro Bowl first is what I call the Summer Olympic Baseball Effect: all of the Super Bowl competitors can’t play. Theoretically the two teams that make the Super Bowl should be the two with the highest concentration of top athletes. What, then, is the purpose of an all star game wherein the best players can’t be there because they’re prepping for their next start? It’s no better than watching a bunch of college kids get whipped at America’s game every four years.
It’s that effect, however, that brings me to why I don’t want Charles, Bowe, and Waters to get the chance to play in the Pro Bowl. I want them healthy and ready to go for the Super Bowl. Ostensibly I’d rather see them able to do both, but since I have to pick, I choose the latter. I predicted this to be an 8-8 season. I didn’t predict a home run in the draft that could propel the win column into double digits. I’m not predicting the Chiefs for the Super Bowl. It’s still a long, hard road between here and there, and the competition starts getting tougher once the Jets are dispatched in the first week. I no longer rule it out of the realm of possibilities, however, and that’s a beautiful thing. The Chiefs could do this, and nothing in the world, be it the end of civil unrest in Greece, a 4-0 Cubs win over the Yankees in the World Series, or even a date with the real Halle Berry would make me happier.
Okay, I might be lying about that last part, but it would still make me very happy. Go Chiefs.