It’s time for the Pro Bowl and NBA and NHL All-Star Games.
In an effort to fill the gap between the playoffs and the Super Bowl, the NFL will offer its annual gathering of All-Stars to play what amounts to flag football without flags on Sunday. This game used to be played in Hawaii the week after the Super Bowl but the league finally figured out that fans had their fill of football by then. Now the game is slotted in the week before the Super Bowl in Orlando. It’s a nice town, but it’s not Honolulu.
The league returned the game to AFC vs. NFC this year after three years in which the conferences didn’t matter with the rosters resembling a pickup game of two sides chosen up by Hall of Fame players like Michael Irvin and Jerry Rice.
There are a fistful of replacement players on the two rosters. New England’s Tom Brady and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan were supposed to be the starting quarterbacks but they have other obligations at the moment. So Andy Dalton of Cincinnati and Kirk Cousins of Washington get to go instead. The list of pinch hitters goes on from there with 21 on the two rosters days before the game and more likely to come.
Consider the AFC quarterback situation. The three QBs chosen were Brady, Derek Carr and Ben Roethlisberger. All are unavailable. Dalton and Alex Smith of Kansas City were plugged in. Tyrod Taylor of Buffalo and Trevor Semian of Denver were invited but unavailable. Finally, Philip Rivers of San Diego got the afterthought call to be the third QB.
Defense is not exactly a priority in this affair. There will be no blitzing of quarterbacks, one of 18 rule differences between this exhibition game and regular NFL contests. Polite tackles prevent any injuries which is a good thing. Sometimes, though, this exercise seems more like a pillow fight than a football game. It’s just not the football fans are accustomed to seeing. The Pro Bowl politeness is matched in the NBA and NHL All-Star contests where offense rules and defense drools.
The NHL’s 62nd All-Star Game is set for Los Angeles on Sunday after the skills competition on Saturday. In this one, the four divisions play a preliminary doubleheader that barely resembles regular hockey. These are semifinals with 3-on-3 play for two 10-minute halves. The winners advance to the championship All-Star Game that night.
Three-on-three skaters is the current overtime rule, although that’s subject to change at any time the league decides. Two 10-minute halves is no rule at all. The league seems to make it up as it goes along. Then there are the scores. Although last year was a 1-0 final for the Pacific Division, there have been some horrific results that hardly resemble hockey games.
Try 17-12 in 2015, or 12-9 in 2012 or 11-10 in 2011 or 12-11 in 2009. Those games were shooting galleries using goalies for target practice. That’s not hockey.
The NBA All-Stars will assemble in New Orleans over the weekend of Feb. 17. First will be the Rising Stars game between young stars with teams of players from around the world facing a team of American players. The popular skills show including the slam dunk competition and 3-point shot contest is set for Saturday and the main event All-Star Game will be played Feb. 19.
The game was moved from Charlotte to New Orleans by the NBA to protest North Carolina’s restrictive rules on which restroom facilities are to be used by members of the LGBT community.
The game will be wide open with defense being absent most of the time. Last year’s game produced 369 points for the two teams, a 196-173 victory for the West. Lots of razzle dazzle but no defense.
So, if you want to see NHL hockey or NBA basketball, watch a regular season game. As for football, well the Super Bowl ought to be interesting.
If none of that works for you, relax. Pitchers and catchers report in a couple of weeks.