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Pro Bowl has turned into joke

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Certain one-liners have been built to stand the test of time. They are side-splittingly humorous no matter when, where or in what setting they’re told.

Credit the National Football League for supplying its own brand of comedic relief in the form of the annual Pro Bowl. Think of a punchline equipped with palm trees, sand and the unmistakable scent of sunscreen, but a punchline all the same.

The fact the 11-win Colts have only one player making the trip to Honolulu for the Jan. 26 game while the underachieving four-win train derailment known as the Cleveland Browns are sending five is outrageously funny.

So, too, is San Francisco and Kansas City, two squads curb-stomped by the Colts in their own stadiums earlier this season, each sending eight. Factor in marquee home wins against Denver and Seattle and the Pro Bowl total becomes an even more lopsided 27-1.

Somewhere within this mass snubbing is a message.

Could it be Indianapolis is a truly under-appreciated franchise that hovers beneath the NFL’s powerful radar in these post-Manning years? Or is its success this season and last rooted in a collection of good players going out and performing their roles within the framework of coach Chuck Pagano’s system?

Probably a little of both.

Eleventh-year linebacker Robert Mathis was nothing shy of spectacular during the regular season, achieving franchise standards in single-season and career sacks. Had he been prevented from his sixth Pro Bowl, this so-called showcase would have lost what little credibility it has remaining.

Mathis should have company. Colts company.

Placekicker Adam Vinatieri’s startling level of dependability, I feel, is taken for granted given his Super Bowl heroics of the past. Vinatieri, who turned 41 on Saturday, has been on the invite list for only two Pro Bowls, the most recent being in 2004.

Vinatieri has now been to three times as many Super Bowls as he has Pro Bowls. This should have been Vinatieri’s third flight to the islands and Jerrell Freeman’s first.

Indy’s second-year linebacker finished with Pro Bowl credentials (126 tackles, 5.5 sacks, six deflections and two interceptions). Freeman against Jacksonville on Sunday was again wreaking havoc with eight tackles and two pass break-ups.

Lesser arguments could be made for quarterback Andrew Luck, cornerback Darius Butler, receiver T.Y. Hilton, safety Antoine Bethea and punter Pat McAfee.

I will credit the NFL for at least attempting to make the Pro Bowl more watchable by penciling in a new gameplan.

Scrapping the old NFC vs. AFC format, the league is using perpetual limelight seekers Jerry Rice and Deion Sanders as team captains who’ll select the players in a two-day draft prior to the game.

No telling who goes first.

Maybe it’s Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, three-time Super Bowl champion Tom Brady or a dangerous downfield target such as New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham or Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

Chances are good it won’t be Robert Mathis.

That’s a shame, frankly. One would think the lone Pro Bowl representative from a playoff qualifier two years running would be someone truly special. A game-changing talent whose regular-season impact would garner better support.

If the Colts don’t make the Super Bowl and Mathis is somehow chosen first, my respect for this new-look Pro Bowl gets bumped up, even if just a little.

The joke, in other words, becomes a little less funny.

Mike Beas is a sports writer for the Daily Journal. Send comments to

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