For those of you lamenting the end of football season and eagerly awaiting the reporting of pitchers and catchers, there is a transitional period that we’re in the midst of that might wake you from your doldrums.
It’s the All-Star bonanza, which gives us four all-star contests in a matter of a few weeks. So, amidst the All-Star-induced craze, I figured I’d rank the six big star-studded contests that garner our attention here.
6. The Pro Bowl
There’s nothing more irrelevant than Stupor Sunday. The game can be at the site of the Super Bowl. It could be in Hawaii. It doesn’t matter. There’s no intensity or drive to the game whatsoever. It’s an all-star game that by design excludes members of the teams contesting the championship the following week, which usually isn’t too many players.
Since it comes at the end of the season, players actually have less incentive to play than in a mid-season game because nursing a dubious injury gives them a few extra weeks of vacation, an ever more important commodity for NFL players in an ever-lengthening season. Case and point: As I wrote last year, the AFC ended up with the league’s fifth, seventh, and eighth best quarterbacks representing them. I just hope that in 2014, the powers that be have the immense idiocy to bring the Pro Bowl to the Super Bowl site. Guess how many dodgy knees and sore backs player will have when faced with February in East Rutherford!
5. NBA All-Star Game
The NBA doesn’t do much for me usually, so it’s no surprise that its offensively orgiastic dunk-fest rakes pretty low on my all-star radar. I don’t have nay particular desire to watch two teams chuck up uncontested threes, get to the basket unmolested, and play no defense while hot-dogging and cherry-picking the entire game. Heck, I can see that most nights in the regular season. The auxiliary all-star festivities are nothing to write home about. I love the three-point contest, though the skills competition is a let down and the slam dunk contest’s watchability ebbs and flows like Charles Barkley’s casino debt: sometimes looking up, but almost always bad. If LeBron and Dwight Howard want to turn the slam dunk contest into another decade like Mike and Dominique gave us, I’ll watch. Until then, I don’t want to watch Nate Robinson bounce off the front of the rim for 15 straight minutes.
4. Senior Bowl
Consolidation has helped make the bowl the big-bopper, now that the Hula Bowl and the Blue/Grey Game have faded into oblivion and the East-West Shrine Game’s popularity is waning. I must admit I miss the vastness of postseason invites given to players you’ve followed for four years under the old system in their last meaningful contest wearing their collegiate colors. But, like most of the all-star contests, I’m not watching unless I have a vested rooting interest in a particular player. That didn’t happen this year, which led to the quasi-sarcastic comment y me in the newsroom at around 9 o’clock of, “That still exists?” ESPN’s commandeering of the proceedings, including televised practices at Todd McShay ad nauseum, doesn’t boost the popularity.
3. MLB All-Star Game
The midsummer classic has had a few noteworthy bumps in the road of late. There was Tie-gate in 2002, the ongoing debate over just how meaningful the whole home-field advantage thing is, and the media manufacturing of the N.L.-A.L. rivalry which is a shadow of the actual rivalry that once existed. Still, it has rebounded of late. Each player’s role is small enough so as not to negatively impact the season they’re in the midst of—with the exception of pitchers who start the game the Sunday before. Plus, the games have been great. Only one All-Star game in the last decade has been decided by more than three runs, and they don’t result in the comical scores other sports’ showcases do. The 2008 Classic in Yankee Stadium was one of those sporting events that makes you remember where you were and who you were with when you saw it. The rivalry between leagues isn’t as intense as it could be, but there’s enough tension to keep things fresh and heated each year. The Home Run Derby is an overinflated spectacle—much like most of its participants—and has been far surpassed by the drama of the game in my mind.
2. NHL All-Star Game
Something about the camaraderie of the sport makes this game have a special air to it. It’s rarely a competitive game and it results in the kind of comic book scores that plague other league’s Bugs Bunny contests. But the skills competition is beyond compare, between the futures game and various contests. I could watch Ray Bourque shoot at targets or see Al Iafrate blast that howitzer of a Sherwood he carried until the cows come home. It also has the most freshness to it. The change in format from East-West, USA-World, and the backyard shinny-style team selection keeps things alive. Plus, the option that has been bandied about of taking the game outside a la the Winter Classic would make it a spectacle to behold. But most of all, it has an aspect that most all-star contests lack: an incentive for defense. The goaltenders are all-stars to, and they want to show off their craft as much as any scorer. I still would rather see the Olympic tournament, which is basically a three-week all-star tournament, but a single All-Star game works for me too.
1. MLS All-Star Game
Ok, ok, probably not the most popular choice in the world. But think about the elements it has it its favor. A serious impetus for each side to win (for the Americans to prove they belong with the ranks of Europe’s best; for the Europeans not to get tripped up by those bed-wetting Americans). Equivalent handicaps for each side (the All-Stars have limited time to mesh as a team; the European team is only in its preseason preparations). And a literal us-against-the-world outlook. It’s a win-win for all sides. The European team gets to come to America, exposing its players to exotic locales, spreading its brand to new markets, and making a pretty penny for appearances. The American soccer market gets easy access to the European game, only furthering the growing interest in the sport domestically and abroad. There’s only so much information about the state of the MLS that can be gleaned from this contest because of the progress of both sides’ seasons. But it’s still an entertaining and engaging showcase for the beautiful game.