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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

2011 Pro Bowl or NHL All-Star Game, I Will Not be Watching Either One

Remember when the All-Star Game meant something? I don’t either. There was a time when something impactful actually happened at these exhibitions, like the 1964 NBA All-Star Game, when the players threatened to not take the floor in the final minutes before tip-off unless a pension plan was hashed out by then-league president Walter Kennedy. Baseball used to be so enamored with its best players that it used to have two all-star games a season. As far as sports history goes, that might as well have been a Wilt Chamberlain’s harem-worth of years ago.

Baseball’s mid-summer classic was once the stuff of legends. Carl Hubbell didn’t need a telescope to strike out Ruth, Gehrig, and Foxx to get himself out of a jam. Pete Rose famously torpedoed Ray Fosse, and they’re trying to convince us that NOW it counts? How about Reggie Jackson’s home-run, the ball yet another entity leaving Detroit in warp-speed fashion. The modern version of baseball’s grand exhibition has given us rosters that coincidentally look plagiarized from the Mitchell Report or the infamous 2002 game, which was apparently played with soccer rules. A year later, MLB decided that the only way to ensure that “this time it counts” was to enable the winning league to garner home-field advantage in the World Series. I wonder if the Giants sent Matt Capps a ring, World Series share, or a Blockbuster gift certificate yet.

The NBA’s all-star bonanza has had its Magic moments (’92), but more or less, the only East versus (Delonte) West moments of any intrigue already occurred during the last offseason. If wearing sunglasses indoors or bling is your thing, then give it a watch. Prediction: East 170 West 168 (or vice versa). (Not shown: defense, interest.)

This weekend, fans will have the opportunity to choose between the NFL and NHL’s annual all-star showcase, which is akin to asking someone with which side of a two-by-four they liked to get whacked over the head. The NFL has been holding this perennial exhibition since before Al Davis began roundly suing the league and firing coaches. It has largely been held in Hawaii. After all, what do fans enjoy more than watching highly-paid athletes meander on a football field while getting a free trip to the Aloha State? For years it was played right after the Super Bowl because who isn’t ready for some football on the second Sunday in February? Last year, the NFL brain trust moved the date of the game to the bye week before the Super Bowl and staged it at the championship game site, Miami (the Hawaii of the East?).

This year, the game was tossed back to the islands, like an undersized mahi-mahi, but still the same excitement levels reign. Since the Pro Bowl is held before the Super Bowl, the players from the top two teams are eliminated. The remaining starters, a selection of some of the most law-abiding the league has to offer, mysteriously come down with cases of injuries/illnesses/apathy that medical science has still struggled to explain. The list of players to participate in the game actually contains more question marks than the jacket of the guy who screams at you in that infomercial that comes on around the prime time of 4-5 AM. By the time the ball is kicked off this weekend in Honolulu (assuming that there is a healthy/interested enough kicker to do so), the contest may look less like a Pro Bowl and more like the Grey Cup, or at least a chipped bowl.

You may have to leave your trunks at home if you attend the NHL All-Star Game in sunny Raleigh. If you decide to catch it on the tube, please fire off some flares whenever you find the game on Versus (three years, still looking) or whatever ham radio station is airing the game these days. Hockey has tried various ideas to play three-card Monte with its fans in hopes of drawing an audience to its mid-season spectacle. Once upon a time, the NHL thought a lighted puck was a good idea, similar to those discs they give you at your local chain restaurant when you have to wait in line to get your table and subsequent angioplasty. In the late 1990s, possibly inspired by the Clinton administration’s policies on inhaling, the league decided to pit the North American All-Stars against the World in some sort of international charade. (I wonder how Estonia felt about all of that.) When fans in the U.S. began to realize that “North America” wasn’t much more than a Chelios, a Modano, and a bunch of Canadians against the Fighting Jagrs, interest began to wane.

This year, the NHL has unfurled an entirely new format for all-star asininity. Yes, the players were voted in the normal democratic way: voting early and voting often. However, this year, team captains have been picked who will decide the make-up of the teams. Yep, you read that correctly (assuming this wasn’t written in Wingdings). The Carolina Hurricanes’ Eric Staal and Detroit Red Wings’ Niklas Lidstrom will be given the time-honored privilege of selecting teams, reminding us of youthful days spent on the blacktop partaking in contentious games of kickball and “Buns Up.” The slowest kid or the one who was the fastest on the Chaucer references was the one picked last. So, how in the world do you break that news to Claude Giroux? Staal, of course.

This weekend it’s time to celebrate the best and brightest understudies of the gridiron and watch your favorite hockey stars hearken back to the 3rd grade. It’s time for some football. It’s time to drop the puck. It’s time to find a new hobby.

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