Pro Bowl 2013: Players offer their take on fixing the game

USA TODAY Sports

Is it a game or a vacation? It could be gone forever after Sunday.

The NFL Pro Bowl is like a Siberian Tiger: It's on the verge of extinction.

But there are ways to save it, and some in the NFL are aiming to do just that as the game kicks off at 7 p.m. on Sunday. AFC quarterback Peyton Manning has already told his teammates the play the last two years has been "unacceptable." He wants his teammates to try harder, therefore making the game more exciting -- and keeping it around.

The theory sounds great. But not all players are buying in.

Houston Texans running back Arian Foster understands it's not the most exciting game for the NFL, but there's a reason for that:

"I see both sides of the coin, I really do," Foster said on NFL Network. "But in all honesty, with all due respect, Mr. Goodell? He's not out here taking these hits."

[...]

"The fans want a competitive game, but here you have players that have had 16-plus games, an entire season. Our bodies have worn down. This isn't basketball. You can't go play pickup football," Foster said.

One player who is listening to Manning's message is a rookie following in his footsteps: Andrew Luck.

Luck, who made the Pro Bowl after New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady pulled out of it, said it's part of his and the team's obligation to play hard:

"I guess some folks weren't happy with the play last year, but I think guys will take it upon themselves to keep this game going for many years to come and play hard," Luck said after listening to Manning's speech. "I think it is part of our obligation to make sure we play hard and this game continues."

It seems Manning's speech really pumped up the former Stanford quarterback.

But would Luck change his mind if he took a three-step drop and then was speared from the blindside by Jason Pierre-Paul? Or suffered an injury after taking a hit like that?

It's hard to say. Maybe Pierre-Paul will let him find out Sunday.

Veteran New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees said he enjoys coming back to the Pro Bowl every year. When asked about it on the NFL Network, these were Brees' first two sentences:

"I love coming to the Pro Bowl. It's a great family vacation."

For guys like Brees, who have been there and done that, it is a family vacation. He doesn't mention football or playing hard or representing his conference or "giving it his all" or making it exciting. It's a vacation for him. It's time for him to spend vacation with his family in a beautiful place.

"Oh, there's a football game Sunday? I guess I can chuck it deep a few times and then get back on the beach with my Lime-a-Rita."

When it comes to motivation for playing in the Pro Bowl, it's never seems to be about playing in the Pro Bowl. Brees wants the vacation, like many others. And Minnesota's Adrian Peterson likes the cash that comes along, according to The Associated Press:

Another motivating factor is the $50,000 bonus for members of the winning team, twice as much as the losers get.

"We get 50 more racks so we can give it to our mom, our dad, our family, or go buy a car. There's a lot you can do with 50," Peterson said.

That is a lot of racks.

Count Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald as someone who understands the importance of the game. He said it's "important that we come out and play well this year."

Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey said players "are going to miss out" if the NFL ditches the Pro Bowl:

"Peyton said it best," Broncos cornerback Champ Bailey was quoted by NFL.com. "The players who have played in this game are in the Hall of Fame. If they get rid of this game, guys are going to miss out. You won't even know who you played against because you never get a chance to meet them. It's good for that reason and many others."

Bengals left tackle Andrew Whitworth, who is making his Pro Bowl debut Sunday, wants the Pro Bowl to be moved to the week after the Super Bowl, like it used to be. He said that would help honor players in the Super Bowl, no matter win or lose.

Whitworth also admitted the level of effort has been poor, according to the Bengals' website:

"There's not any guy here that doesn't agree that it's getting a little ridiculous," Whitworth said. "I don't think it's so much about going out and playing hard. You can make the game better without hurting each other. It's about taking care of each other, too. Guys have done that. In training camp when you practice against each other. You can compete in a good way and also take care of each other. That's kind of how this game has to be."

The fate of the Pro Bowl may be decided Sunday.

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