I did something horrible this weekend. Something for which I feel great shame. I degraded myself in a way I hadn’t since I was a petulant and ignorant young man. It was a victimless crime, of sorts, and the only one who was hurt was me. What I did, what I need to admit openly so as to feel some sort of absolution, is watch the NHL All-Star game. In fact, not only did I watch the game, but I preceded that horror of half-hockey and hype by watching the NHL All-Star Draft followed by the NHL All-Star Skills Competition. And as Sunday night frittered away in a sad haze of whiskey and regret, I clutched my Larry Robinson vintage Wales Conference, its polyester blend repelling my tears like an unforgiving ex-girlfriend, and I promised the absent hockey gods that I would never again demean myself like that. I would never again disrespect the game by actively condoning its corporate bonanza played at half-speed. I would refrain from the hype. And as the whiskey and tears combined to blind me in my confession of sin, I cried out to no one in particular: At least I have not sinned as my brother, at least I have not watched the NFL Pro Bowl! And in that moment, I found my redemption: combine the NHL and NFL All-Star events.
It should come as a sign that the two major league all-star events that are both unsuccessful and unlike their respective sports fall on the same weekend, for hockey and football require more physical effort and contact, and as such more chance of injury, than their basketball and baseball brethren. As a result, the all-star games themselves are played with the cautious fervor of Sidney Crosby getting out of a shower. The NBA All-Star Weekend is perhaps the most successful of the four, as their slam dunk and three-point shooting competitions provide an exhibition of the sport’s athleticism, as does the playground feel of the game itself. Additionally, it’s the one weekend a year where illegitimate NBA offspring can go to find their absent dads in one place. It’s what Shawn Kemp called the “family reunion” until he ate and fathered his way out of the game.
Baseball has it’s Midsummer Classic, an all-star game with a title nearly Shakespearian with a history and tradition to match. Plus, if Prince Fielder can weigh the same as my ’93 Honda Civic and have the body fat of an apathetic humpback whale and still sign a contract for $214 million that takes him well into his recliner and Pringles years, one at-bat against 80 mile-an-hour soft tosses every July isn’t going to hurt him. The NFL and NHL all-star “games” are played at half-speed because no one, not even the fans, want to see a player hurt in a nothing contest. So, by my reasoning, two events at half-speed added together equals one at full-speed, no? No.
I’m certainly not suggesting NFL players lace up their Bauers to take on the NHL stars, though the opportunity for Ray Lewis to try and kill some kid from Saskatchewan with his skate for snowing him could be interesting. Nor am I suggesting that NHL players throw on the pads, and try and convert a 3rd down against the NFL stars, mostly because NHLers are notorious for throwing like girls, and the Canadian players would be attempting rouges all afternoon. What I’m humbly suggesting is that the two leagues combine their all-star weekends into one massive, two-sport mega-event. And Drake could still perform, because if pro athletes have one thing in common it’s an affection for mediocre pop hip hop.
A warm location would have to be chosen, likely Los Angeles which would allow the NFL to have a presence in the city it left for Oakland and St. Louis. The all-star games themselves, the least important parts of the week of activity, could be played on Saturday (NHL, as per tradition) and Sunday (NFL, as per tradition). While these contests will never fully resemble nor respect the regular season games, one would hope the increased visibility and the judging eyes of their sporting brothers would slightly increase the level of competition. Plus, you could have NHL players coaching the Pro Bowl: “Tell Johnson to run an oot and Crabtree to run a pooast pattern there, eh.” If the NHL was to stick to its all-star draft format, have NFL players do the drafting. Imagine Michael Vick picking Clodd Gee-rux of the Philadelphia Flyers, or giggling with the belief that a joke was being played on him when Martin St. Louis comes up on stage, and only up to Vick’s hip. That, my friends, is good entertainment. Like, Randy Jackson’s America’s Best Dance Crew good.
The week could be filled with events pitting NHLers versus NFLers to benefit charities: Texas Hold’em and three-on-three basketball tournaments, trophy wife mud wrestling and a Montreal Canadien-tossing competition, tractor pulls between Iowan linemen and Albertan defencemen, and most certainly a poetry slam. And the fun wouldn’t have to stop with the players. Media related events like “Which Former Coach Can Make You Dumber, Don Cherry or Mike Ditka?”, “Who Gets Punched First By a Drunken Fan, Chris Berman or Ron MacLean?”, and “Shot for Shot of Newfoundland Rum: Bob Cole versus Pat Summerall”. And why not get management involved? Brian Burke can fight a variety of NFL GMs who use the CBA rules to their advantage, in a barn. Matt Millen and John Ferguson Jr. can try and destroy a lucky fan’s fantasy team in less than 20 minutes. Tom Coughlin and one of the Sutters could see who could go the longest without smiling while being tickled by cheerleaders and ice girls. The possibilities are endless.
On a more serious note, the week could contribute greatly to each sports’ public discourse, both publicly and privately. Seminars and panels could be held on concussion awareness, marketing, and community service. Management, media, and teams would benefit from exchanging information and opening progressive dialogues. The alumni associations could be brought in to discuss commonalities in post-career challenges, like chronic pain, depression, and substance abuse, which would lend itself to a more universal conversation with the fans. The NHL would certainly benefit from the increased exposure from the glare of the NFLs success, but there is much the NFL could learn from the NHL from grass-roots community initiatives to avoiding the spectacle of performance enhancing drugs. The exchange of ideas, and the opportunity for the leagues to expand their internal discourse, would alone be a reason to combine the events. Players, I’m sure, would learn a lot from each other, as most professional athletes live quite incestuous and insulated lives. At the very least, NFL players could learn about where Winnipeg is and NHL players could learn about what it’s like to be famous.
What combining the NFL and NHL all-star festivities would really do would be to make an event out of two non-events. While both sports do well to create excitement and interest in the communities the all-star games are held in, very little growth is seen outside of the Ottawas and Honululus. These events should be more than they are. They should aspire to be summits on sports’ role in society, exercises in community initiative, and seminal moments in the greater sporting discourse. It would certainly be an opportunity to reach out to two dichotomous fanbases in order for each to grow, and for common challenges to be met head-on by combining the NFL and NHLs considerable resources. And nobody would get injured.