Column: Set your DVR for Pro Bowl. Now. Seriously


Column: Set your DVR for Pro Bowl. Now. Seriously

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell warned players a while back that he was prepared to drop the Pro Bowl if they didn't pick up the level of play. Next thing you know, he'll be threatening to hold his breath.

Instead of calling his bluff, which is what anyone who doesn't get the consolation prize of a week's vacation in Hawaii should have done, they promised to try harder. At the time, it sounded like one of those things kids say just to get their parents off their backs. That seemed even more true this week, when cellar-dwelling Kansas City somehow managed to get five players selected to the AFC squad. That's three more than the number of wins the Chiefs have posted so far this season - when they were supposed to be trying - which raises the question: Will anyone who tunes into the Pro Bowl on Jan. 27 be able to tell the difference?

That's the problem facing every pro sport that stages an all-star game these days: It's tough to tell whether anyone's heart is in it anymore. Most veterans would rather take the days off than whatever cash or exposure it provides, and nearly all of them can afford it. More than two dozen passed on an opportunity to show up for last year's 59-41, do-no-harm win by the AFC over the NFC. By the end of that one, defenders were waving ballcarriers by with the kind of flourishes usually reserved for bullfights. Even a solid company man like Goodell had to admit it was an embarrassment.

``If we cannot accomplish that kind of standard,'' the commissioner said during a radio interview in October, referring to the league's high-intensity regular season, ``I am inclined to not play it. It is really tough to force competition, and after a long season, to ask those guys to go out and play at the same level they played is really tough.''

Impossible, though, is more like it.

Because the Super Bowl is played at a neutral site, Goodell can't follow the lead of baseball boss Bud Selig and try to coax players into caring about the outcome by awarding home-field advantage to the winning side. There's nothing to be borrowed from the NBA's version, either, because basketball - unlike football - can be entertaining without anyone actually playing defense, as fans of the Charlotte Bobcats can attest. And there's no reason to even mention the NHL in this context, because nothing that Commissioner Gary Bettman has come up with during his tenure is likely to be worth stealing.

So what should Goodell do?

Exactly what he's doing now: Pretend to be concerned, and leave it at that.

Despite a few head-scratching decisions this year - sticking too long with replacement referees; trying to punish the New Orleans Saints more than Bountygate warranted - Goodell hasn't lost his touch. He's not about to cancel the Pro Bowl. The one lesson that's been reinforced time and again since he took the job five years ago is that there's no such thing as too much NFL - on the tube, online and even when most of the players are on vacation.

Nearly five million people tuned into the league's scouting combine at some point this spring to watch players who hadn't even made the cut lift weights and run around in shorts and T-shirts. And last year's Pro Bowl game, bad as it was, still pulled in better numbers than any of its rivals - an average of 12.5 million viewers, even if most of them were asleep by the end.

So Goodell knew exactly what he was doing when he suggested the NFL might skip the game and instead honor the players selected to the Pro Bowls rosters during a ceremony. All-Star games are popularity contests after all, and the NFL's participants are chosen according to a vote among the league's players, coaches and fans, with each group given equal weight in the process.

But if you've followed the arguments about who was left out, you'll find very little griping between the first two groups - with the possible exception of players who promised the family a week in Hawaii. Instead, it's coming from the same fans who will doze off during the game, but can't for the moment imagine how the Cowboys' Dez Bryant didn't get picked, or how overrated but still popular Green Bay center Jeff Saturday got the nod over linemate Josh Sitton, or why all those Chiefs are hanging around.

So consider this your wake-up call, fans, even if it came a month early.


Jim Litke is a national sports columnist for The Associated Press. Write to him at jlitke(at) and follow him at

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Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game


Caps recall goalie Pheonix Copley after Braden Holtby 'tweaked something' in Dallas game

You thought the Caps had a goalie rotation before, but now they have added a third netminder in the mix.

Pheonix Copley has been recalled from the Hershey Bears and will backup Philipp Grubauer for Washington's game in Detroit, the team announced Thursday.

The move comes in response to an injury concern for Braden Holtby.


Dallas Stars forward Remi Elie collided with Holtby midway through the third period on Tuesday as Holtby was extending to make a save. Holtby reacted awkwardly to the collision and could be seen skating and flexing his leg during the next stoppage.

With only nine games remaining in the regular season, Holtby's injury is a major concern. Given his recent struggles, the final few weeks of the season offered a chance for Holtby to get his game back to form. Just where his game will be when he is 100-percent healthy again is certainly a storyline to watch.


The good news for Washington, however, is that Grubauer is perhaps more ready this season to lead the team than he ever has been and confidence in him around the team should be high.

Since Thanksgiving, Grubauer has played in 22 games with a 17-11-4 record, a .939 save percentage, 1.85 GAA and two shutouts. No goalie who has played in 20 games or more has registered a better save percentage or GAA. He will certainly be looked upon to carry the load until Holtby returns. Whether this means he now has the inside track on starting in the playoffs, however, remains to be seen. That will depend largely on just when Holtby is ready to return and how Grubauer plays down the stretch.

Copley, 26, has gone 14-16-6 with two shutouts, a .898 save percentage and 2.86 GAA in 38 games in Hershey this season. He was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Washington in 2014. He was traded to the St. Louis Blues in the package that netted the Caps T.J. Oshie, but was reacquired by Washington in Feb. 2017 in a trade deadline deal that included Kevin Shattenkirk.

At the time, it was believed Copley would be the team's backup for the 2017-18 season with Grubauer likely headed to Vegas in the expansion draft. Vegas, however, took Nate Schmidt instead which led to Copley spending the season in Hershey. The Caps now will be happy for the extra goalie depth for as long as Holtby's health remains a concern.

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Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

Wizards to give fans Phil Chenier emoji signs and 1978 title shirts for special weekend

This weekend was already going to be special for Washington Wizards fans. Now they will get souvenirs to remember it.

As part of their celebration of Phil Chenier's legendary career and the 40th anniversary of their 1978 NBA championship, the Wizards are handing out emoji signs on Friday night and commemorative t-shirts on Sunday. All fans in attendance will receive a giveaway.


The emoji sign has Chenier's face on it and will be handed out for the March 23 game against the Nuggets. Chenier will have his jersey retired at halftime during the game. 

The emoji sign is presented by NBC Sports Washington. You're welcome, Authentic Fans.


The shirts will be given out on Sunday when the Wizards host the New York Knicks. 

Here's the front...

And the back...

Let's take a closer look at that back...

As a reporter who has received many giveaways over the years at pro sports stadiums, these are uniquely awesome. Should be a great weekend for Wizards fans. See you at the arena.


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