Ranking the Big Four All-Star Games

A funny thing happened last Sunday night. I turned on my TV, which had not been changed from ESPN since Lost aired three days earlier, and saw the highlights of the Pro Bowl being played on the late edition of Sportscenter. I sat on my couch, somewhat surprised that the entire Pro Bowl had taken place without me so much as thinking about it. The game had been advertised practically every 10 minutes during the Super Bowl and everybody knows that the Pro Bowl takes place the Sunday after the big game. As I watched Adrian Peterson running over the entire AFC Defense, the reason for my lapse suddenly dawned on me: I did not care at all about the game, not the slightest bit. That notion got me thinking and, accordingly, here are my All-Star game rankings for the four big American sports.

4th Place: NFL Pro Bowl. The intense physical nature of football, which makes the sport so successful in the United States, ironically results in the downfall of its All-Star game. Players cannot afford to play an extra game during the season due to the risk of injury and because of the healing time required between games. I don’t necessarily blame players for feeling this way; imagine being tackled by San Diego DT Jamal Williams (6’3″, 348) one week and then, just when you are feeling better, getting smothered by New England Pro-Bowl DT Vince Wilfork (6’2″, 325) in a game that doesn’t even count. But because the Pro Bowl takes place after the season has finished, it just has a feeling of irrelevance. Especially after a Super Bowl as exciting as the Giants-Patriots classic, the following week’s game feels like nothing short of a letdown. With the exception of Peterson (this year’s Pro Bowl MVP), players only give about 50% effort during the game again because of the risk of injury. So while the NFL enjoys a wealth of success throughout the season, they have to settle with a superfluous All-Star game. Do you really feel sorry for them?

3rd Place: NHL All-Star Game. While the NHL’s popularity has dipped slightly (to be tactful) in recent years, its midseason All-Star game is always a treat. Yes, there is very little checking and the referees have not called a penalty in the game for several years, but the level of play is still fairly intense. In addition, whereas normal contests are usually low-scoring affairs (indeed, this is one of the criticisms of hockey in general), the All-Star game features tons of offense; scores of 10-8 and 12-11 are not uncommon. Plus, goalies are always trying their hardest, despite fighting a losing battle. So if the NHL All-Star Game is so exciting, why do I have it listed at third? For the most part, it’s because only a select few know that it occurred two weekends ago, with the Eastern Conference winning a thriller 8-7 on Marc Savard’s goal with 20 seconds remaining in the third period. A game with no hype (see previous paragraph) cannot go too far.

2nd Place: NBA All-Star Game. Three words: Slam Dunk Contest. In many fans’ opinions, the actual game takes a backseat to the annual dunk competition. It is this factor (plus the fact that more people than can fit on my couch actually watch the game) that pushes basketball’s All-Star game into second place. I would estimate that players give about 75% effort in this game, more so on offense than on defense as displayed by the final scores. With perennial All-Stars, such as LeBron James, Kobe Bryant and Yao Ming, people get truly excited about seeing these players on the court at the same time, working together and making spectacular plays. However, I still think that the dunk contest takes the cake. From Michael Jordan’s gaudy shows in the 1980’s to 5’9″ Nate Robinson’s victory two years ago to Memphis forward Rudy Gay’s YouTube campaign this year, there are always great storylines in celebrating basketball’s most exciting event.

1st Place: MLB All-Star Game. And then there was one. Baseball’s Midsummer Classic is without a doubt the most exciting All-Star game, in terms of gameplay and meaningfulness. One reason for this excitement is the recently-implemented decision of awarding home-field advantage in the World Series to the league that wins the game. While some people are very skeptical of this rule, I think that it is the best thing that could happen to an All-Star game; namely, it gives the contest some actual importance! There is not too much riding on the game, but enough so that players have some incentive to play hard and managers feel the need to coach well. This has led to somewhat of a rivalry between the AL and NL, providing all the hype that fans need. Indeed, the AL has not lost the game since 1996 (don’t even get me started on the tie in 2002), so expect to see the NL hungry for a victory this year at Yankee Stadium. In terms of gameplay, baseball thrives where football does not; there is little physical contact in baseball, so players can give it their all. Even pitchers, given that they play only an inning or two, can strut their stuff; great pitching held both teams to a combined 5 runs in 2006. Throw in the Home Run Derby and you can be sure plenty of people will be watching this July.