With James Lofton’s rookie season off to a strong start in 1978, another member of the Green Bay Packers casually tossed some praise his way in the locker room one day in early December.
Keep up the production, his pal said, and he might find himself in the Pro Bowl.
“I said, ‘That would be great.’ Then I had to ask another teammate, ‘What’s the Pro Bowl?’” Lofton recalled this week with a laugh. “I didn’t have a TV at Stanford, so I didn’t watch any NFL games. I knew about the 49ers and the Raiders, but it wasn’t like you watched ESPN. The internet hadn’t been invented. So I was more consumed with just being a college student.”
Four decades later, the Pro Bowl still does not count as an appointment-viewing event. Television ratings, though still higher than almost any other cable network show, are roughly half of a typical prime time regular season game’s viewership. Each year, several of the biggest stars back out for injury reasons, whether serious or not. Players from the two Super Bowl teams are pulled off the rosters, too. The on-field intensity and drama that fuels so much of the national interest in…