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Pro Bowl may be mocked, but it’s popular

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph won MVP honors at the Pro Bowl.

Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph won MVP honors at the Pro Bowl.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell’s annual state of the league address is set for Friday, and he’s certainly not lacking for serious subject matter. But somewhere down the list, below such topics as the long-term effects of concussions, a potential 18-game schedule, and yes, deer-antler spray, is the status of the Pro Bowl.

While it’s not a pressing matter, it’s a fascinating one. The Pro Bowl is often derided as an inconsequential game played at half-speed because its participants are more focused on getting through it unscathed than actually winning. Such accusations are mostly just, as are those that suggest it doesn’t matter to many players beyond a free trip to Hawaii. Twenty-nine players on this year’s AFC and NFC squads were replacements for selections who bowed out for one reason or another.

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There has been chatter about discontinuing the game altogether. While there haven’t been loud howls of protest by fans, the game’s television ratings strongly suggest that — can it be? — the Pro Bowl is actually popular with viewers.

The NFC’s less-than-suspenseful 62-35 victory Sunday on NBC earned 12.2 million viewers and a 7.1 rating, outdrawing its network competition that night. While those numbers were both down 3 percent from last year’s game and marked a significant dip from the massive ratings regular-season NFL games typically garner, it was still the most-watched and highest-rated All-Star game of any of the four major sports in the 2012 season, edging the MLB All-Star Game on Fox, which had a 6.8 rating and 10.9 million viewers.

In other words, while the Pro Bowl isn’t nearly as popular as regular-season offerings (31 of the 32 most-watched shows during the fall television season were NFL games), it still has extraordinary appeal to viewers.

An NBC spokesman offered a synergistic generality when asked about the Pro Bowl’s current level of appeal to the network, saying, “Sunday night is football night and the Pro Bowl is appointment viewing for a lot of people.” NBC, of course, broadcasts a weekly Sunday night game and its “Football Night in America’’ programming is acclaimed. But that provides little insight in regard to the network’s true feelings about the game.

Perhaps Goodell will take a moment to elaborate on where he stands concerning the Pro Bowl while addressing NFL matters Friday. But should he not, his comments during a chat with fans on Reddit.com this week will have to stand as his chief statement on a game that few confess to truly enjoying, but millions upon millions tune in to watch.

“I watched the game and noticed the improved quality of the game,’’ Goodell said. “I appreciate the players’ commitment in this regard. We need to continually work to make our game better for the fans. I look forward to getting detailed player comment and input over the next few weeks.”

Words had impact

Goodell may face even more pointed questions Friday about the effects of concussions and what the NFL is doing to keep its players healthy in the aftermath of the chilling if hardly surprising comments from Rodney Harrison Thursday night on NBC Sports Network’s “Costas Now’’ program.

Harrison, one of the league’s most ferocious hitters during his 15-year career with the Chargers and Patriots, has thrived as a studio analyst on NBC. But he told host Bob Costas that he is “scared to death’’ about the future, saying he suffers from anxiety and isolation that he believes is fallout from the estimated 20 concussions he suffered as a player. Junior Seau, Harrison’s longtime teammate who committed suicide last May, is among his contemporaries who were found to be suffering from the effects of brain trauma after posthumous examination.

“A lot of these players are really, really suffering, Bob,” Harrison said. “And this stuff is for real because I’m experiencing it now. I’m scared to death. I have four kids, a beautiful wife, and I’m scared to death what might happen to me 10 or 15 years from now.”

Super lineup

The Super Bowl has set a record as the most-watched program in United States television history each of the past three years, with last year’s Giants-Patriots matchup drawing 111.3 million viewers.

Super Bowl XLVII kicks off at 6:35 p.m. Sunday on CBS (with Jim Nantz and Phil Simms on the call), and the network has a reasonable expectation that the 49ers-Ravens showdown will surpass last year’s viewership. But there is plenty planned to draw viewers before the game begins.

The pregame show, hosted by James Brown and featuring analysts Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe, Boomer Esiason, and guest Clay Matthews of the Packers, will begin at 1 p.m.

A feature on former Ravens linebacker and current senior advisor to player development O.J. Brigance, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig’s disease), looks particularly compelling.

CBS News anchor Scott Pelley’s interview with President Obama will air at 4:30 p.m. And it was announced Thursday that Jennifer Hudson will sing “America the Beautiful’’ with 26 members of the Sandy Hook Elementary School chorus. Twenty-six students and faculty from the Newtown, Conn., school were killed by a gunman Dec. 14.

Favre sitting in

Barring one of his infamous changes of heart, legendary quarterback Brett Favre will serve as a guest analyst on the NFL Network’s pregame coverage when he joins Rich Eisen, Marshall Faulk, and Deion Sanders on “NFL GameDay Morning” at 9 a.m. Sunday. That might be a record for collective ex-player egos on one studio set, at least until Ray Lewis shows up on ESPN next year . . . One non-football note this week: NESN hired Mike Baker as its remote coordinating producer of broadcasts. Baker, a Boston University graduate, worked previously at NESN from 1984-93 and has produced high-profile events for ESPN, ABC, NBC, Versus, and the NFL Network. He was most recently a freelancer at ESPN. He replaces the respected Russ Kenn, who left NESN in January after nine years.

Chad Finn can be reached at finn@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @GlobeChadFinn.
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