The Pro Bowl makes me want to cry. Or scream. Or go off on a rant about why it shouldn’t be played.

Ultimately, however, this confusion is just the result of sadness that the season has ended. And maybe the reason the Pro Bowl is hated by so many people is because of this post-postseason grief, if you’ll forgive the term applied to such a trivial subject.

Mix into the fans’ mourning a group of Pro-Bowl “players” who smile and laugh while their team is down by 30, and you’ve got a recipe for low ratings. Offenses have no game plans, and defenses can’t blitz. Worst of all, the coaches all wear those ridiculous Hawaiian shirts and leis, like some kind of convention of poorly dressed John Candy impersonators. It’s eminently clear that they attend purely for the vacation and the salary bonuses.

If the game took place at midseason, like the MLB, NBA, and NHL All-Star games, perhaps this lackadaisical atmosphere would not be so bothersome. But after the intensity of the playoffs and the deafening roar of the Super Bowl, the Pro Bowl resounds like the noise a marble makes when dropped into a toilet (which is “Beloit” in case you’re wondering). It’s a sickening echo of the real game.

Sunday’s Pro-Bowl was no different, leaving me nauseous and lonesome, wondering what to do with myself for six months without pigskin. It seems the only options are either NBC’s Arena Football or Footballholics Anonymous (“My name is Noah, and I have a problem”), and neither should really exist in the first place.

In the end, nostalgia is the only recourse. The season of our commissioner 2002 was an intriguing gridiron campaign, one that will be remembered for the following five reasons, at least in my estimation:

1. The emergence of Mike Vick. If anyone had any reason to doubt the Falcons’ QB after what he accomplished in the regular season, the stunning upset of the Packers that Vick engineered at frosty Lambeau asserted this signal caller’s ascendancy to the upper echelon of NFL stardom. He’s already been compared to Michael Jordan in terms of what he could do to revolutionize his sport. There were mobile quarterbacks before Vick, but if he keeps playing the way he did in 2002, his name could become synonymous with the art of scrambling.

2. The re-emergence of Drew Bledsoe. While Vick began to blossom, Bledsoe’s seeds of glory were transplanted to the tundra up in Buffalo, where the NFL’s last great pure-pocket quarterback sprouted up like an immobile weed. And though a weak defense prevented the Bills from going to the playoffs, Bledsoe played like a man shot straight out of 1996, throwing for more than 4,000 yards and 24 touchdowns. If the Bills can build up a little bit more D, Bledsoe’s continued renaissance should mean a return to the playoffs in 2003.

3. The reassertion that a good defense is the key to success. Just look at the four championship game teams: Tampa Bay, Philadelphia, Oakland and Tennessee. With the exception of the Raiders, all had offenses that couldn’t exactly be described as juggernauts. What they did have, however, were defenses that finished among the 11 best in the league. Big-O, it seemed, went out of style outside of Oakland, as bottom-feeders like Kansas City and Minnesota featured some of the best offensive attacks. Not to mention the Rams, whose precipitous fall from grace must have Kurt Warner wondering if God has mistaken him for Job.

4. The birth of the Texans. They weren’t the best expansion team ever. They’ll never feature those nifty little oil rigs on their helmets. But they did win the battle for Texas, something that Cowboy fans may never live down. They also won a game against the Steelers in which they were outgained 422-47, an absolute fluke of a victory that will probably go down in the NFL’s annals as one of its most unlikely W’s.

5. The imbecility of Jeremy Shockey. When Shockey plowed through the Houston Texans defense in the Hall of Fame game in early August, football analysts everywhere remarked that Shockey would be a force to be reckoned with. Little did they know he’d make as much of an impact off the field as he would on it. Shockey’s antics ranged from making homophobic remarks on the Howard Stern show to throwing water on fans in San Francisco. And to think he was compared to Mark Bavaro.

Five ways to remember the 2002 season. May we savor them all during our football hibernation.