In 1979, SI took an intriguing look at the future of the NFL

The online vault at SI.com contains all sorts of treasures that no one has the time to search for.  Fortunately, one of our readers had both the time and inclination to find an article that I vividly recall reading at at time when I was younger than my kid is now.

In 1979, Sports Illustrated pondered the future of pro football.  Here are some of the quotes, each of which were followed by comments from Frank Deford that best can be described as pre-Internet snark.

“In the year 2000, there won’t be any contact below the waist.” —Bum Phillips, Head Coach, Houston Oilers.  (Said DeFord in response, “Yeah, O.K.”)

A dozen years after 2000, Bum’s vision has yet to come to fruition.  But it’s moving in that direction.  And it could take another big step there in the offseason, after the 2011 hit by Bills receiver Stevie Johnson on Chiefs safety Eric Berry and the hit from earlier this month by Jets guard Matt Slauson on Texans linebacker Brian Cushing.

“Players will look a lot different: lighter equipment, more formfitting shoulder pads, a different type of helmet, soft rib pads.” —Dan Rooney, President, Pittsburgh Steelers.

Of course, we won’t notice any of those differences this weekend when the Steelers play; we’ll be too distracted by the prison bumblebee throwback uniforms.

“There’ll be a little metal fleck in the football, so you can tell for sure whether the guy with the ball got over the goal line or was pushed back.” —Tex Schramm, General Manager, Dallas Cowboys.

Schramm was a sage.  And that’s one change the NFL needs to embrace.

“Everything will become more specialized. On defense, you’ll get pass rushers and run defenders, first-down and third-down defensive ends. You’ll see relief quarterbacks.” —Tom Flores, Head Coach, Oakland Raiders.

Relief quarterbacks have yet to take root, but for the 2007 season, when the Cardinals would bring out Kurt Warner whenever they fell behind. And then they’d putt Matt Leinart back in when Warner pulled things even.

“It’s a very tough, very hard game, and I think more and more it’s going to be played by the so-called underprivileged. It’s too tough, too physical a game for a society that’s become so affluent. Kids can get the same great cardiovascular exercise from soccer.” —Marv Levy.

That’s the argument that has been raised in the wake of the new sensitivity to concussions.  Football could become a way out for the have-nots, and the best of the best eventually will entertain the haves and the have-mores.

The article, after the parade of quotes, focuses on Byron Donzis, a then-47-year-old inventor who had developed a flak jacket and who had all sorts of other ideas (some crazy, some sane) about the future of pro football, from an equipment standpoint. But Deford eventually focuses on broader assessments of the game.

“The feeling is that rosters will grow, but the schedule will not (you believe that?), and that the NFL won’t expand abroad because the foreigners wouldn’t be sufficiently interested in an American game played by Americans,” Deford wrote. “No, even in 2000 the referees won’t use TV replays to assist them in making their calls.”

It’s an intriguing article. And it makes us wonder how different the NFL will be in another 33 years. Feel free to drop some ideas below.

73 responses to “In 1979, SI took an intriguing look at the future of the NFL

  1. Is it because they are underprivileged or because they are bigger and faster. There’s plenty of underprivileged small fries not making the league.

  2. By 2025, there will be only one referee on the field to place the ball and announce infractions picked up by cameras and analyzed by computers.

  3. 34 year old Marshall Manning will have just won his 4th Super Bowl for the New England Patriots, who are coached by his father Peyton, making a brittle-minded 90 some year old Jim Irsay shake his cane which subs as pill storage at the TV in disgust.

  4. In 33 years the players won’t actually physically play, they will all be controlling their own player in 11 on 11 madden for playstation 10. The games will be televised world wide.

  5. It will be played by worlds vs worlds! And robots and demons and monsters from alternate galaxies !! And they’ll use jet packs and players will get off space ships not buses , ad the booth will be miles above fields and pla wga will have different weathers and reverse polarity on alternate worlds … I think Rex Ryan will still be annoying however

  6. In 2045 they’ll just have an offensive unit on the field…they make the game so powder puff.

    Also Cris Carter may be in the HOF by then, maybe.

  7. I’ve always wondered why you couldn’t have some kind of sensor in the football… specifically the noses of the football that could assist in aided the refs on whether or not the ball crossed the goal line or not. I’d like to think that we’d see that in my lifetime.

  8. In 33 years…

    China will have an NFL franchise, if not their own league or division.

    Technology will be so well advanced that the Commissioner will not be able to keep it out. Calls will very rarely ever be missed as we rely on more basic technology that makes traditional blown calls impossible to miss.

    Fans will be able to control angles and views from home and watch the game in high quality 3D from a variety of unique perspectives.

    Fans will be able to experience the plays just as the players through their POV and a very lifelike VR experience. They will also be able to insert themselves into any position and play simulated games where they get to make different choices than what the actual players chose on any given play they want to redo for fun, or play brand new games from scratch. These systems will become the foundation for training/practice, with much less physical practice as that will be deemed barbaric, unnecessary, and inefficient. Players can even be coached remotely.

    Most arguments and debates will revolve around the fairness and legality of enhanced players that use modern technology to improve their bodies in a vast multitude of different ways. The system of scoring as we know it will be modified.

  9. In 33 years, games will last 4.5 hours, because there will be a mandatory 30-second commercial after every play. The average American worker will make $75,000 a year, but will rarely attend an NFL game because the cheapest ticket will be $5,000 per game.

  10. 1979 Oakland Raiders!

    Wonder if Lester Hayes and Jack Tatum paid pool hits to Ted Hendricks for knocking the taste out of Joe Ferguson’s mouth back when such acts weren’t frowned upon…

  11. 33 years from now Dallas will still be without a SB win, and Jerry Jones frozen head will proclaim that they are close…

  12. Did anyone successfully predict the 24/7 media overexposure that now exists? The fact that some fans will become irrepressible trolls and devote their entire lives to flaming NFL-related message boards?

  13. In 2045 there will be a pill to cure concussions and training staff will be trained in using stem cells in the event that a player loses a limb or something.

  14. “It’s a very tough, very hard game, and I think more and more it’s going to be played by the so-called underprivileged. It’s too tough, too physical a game for a society that’s become so affluent. Kids can get the same great cardiovascular exercise from soccer.” —Marv Levy.

    That’s the argument that has been raised in the wake of the new sensitivity to concussions. Football could become a way out for the have-nots, and the best of the best eventually will entertain the haves and the have-mores.

    By far the biggest point in this article if you ask me. It’s pretty big deal in society but no one will ever really look at it this way. Or at least no one will ever really say much about it.

  15. In 33 years, a kid who is today four years old will be on the Patriots bandwagon as they begin to rise from years of mediocrappy play, and talking about their three Super Bowl wins as if they were actually around for any of them. Kinda like how some Niner fans are today.

  16. II can’t believe the computer chip in the ball thing hasn’t happen yet. There should also be lasers shot up from the top of the goal posts so you can see if it’s good or bad when the ball go over the top.

    By 2030 each players shoes will have a unique computer chip inside them and there will be sensors on the sidelines that will tell with 100% certainty if they stepped out. Helmets will simply get better until the point where they prevent concussions. Players will begin to have preventative surgery to prevent injury. For example ACL strengthening surgey could be done before a player enters the NFL to prevent ACL tears.

  17. In 33 years the Jets will have completed their 75th anniversary since Joe Namath and the Jets last won the Super Bowl.

  18. The reason why Tom Flores and other RAIDERS are not in the HOF is because RAIDER haters like Gantt are actually allowed to vote.

    What a joke. Branch, Flores and Brown should add to the already extensive list of RAIDERS already enshrined. Many more than the bolts, chiefs or broncos to be certain.

  19. Sensors will be woven into the threads of the uniforms so any line player grabbing a jersey will be immediately identified. This innovation will mark the end of the Eagles, 49ers, and Dallas franchises since they will no longer have a functional defensive or offense line.

  20. I like that the piece mentioned Bum Phillips because I have an excuse to write how awesome Bum Phillips is. That dude has said some of the funniest things in history. I use his “nod n grin” advice to this day.

  21. In 2025 Jim Marshall and Cris Carter will make it to the final ballot for HOF and both will lose.

    Brett Favre will become the head coach of the expansion team The Mississippi Wranglers. They will pass on every down

    And the vikings and bills will go on to lose 4 more super bowls each leaving them both 0-8

  22. Much smaller helmets. The plastic will b more advanced o it adds protection for the skull (which is y helmets exist anyways) but players will b less inclined to use their helmets preventing concussions significantly

  23. Every Quarterbacks jersey will have a thin red horizontal line. It will be the only place you can touch them without being penalized and fined.

  24. In 33 years, Monday Night Football will still have terrible commentators, the league will be playing 20 regular season games, goalposts will be replaced by some sort of laser device in the shape of goalposts, and L.A. will have had and lost another team.

  25. In 2013, following 16 years of futility with only one playoff win, the Cowboys finally acknowledge that they are “all hat and no cattle” and disavow all future use of the arrogant term “America’s Team”.

  26. In 2035 the NFL will outsource the entire league to India simply because they will find a way to make more money that way. Blackouts will be enforced in all american cities forcing fans to fly out of the country to watch their “home” team.

  27. In 33 years it will be a safer sport to play because spinal, neck and head injuries will be curable/preventable. Fields will expand to 110 yards due to kickers regularly hitting 65 yard field goals and quarterbacks who can throw 80 yards accurately. Media viewers (note, I did not say TV) will be able to pick any angle of viewing they want. Players will be able to talk to each other during play.

  28. trollhammer20 says:
    Oct 25, 2012 2:28 PM
    In 33 years, a kid who is today four years old will be on the Patriots bandwagon as they begin to rise from years of mediocrappy play, and talking about their three Super Bowl wins as if they were actually around for any of them. Kinda like how some Niner fans are today.
    —————————————————-

    The Niners have only been bad for about 10 years. And I’m only in my mid-20s but I remember the Super Bowl against the Chargers pretty vividly. And when I was little I used to imitate my favorite player Joe Montana by raising my arms like he did after every touchdown. And in all honesty, screw you because having stuck with my team through the Dennis Erickson and Mike Nolan years, it only makes it so much better now when we beat whatever crappy team you root for. Niners fans are some of the most loyal fans there are.

  29. 1. If 12-21-12 is just another day, 2. There won’t be football in 33 years. It will be the best of the best going head-to-head in a Running Man style competition while the rest of us scream for blood on the public jumbotron and rummage through dirty garbage cans for food.

  30. In 33 years Bill Belichek, after not having aged at all, will pull his skin off and he reveal to us what we have been expecting all along: he is an extraterrestrial cyborg with unlimited life and will coach forever.

  31. In 33 years, every team will have adopted the “Read Option” / “Spread Option” formations that they run in college and at that time football will fade into the night air.

  32. In 2045 there will be two teams. They will be called the Coastal Donkeys and the Middle Country Elephants.

    All play calls will be decided via online polling by the fans. After each play there will be a panel of 45 that discusses the relative merits of each play.

    All scoring plays will be review-able by the Supreme Court.

    The Super Bowl champion will be the team that receives the greatest contributions from it’s fans.

  33. Love the comments about “flag football.” I used to kid myself that if I really worked out, I could play football at this level. Today, the size these guys are, and the speeds even the biggest can run at – I think I’d just as soon get hit by a car going 25. Would love to see some of the recliner Heismann posters here take a few blindside hits in this “flag football” league and then see what they had to say.

  34. In 33 years…forget that, I can’t tell you wants happening three days from now.

    Here’s a little flipped twist, legalized and heavily used steroids and HGH. Maybe proven to be healthy or maybe an alternate league started in a country where they can get away with it and broadcast it over the internet

  35. The Raiders will have moved to LA and then back to Oakland. Two more times. This occurs after Zombie Al Davis arises, and he surprisingly looks better than he did the last few years he was alive.

    People will still debate if Jon Gruden will leave the Monday Night booth for a head coaching job, and the fans hope it happens because he’s still talking up every player in the league.

    After allowing bionics for player, Brett Favre gets a new arm, back, hips, and legs and makes a comeback. Two weeks later, dong shots circulate with his 4-toed metal feet in them.

    Ben Roethlisberger will be accused of 12 more assaults. The Rooneys will continue to coddle and defend him while he’s a good player. As soon as age catches up though, they will take a “principled” stand and cut him.

    Jerry Jones will have so many facelifts, he cries from his ears.

    And Art Modell will still be hated in Cleveland!

  36. Within a dozen years the NFL will have 40 teams, each of the current divisions adding one; it will also have an 18-game regular season (that possibly by as soon as 2014) and 16 teams making the playoffs.

    And the Super Bowl will be played on the Presidents’ Day weekend, as soon as they do go to 18 games. There will be no Pro Bowl, and no week off between the conference championship games and the Super Bowl.

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to leave a comment. Not a member? Register now!