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The Future of Football at Super Bowl 50

February 4, 2016

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Professional football fans ushered in the 1970s with an upset win by the Kansas City Chiefs over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl IV.  The 2016 contest brings the number of NFL championship games in the Super Bowl era to an even 50.

In 2066, the National Football League will celebrate Super Bowl 100. That is, if the NFL exists at all.

The last five years have seen increasing concerns about the health of players in the most popular form of sport entertainment in the United States. Post-mortem examinations of deceased former players have shown signs of concussion-related medical issues connected with suicide. Players retire from football careers with permanent injuries ranging from broken backs, ruptured tendons and worse. High school athletes have died on the field of play. The National Football League admitted in federal court that nearly one-third of its retired players will experience cognitive brain damage later in life.

In forthcoming years, American football will face difficult challenges as the health of its participants will continue to clash with the reality of a sport characterized by finely-tuned violence.

It took a President of the United States to curb football violence in the early 20th century. As John J. Miller wrote in The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football,   “(Roosevelt) thought that rough sports were good for boys…he talked about it that way.”  During the 21st century, it won’t be a President deciding the future of the sport. It will be the courts and the health care driving the conscience of a nation forced to conclude if the cost of American football is worth it.

By February 2066, the forecast date for the NFL’s Super Bowl 100, health insurance for sports activities will become so costly that the game known as Full Contact American Football will be played by young people in only a few select states: Alabama, Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. The citizens of those states will have decided in referendums to accept legal and medical risks, and approve the legacy form of the sport.

But teams and clubs from every other state and territory, from high school to the professional leagues, will contest a form of American football that will be a combination of two-hand touch, rugby and lacrosse without the sticks. The proving ground for these rules will be the Arena Leagues, and they will prove very popular with the public, with scores of 101-100 happening every weekend.

Quarterbacks will throw for 1000 yards a game. Runners will rip off 75 yard TDs on a regular basis. Decreasing severity of injuries will keep more players in the game, and allow rosters to be cut in half. Playing careers will double in length. Still, due to the continuing influence of the full contact form of football on the university level, Ohio State, Pitt, Florida State, Alabama, Auburn and Texas will dominate the college game. But Pacific Coast schools, led by Nike and other sports apparel companies, will be the best at the new rules.  Men – and women – from those universities and clubs will be among the new athletic heroes of the age.

Yet even with the new rules, the revamped NFL will still struggle for relevance in a sports entertainment landscape that will overwhelmingly favor soccer and basketball.   It will seek inclusion to the Olympics when the Games attempt reinstatement as a global sporting event. Sports fans who don’t feel an attachment to the still-rolling National Hockey League will only be able to recall the old days of violent American football through ancient video saved on digital sticks, thinking back to the days when colossal men risked broken bodies and faded minds through their participation in Super Bowl 50.

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