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


The online vault at 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.