“Peyton Manning drops back looking deep down the sideline. He lets it go and gets hit hard by Ray Lewis. Demaryius Thomas jumps for the ball, and Terrell Suggs levels him,” Jim Nance describes to his CBS audience. A play like the one between the Denver Broncos and Baltimore Ravens has surely happened at least once in the past 10 seasons, and multiple times by swapping Thomas for Reggie Wayne from Manning’s Indianapolis Colts days. However, I am sure a game 20 years from now with Marshall Manning at the helm will resemble more a game of flag football than anything his father ever played.
All the attention recently to head injuries in the NFL from former players, helmet makers, the media, and finally the owners has put the league and its current players in quite a quandary. How can all parties compromise the need for player safety and continue to keep the physical aspects of the game? I believe the pressure from the lawsuits and the eventual depletion of quality players will force the NFL to look for a viable alternative to keep both without having to make any compromises.
The answer lies in a future version of virtual reality.
I must admit that I have never played the Madden video game and really only watched my 13-year-old son play a few times. However, I do know he would just as likely want to play as the New York Giants than watch the Giants play on television. I can only imagine what Madden 2033 might be like to play. Twenty years of the best gaming programmers and virtual reality engineers working for the NFL to develop a game should produce one with the integrity and excitement of this year’s Super Bowl. I realize, however, that there will be more roadblocks to this vision of mine than Giants great Michael Strahan received on his way to delivering a sack.
In my understanding of virtual reality and programming, I believe that 20 years of progress in simulation technology and gaming programs can easily produce a quality football game. Moreover, the game will still utilize the talents of the individual players. Unlike a Madden game where one person (head coach) controls the whole game, the eleven players in the game will control their own fates through the virtual technology. Big hits, turnovers, great catches will still impact the game. Moreover, the limits of the players’ natural physical gifts cannot be overlooked. No receiver can jump up eight feet to catch a ball. This type of limitation will also keep the gifted players in demand and not replaced by a composite programmed player. A player’s abilities can be simulated but not programmed.
While I don’t think anyone who has already watched a football game with a beer in hand would agree with me, I do believe a generation weaned on playing sports games on Play Station and X-Box will have a more open mind. Let’s suppose this new version of the game appeals to the football fans of 2033; both the owners and the players have much to gain.
The owners have incentives from increased opportunities to spread the game globally without the hassles of travel. The increased value from international branding and licensing that playing regular season games in London garners will multiply by an order of magnitude. Franchises in the future may include Moscow, Mumbai and Melbourne. In addition, as long as the game has integrity, participants of the football derivative enterprises of gambling and fantasy should embrace the outcomes, thus increasing the numbers of people interested in the NFL on a global basis to the billions.
With lawsuits and parental caution over concern for head injuries depleting the ranks of organized football from Pop Warner through college, the owners will have to field teams from a smaller pool of players. This small number of highly talented players will have much safer and longer careers. Since the teams will not need a depth chart due to injury, size of rosters may drop in half. I cannot say how this group of NFL players will come into being, but I am sure 20 years of negotiations within the union and with the owners will find some solution.
If the NFL has a contingency plan to move next year’s New York Super Bowl to Saturday in case of weather issues, I am sure the owners will look at many contingency plans for the long-term viability of the league. The product the NFL has put on the field for the past 80 years has grown and changed with demands from patrons, players and owners. A solution for the dilemma created by the interplay of safety and integrity concerns can come from a number of directions, and one may be using technology to change the game completely.
Jonathan Falk has a bachelor’s in biochemistry from the University of California at San Diego and an M.B.A. from the University of Colorado. He can be reached at email@example.com. Mr. Falk is a partner with Mindscape Trading, a proprietary trading firm. He also operates Jaxtraw Poker, a site dedicated to teaching people of all ages and levels how to improve their gaming skills. He recently started a blog, Jax on Everything.