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The equipment Donzis is designing may be something of a double-edged sword. It is so light and pliable that even bigger players will be able to move even faster and hit even harder wearing it. At the same time, there is the potential for even greater damage to limb if not life. But Donzis is confident that technology can keep a step ahead of the destructive force of the human body, that valved urethane-coated nylon can save the players from themselves.
All his Buck Rogers pigskin devices must be viewed in context. They are not merely fascinating futuristic wonders, idle brainstorms. They are meant to improve the game, not overwhelm it. They are devices that will be controlled by the men (or women, for that matter) who wear them. It isn't just that the quarterback can use his power pack to hurl the old pigskin 135 yards on a line to a receiver jumping six feet in the air. He has to determine when to throw the power-aided ball. For his part, the receiver has to decide when to push his spring button. Or do we cross up the defense and throw to the left guard, who is no longer just a blocking drone? The wise fans, the ones reading the computer readouts off the scoreboard, might bet on that.
"I can't wait for today's kids to grow up," Donzis says, "not only the ones who can play football, but the ones who will understand it. You're going to have to be so much more involved in the game."
Donzis' visions of football 2000 are, obviously, far beyond what those in the game foresee, but no one disputes that pro football will be a more computerized sport. What most distinguishes Donzis from these other observers is his belief that the game will become more humanistic as it becomes more sophisticated and automated. NFL executives and coaches interviewed by SPORTS ILLUSTRATED fear the opposite—that computers will turn the players into "robots on the field," as Dan Rooney says. Warns Dallas' Tom Landry, who functions in the most computerized organization in sports, "We'll continue to fight the mechanization of football." And so on. Only Donzis sees mechanization as the salvation of a game that is threatened by brute animal instinct.
And what else do the NFL seers envision for 2000 A.D.? Nothing drastic, really. Strategy? Well, the consensus is that as soon as the offense gets too far ahead of the defense, the defense will catch up. Also, vice versa. 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. No, even in 2000 the referees won't use TV replays to assist them in making their calls.
The belief is that by 2000 most football fields will have been returned to God's own green grass—or perhaps a better strain of artificial turf will have been developed. There will be some form of legal betting, at least in certain areas of the country. Just about everybody interviewed thought that Pete Rozelle would still be commissioner come the turn of the century; he'll be 74 then. ( Tom Flores was the lone dissenter. He thinks Al Davis, now 50, will be the commissioner in 2000. Al Davis just hired Tom Flores to be coach at Oakland. Thanks, Tom.) Everybody interviewed has it as an article of faith that football will be safer. Miami Coach Don Shula believes he will continue to "see the same lessons in football as I do in life." The officiating will be better, although nobody is quite sure why. And you can be sure, in 2000 they will draft the best available player irregardless of position.
"There won't be any more old scouts sitting in the stands watching a practice. And there'll be no mistakes on draft choices," says Dallas' Schramm. The players the computers select will be faster and larger, for sure. A minority opinion holds that at a certain size the physical specimen could become a kind of dinosaur in an environment too small for him. John Ralston of San Francisco thinks football players may be bred rather than leaving such things to chance. "You get to thinking about Swedish mothers, the Danish stock of people, raising bigger, stronger people," he says. "I kiddingly once said that football players would be bred in the future, but now I wonder if that's such an impossibility."
Such a master gridiron race aside, those polled believed pro football would increasingly be played by the disadvantaged, that by 2000 it could become a game performed by gladiators. Again and again, whenever soccer was mentioned, the response was that it was no threat to football in terms of spectator appeal, but that the brutal nature of football might increasingly repel middle-class American kids, driving young athletes into safer activities, such as soccer.
Indeed, increasingly, pro football is referred to as "basketball with helmets," because of the high percentage of black stars—especially in the glamour positions of running and catching the ball. It is interesting that the NFL is precisely midway between the Colts-Giants overtime championship game of 1958—the most significant game in history—and the first year of the 21st century. Whenever that "greatest game ever played" is mentioned, the smaller size and salaries of the participants is brought up, but the racial turnover has been just as dramatic. In 1958 not only the quarterbacks but almost all of the running backs and receivers—all the heroes—were white: Gifford and Rote, Ameche and Dupre, Berry and Mutscheller, Marchetti and Huff. When the Steelers and the Cowboys met in the most recent Super Bowl, virtually all the Giffords and Berrys were black: Dorsett and Swann, Harris and Pearson, DuPree and Stallworth.
But as pro football has become more a black game on the field—some 50% of the players are black—it has done little to accommodate blacks in positions of authority. No one in the game has even suggested there might be a black head coach in 2000.