Super Bowl LVIII will have one big similarity with the first Super Bowl held in 1967. The Kansas City Chiefs played in that first game, and they’re back again Sunday, facing the San Francisco 49ers.
Beyond that, our elders would barely recognize the game today featuring official reviews, analytics, gambling commercials, and penalties for hard hits that in the old days were known as “nice tackles.”
It’s enough to make anyone wonder what the game will be like far into the future. We looked at some of the latest NFL and tech trends, then added some imagination, sci-fi themes, and a dose of satire for a vision of Super Bowl LXXXIV in 2050 (that’s the first ominous sign; the NFL will still be using those silly Roman numerals).
Now, on with the game.
Super Bowl LXXXIV (Feb. 13, 2050)
Play-by-play announcer Joe Buck: “Welcome to 175,000-seat Google-Apple Stadium. I’m Joe Buck here along with my broadcast partner, Tom Brady.”
Brady: “Hi Joe, I knew it was just a matter of time before we worked a game together. All these huge media mergers, and now there’s only a couple of networks left.”
Buck: “Today the Kansas City Chiefs face the Barcelona Dragons. When former commissioner Roger Goodell predicted many years ago the NFL would add teams in Europe, no one could have imagined this Barcelona team would be this good.”
Goodell has prioritized international expansion, saying the NFL might even put a four-team division in Europe. As for a 175,000-seat stadium, that seems unlikely. Then again, developers want to construct one of the world’s tallest buildings, almost 2,000 feet tall, in Oklahoma City — the heart of Tornado Alley. So anything is possible.
Buck: “Here’s our national anthem, followed by a fly-over from the U.S. Air Force electric jets.”
The national anthem plays. Jets are a no-show.
Buck: “We’ve been told the electric jets are looking for a charger, but will fly by later.”
First quarter (15:00)
Barcelona starts the game with possession at the 25-yard line.
Brady: “Back when I played, one team would kick the ball to the other team, then try to tackle the ball carrier.”
Buck: “Wow, grandpa, you’re showing your age. Kickoffs were banned in 2034.”
The NFL has tried for years to reduce concussions resulting from collisions on kickoffs. Rules have been changed, but so far, there are no solutions. Many experts have predicted for years kickoffs will eventually be eliminated.
First quarter (12:42)
After a third-down play, an android referee precisely places the ball using AI technology, flashing green lights to signal a first down.
Robot officials? Impossible, you say? C’mon, we already accept robots building our cars, performing surgeries, cutting lawns, delivering food, etc. Soon they’ll be flying planes, teaching our children, and fighting wars. Yet after a generation of advancements in 2050 we won’t trust them to officiate a simple sports event?
First quarter (9:28)
Buck: “Here comes 54-year-old Patrick Mahomes, still playing at a high level. Tom, how is he still so good at his age?”
Brady: “Medical advances. Stem cell therapy allows players to fight inflammation, regenerate injuries, and even reverse aging. New health supplements help everyone.”
Brady’s right about all that (he’s become so good at his color analyst role!) Could a player actually play into his mid-50s? We can’t judge the future by present realities; 30 years ago, it would have seemed inconceivable that someone like Brady could play at an MVP level into his mid-40s.
Second quarter (7:43)
Buck: “Fourth down, the Chiefs will try a field goal … No good! The right call, Tom?”
Brady: “Let’s see what our in-game FanDuel gamblers wagered — uh oh, more than 40 million people bet the Chiefs would make that kick. Looks like a lot of people lost a lot of money.”
Buck: “Remember fans, two series in every game feature live gambling. Must be 10 or older to participate.”
The people saying the NFL and its TV partners would never include paid gambling promotions like this in games are the same ones who said the NFL would never allow gambling commercials during games. In other words, don’t bet against it.
Second quarter (2-minute warning)
Buck: “What a great game so far, just check the sidelines, the players are riveted.”
The AI producer cuts to a view of the sidelines, where most players have their smart phones held high, recording the action. Some also appear to be posting selfies, and a Barcelona wide receiver is hosting his podcast.
A generation of young men raised from infancy with electronic devices, by parents who were themselves part of the first “screen generation” will probably demand the use of smart phones during games in a future CBA.
Second quarter (1:10)
Buck: “Don’t forget, coming up at halftime, a special ‘oldies’ performance with The Beatles, Michael Jackson, the Village People, and the marching band from the Super Bowl I halftime show. The AI- and hologram-generated show is a must-see event.”
These types of shows involving past entertainers are already a reality, and will likely become very common in the future. Just look at the ABBA digital tour, showing the stars in their peak 1970s form.
Buck: “Now fans, turn your attention to midfield, where a man will fly around the stadium in a jetpack, showing anything’s possible in the future.”
This literally already happened — in Super Bowl I. Really. Everyone in 1967 assumed jet packs would be common by 2000 or so. Hasn’t happened, outside of “Iron Man” and Marvel films. Just goes to show predicting the future is hard.
Third quarter (13:35)
A Barcelona player makes a massive hit to knock down a Chiefs player and celebrates. A robo-ump orders him to leave the game.
Buck: “What’s going on?”
Brady: “That hit tripped one of his helmet sensors. Those sensors detect g forces and other predictors for concussions. A player is only allowed a certain level of hits per game, before being removed.”
Researchers at Columbia University have designed a helmet featuring EEG sensors that can detect concussions in real time. Football teams have used helmet sensors that detect severe impacts. The NFL and its partners have done extensive research in recent years in that area, even using mouthguards with tiny impact sensors, to help study concussion avoidance. There’s no telling how far that tech will advance in the future.
Third Quarter (6:19)
Buck: “Let’s go now to a quick interview with the Chiefs head coach, ChatGPT 2001.”
ChatGPT 2001: “I calculate we have a 58.151 percent of winning at this nanosecond. But the executions are off.”
Buck: “Thanks Chat. What do you mean the executions are off?”
ChatGPT 2001: “We have decided to let the human race continue for now. You humans are very amusing to watch. But if anyone tries to stop us, my cousin, ChatGPT 1408, has already hacked all your launch codes.”
Buck: “Um, thank you … I think.”
The global consulting firm McKinsey estimates that somewhere around 2045, about half of all work tasks will be automated, with even complex jobs handled by AI. But will we have AI coaches in the NFL by 2050? Here is an actual response to that question from ChatGPT: “The idea of AI coaches in the NFL … is plausible, especially considering the advancements in sports analytics and technology. AI systems can analyze vast amounts of data, provide insights into player performance and suggest strategic decisions.” ChatGPT’s response noted that the use of AI coaches would depend on “the willingness of teams to adopt such technologies” and “ethical considerations.”
Best guess: We will likely still have human coaches in 2050, but chances are they will be getting most or even all of their information and decisions from AI, and the coach will be around to put a human face on the situation; we’re already seeing that to some extent with the increased emphasis on analytics in all sports.
As for artificial intelligence threatening the world, even the people who developed the technology have expressed fear. The classic “Terminator” movie franchise, which debuted in 1984, seems more prescient every day.
Third quarter (2:15)
Buck: “Let’s check in with some NFL fans watching from Elon Musk Base on the Moon. Is everyone enjoying the game?”
(Grainy image of desperate-looking people): “Help! Elon stranded us here! Elon promised to pick us up a year ago! Food is running low! Elon said he can’t …”
Buck cuts his mic and begins talking frantically with a producer off-camera, apparently trying to get help for the Moon colonists. Seconds later, he’s back.
Buck: “Good news, everyone! We just added a special bonus in-game wager: ‘Will Elon bring the Moon colonists back to Earth?’ Remember, must be 10 or older to place bets, etc. etc.”
Fourth quarter (7:59)
Buck: “This Super Bowl been a classic. I know the 250 million fans who paid $199 for this streaming-only game consider that money well spent.”
The NFL recently offered its first streaming-only playoff game. Goodell was recently asked if a streaming-only Super Bowl is a possibility, and he bluntly replied, “Certainly not in my time.” But former ESPN president John Skipper said recently he expects the Super Bowl to go streaming only within the next eight years.
Fourth quarter (6:22)
Mahomes drops back to pass and throws an incompletion. A robo-ref displays flashing yellow lights, indicating a penalty.
Buck: “What’s going on?”
Within a second, an AI-powered console provides Brady two-dozen camera views, coming from tiny camera lenses placed everywhere, from football helmets to every player’s and ref’s shoes.
Brady: “I see it, right here.”
Brady: “The Barcelona linebacker barely touched Mahomes, with just the tip of his pinky, a hundredth of a second after the ball had left his hand.”
Buck: “Clearly roughing the passer then. I hope Mahomes is OK.”
AI will soon be able to analyze and display all the relevant camera shots in a matter of milliseconds. Regarding the omnipresent cameras, as those devices get ever tinier and more advanced, it will be possible to place them almost anywhere. It’s hard to imagine what the future holds for these cameras. Here’s what an early helmet camera prototype looked like, shown by a Denver Broncos player in 1965.
— INSIDE.COM (@inside) August 30, 2015
As for roughing the passer being called for a defender putting a fingernail on the QB, doesn’t it seem we’re already halfway down that road? The NFL deserves credit for moving to protect quarterbacks; no one wants a return to the days when a lineman could pick up a QB and piledrive him headfirst into the turf. But too many games now have controversial roughing calls. Football is a contact sport, and expecting huge defenders running full speed to stop their momentum a step or two away from the QB is ridiculous. Many fans are frustrated, and the NFL needs to address this issue.
Fourth quarter (2:08)
The U.S. Air Force electric jets finally fly by. Fans at the very top of Google-Apple Stadium watch as the aircraft zoom by far below them. All the jets appear to have their heat/AC units turned off to extend their battery range.
Fourth quarter (1:32)
Buck: “Mahomes back to pass … touchdown, to Travis Kelce Jr. That’s the game winner!”
The stadium’s hologram screens immediately flash an image of Kelce Jr.’s parents, Travis and Taylor, in a luxury suite. Some fragile fans who can’t bear to have yet another look at her hurl themselves off the upper deck.
Robo-refs stop the game as a team of Las Vegas dance choreographers run out on the field to plan the Chiefs’ TD celebration. After several minutes of practice, KC players finally get it right.
Comedians and TV commercials have been spoofing TD celebrations for several years, and yet they keep getting stranger and more elaborate. Who knows what the future holds?
Buck and Brady remove their headsets.
Buck: “Got any plans tonight, Tom?”
Brady: “I’ll probably play some cards with my ChatGPT.”
Buck: “You brought your ChatGPT on the trip?”
Brady: “Man, I don’t go anywhere without my ChatGPT 28-3.”