ON SEPT. 3, 1979, SPORTS ILLUSTRATED ran a cover story titled Gridiron 2000 that offered a portrait of fin de siècle football. It was, even by the standards of the day, a fairly conservative vision, its more astute predictions including "a better strain of artificial turf will have been developed," "there will be some form of legal betting," and "rosters will grow, but the schedule will not."
More daring, but less prescient, were visions of quarterbacks, some of them women, throwing balls 135 yards on a line with the assistance of mechanized power packs attached to their arms; and the prediction by then Cowboys GM Tex Schramm that there will be "no mistakes on draft choices." There also were hints of the public safety issue that has come to define Gridiron 2016. "Bigger players will be able to move even faster and hit even harder wearing it," Frank Deford wrote, referring to the development and use of lighter, more pliable padding. "At the same time, there is the potential for even greater damage to limb if not life."
Three decades later, as a young reporter at SI, Adam Duerson would pore through the five-inch-thick bound volumes of the magazine. A Wisconsin-born but Midway-bred fan who would name his first child Bear, Duerson came across the Deford piece, drawn to it as much for the art that accompanied the story as its prose. "Robot-like Supermen wearing booster shoes and suction-cup gloves," Duerson says. "The imagery was so cheesy, but it struck a nerve for me, since my interests lie at the intersection of Bart Starr and Star Wars."
Now an assistant managing editor who oversees the franchise's NFL coverage, Duerson recognized an opportunity. With the approach of Super Bowl 50, Duerson wanted to go back to the future with a look at how Super Bowl 100 might unspool. Thus was born the anchor of a five-month collaboration with Wired in which the two titles examined the future of North America's biggest sport, from what the football stadium of the future will look like to how athletes will train in 2066 to Steve Rushin's masterpiece on Super Bowl 100 that begins on page 38.
Rushin is one of the most facile writers to walk SI's great ink-stained earth; he is also one of its most tireless researchers and inquisitors. In his piece he resists the urge to divine a future solely from his imagination. Here he was aided by the scientific expertise of SI reporter Tom Taylor and Wired's Brad Stenger, who could explain to Rushin, for example, the implications of gene mapping on the NFL. "My job was to imagine what Super Bowl 100 would look and sound and smell like," Rushin says, "I wanted the story to be like a futuristic pulp sci-fi novel of the 1950s, set on the planet Zorg. But it had to be grounded in real science, with plausible predictions from experts in their fields.
"There was a temptation, quickly resisted, to make the game unrecognizable. But football in 2016 is still recognizably the same game it was in 1966. There's no reason to think that the next 50 years will make it something else entirely."
ON JAN. 27, 1986, Tom Buerger walked into SI's Chicago sales office for his first day with the company. The place was virtually empty. "It was the day after the Bears clobbered the Patriots in Super Bowl XX," Buerger says. "Everyone was in New Orleans. I'm just sitting in the empty office wondering how long I'm going to stay here." Wednesday is 30 years to that day, and Buerger is still with SI, moving mountains as the director of the franchise's second-biggest sales office. He brought the idea of the Wired collaboration to Gatorade, who along with Microsoft Surface is a presenting sponsor of the program, the largest collaboration SI has undertaken with an outside publication. "World-class talent and the greatest teammate I've had," offers Buerger's close friend, Boston sales director John Cooney. "As a Packers fan, he'll hate the analogy, but he's our Tom Brady."
Robot taxi squads, hoverboards and $75 beers: examining the future of North America's biggest sport.
ILLUSTRATION BY NATHAN FOX
VICTORIA WILL FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (STONE)
MARIEL E. TYLER FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED (DUERSON)
KEEP IT 100 Duerson (above) and Buerger (below) helped SI envision a Super future.
[See caption above]