Football is a thrilling sport filled with hard hits, tight spirals, and ridiculous end-zone celebrations. While there have been tweaks to the rules over the last decade, though, the elements of how the game is played haven’t changed much (though it always seems like there are a lot more flags, no?). The technology that surrounds the game has changed drastically, though.
Now, crushing blows make you cringe and dazzling OBJ-like plays make your eyes widen as you get lost in the battle thanks to the clarity that comes from TVs that put your old pipe organ-sized projection TVs to shame. But seeing the game is about more than seeing the game. It’s also about the stats, a plethora of angles, and getting a closer look to see if your team really failed to get control of the ball on a 4th and long heave.
With that in mind, here are five ways technology has improved the game of football.
5. John Madden And His Telestrator
From 1979-2008, nothing brought an NFL game home more than when former player/coach/meat pioneer John Madden used TV telestrator technology to tag up your television with a bunch of Xs and Os. His off-the-cuff tangents were the true gift, though. Like that time he taught us all what happens when two Gatorade buckets really love each other.
4. NFL Films & On-Field Wireless Microphones
Remember those slow, cinematic, poetic sequences that NFL Films famously introduced into the arena of sports thanks to the dedication of the late Ed Sabol and later, his son Steve (who also passed away)? The presentation was legendary, turning football players into gladiators and pairing those moments with the dulcet baritone of the “Voice Of God” (aka former Philadelphia Eagles announcer John Facenda) to showcase the gridiron grace of these warriors.
The gang at NFL Films was also responsible for putting the first wireless microphones on players and coaches on the field. The first player to wear a wireless mic was Bill Saul, a Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker in 1967. And ever since, this advent has added a layer to the game that has brought fans down onto the field and exposed them to the intensity, humor, camaraderie, and fancy swear wording that occurs during an NFL game.
3. Virtual Graphics
Before 1998, when Sportvision unveiled their “yellow line” technology called 1st And Ten during a Bengals-Ravens game, people had to rely on the voices of the game to figure out if a team had gotten a first down. This ranged from entertaining to excruciating, depending on the broadcast team. The introduction of a CG line of scrimmage made life simpler to follow the action regardless of how many beers they had (theoretically. It’s not like the line got bigger throughout the ga… I’ve had a thought).
Now, when you watch a game you’re seeing all sorts of graphics on screen — play clocks, the number of time-outs, pop-up stat trackers, each player’s turn ons and turn offs… all that stuff. Some of it is even presented with augmented reality technology so it looks like a 3rd down conversion rate chart is standing right in front of Tony Romo, waiting for him to run into it and be lost to another injury.
It all kinda makes you wonder why Bill Belichick even bothers to put on his good hoodie and leave the house every Sunday when he could coach from there.
2. The Advent Of Instant Replay
Implemented in 1986 (after years of experimentation and angst over the cost and unreliable tech), instant replay kickstarted a change in the NFL that wasn’t fully realized until 1999. You really can’t overstate the importance. Not only does instant replay determine if a fumble has occurred or if a player’s toes manage (somehow, in defiance of logic and physics) to stay in bounds, but it also has the power to diffuse situations that would otherwise cause people to come to blows in America’s living rooms and sports bars. Fights that would probably be captured on people’s phones and replayed in court so a judge could determine what is and isn’t out of bounds. Because, you see, life is a circle.
1. An Abundance Of Cameras That’ll Help You Get A Virtual POV
In 2015, there were 40 cameras filming the Super Bowl. In 2016, there were 70 cameras. For this year’s game, Fox will unveil “Be the Player” technology, a virtual POV enhancement that will reconstruct play action through the eyes of any player on the field. This without strapping a 50-pound steadicam onto each player. Which is good because the union probably would have griped about that.
Here’s what that’ll look like.
No word on if the POV tech will be used to show what it looks like when Tom Brady checks his bank account balance. That’s the POV I want to experience.