The sport of football, both on and off the field, is intrinsically the same as it was in the past, but the past and present versions of the sport feel unrecognizable. Quarterbacks still rule. Head coaches are still rough on their guys to draw the best out of them. Organizations still desire loyalty, a team approach, and the need to win. The actions are related, but football players of years ago wouldn't be able to last in today's game. They wouldn't know how to adjust. It almost feels like a different sport.
Bigger Isn't Always Better
Just in terms of physicality, football moves so much faster today. Most offense is through the air, but that doesn't prevent crushing hits and collisions from occurring. The NFL has attempted to make the game much safer than it ever was, but the players themselves make it so much more dangerous. There are dozens of rules in place regarding what types and locations of hits are allowed and which are penalties. There are parameters for when specific players can be targeted too. A football star in 2017 is a gigantic human who can move faster than seems physically possible. He brings power and energy to each hit. Such qualifications feel necessary.
Even players who don't "need" peerless size are huge human beings. Quarterbacks are 6'5" or taller. They can be 240 pounds or more, displaying the measurements previously reserved for offensive linemen. Yes, that is serious. Today's football fan is used to seeing 350+ pound people play along the offensive line, but that never used to be the case. Old offensive line units were slimmer and smaller. According to the Associated Press, only one player in the entire league weighed as much as 300 pounds in 1970.
With safeties now the size of linebackers, linebackers the size of linemen, and linemen bigger than any human should be, the NFL is made up of wrecking balls disguised as players in uniform. And they aren't exactly moving slowly nowadays! If anything, players are even faster than they once were, leading to immense collisions on every play.
Nuanced Way of Life
Rules on and off the field have attempted to make this sport safer, though to mixed results. Off the field, painkillers have always been a major piece of NFL life. Players become addicted to opioids. Because of this sad truth, the league has slowly and begrudgingly discussed changes to its policy surrounding marijuana. Tons of football players smoke. Some have failed tests and been suspended; others have admitted publicly to smoking, though they were careful enough to pass the testing procedures.
The perception surrounding smoking has completely changed, though, even if the rules haven't yet. It is just as common to see a player inquiring about a vape starter kit as it is to see one getting drunk at a club or popping prescription drugs. Though tobacco products wouldn't have any benefits to pain control, the possibilities surrounding marijuana make it a potentially viable painkiller. Many argue it is much safer than the painkillers players used to rely on. Such a notion would not have even registered with players from decades ago. Advancements in the way we think we're so far behind as to be detrimental to the football players themselves.
A move to smoking has coincided with a boom in technology and knowledge in the sport. As hits weigh on these guys' minds and bodies, they look for ways to lessen that burden. Concussions aren't going away, and players take months to recover from a long and grueling season. Because of that, healthier ways to regroup and recover are vital. Everyone is permanently on the lookout for what those might be moving forward.