There have been constant changes to the modern-day NFL over the years. Some have been for the good, and others have left us scratching ours heads. Here are 10 things that have changed in the modern-day NFL:
Digital score/running game clock
Something fans take for granted is the use of on-screen graphics. These graphics revolutionized the way fans watch the NFL. For many decades, fans had to rely on commentators to announce the score, game clock, distance and whenever a flag was tossed. These helpful tools weren’t introduced until 1994, initially with ABC Sports during NASCAR and the World Cup. It was applied by Fox Sports later that year for the NFL. As time progressed, the graphics have become more frequent, aesthetically pleasing and informative. In other words, today’s viewers are beyond spoiled.
In the modern-day NFL, it’s extremely rare to find a player that’s versatile enough to to play multiple positions or on both sides of the football. However, back in the 1950s or earlier, it wasn’t unusual for players to play almost every down. Especially when you consider guys like the Los Angeles Rams’ Bob Waterfield, who played on offense, defense and on special teams. Of course, substitutions were infrequent, and the NFL positions didn’t become specialized until the early-to-mid 1960s. In today’s NFL, there are a variety of sub-positions within a position category.
250-pound offensive linemen
Remember back in the day when offensive linemen were built like undersized linebackers? Me neither. In fact, many fans remain unaware that there are Hall of Famers the size of Wilbur Henry, who stood at a modest 5’11” and weighed a mere 245 pounds. To put that into perspective, the average size of an offensive lineman was 6’5” and weighed approximately 312 pounds in 2015. Keep in mind this is an average lineman, and Henry was considered a big man back in the 1920s, and earned the nickname “Fats Henry.” I must admit, it’s an intriguing thought to see a “big man” be used as a punter or kicker.
Protective equipment in general can be put on this list, but the leather helmets are the most iconic. To think these men literally launched themselves at the opposition and were willing to sacrifice their bodies for the good of their teams. Keep in mind, this era also didn’t know much about concussions. What it all boils down to is that there wasn’t much protecting their noggins. Still, it’s impressive that the Rams’ Fred Gehrke saw an opportunity to paint what would later be known as the “Rams’ Horn” on the helmets. This led to the decals we see today on much safer helmets.
Playing through major injuries
Football is a tough sport, and injuries will occur. There is no downplaying the physical demand that football calls for or in the safer environments of today. Ignoring the safety procedures of today, football players of the past played through some major injuries. That’s not to say that it doesn’t happen today, it just isn’t as frequent. Of course, there were physical freaks like Jack Youngblood who simply said, “tape me up,” and went back on the football field to play through a broken leg. Let’s be real, no player of today would play through that.
Underpaid No.1 overall draft picks
The NFL did place caps on rookie salaries to control the ridiculous spike on rookie contracts recently. But, even with these pay limits, rookies make much better money than those from the pioneering NFL days. Just how bad was the pay? Well, most players worked a second job, and sometimes, the NFL wasn’t the main source of income. The pay was so discouraging to collegiate players that some opted for other careers. Quite possibly the most famous case of this was halfback Jay Berwanger.
Berwanger had everything going his way. He won the Heisman Trophy while playing at the University of Chicago. Berwanger then earned a selection as the No. 1 overall pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1936 NFL Draft. The young star demanded an “absurd” amount of $1,000 per game, which is a salary the Eagles were unwilling to pay. The Eagles later traded his signing rights to the Chicago Bears, and not even the great George Halas could get him signed after offering him $13,500 a year. Instead, he took a job working at foam/rubber factory. That sounds utterly ridiculous, but it was reality.
Did the players in the past practice? Yes, of course. Did they train like current NFL players? Absolutely not. Today, NFL players hold training camps, rookie camps, offseason work outs, nutrition programs, etc. There simply wasn’t that much invested in getting physically ready for the upcoming season. As mentioned previously, many of these players had other jobs. In other words, “Ain’t nobody got time for that.”
At one point, the NFL used white footballs. These footballs were mainly used for night games, and the thought process was that the football would be easier to see. This was back in an era where stadiums didn’t have access to the proper lighting. The obvious disadvantage is that teams wearing white jerseys could easily hide the ball. The NFL canned them in 1956.
Some of the more elaborate celebrations came during the modern era, so their mention on this list doesn’t include the sharpie writing, river dancing and pom pom-waving celebrations. It’s more along the lines of teams being able to celebrate with teammates. Just like when the Greatest Show on Turf Rams used to do their “bob and weave” celebratory touchdown dance. Removing group celebrations started the “No Fun League.”
Goalpost on the goal line
The NFL decided to move the goalpost back to make football more “exciting.” It was a welcome move, because the goalpost being so close to the end zone proved hazardous over time. Think about it, especially in goal-line situations, things happen a little too fast. Injuries were a common occurrence thanks to the goalpost. Regardless, kickers proved to be a major reason for moving the goal posts back. It was just becoming too simple for kickers to make chip shots and extra points. So, moving them back provided a much a more interesting challenge to the game.