By Steve Keating
SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - In 2066 when the Super Bowl celebrates its 100th anniversary fans will not just watch the National Football League's championship game - they will live it in all its bone-jarring virtual reality glory.
No longer a parochial pastime, futurists believe American gridiron will be a global game with franchises from London to Beijing, concussions, like paper money, will have disappeared and fans will swarm stadium concession stands at halftime for a puff on legalized marijuana or to sip on $100 beers.
Football fans will look back on Super Bowl 50 in much the same, quaint way people today reflect on Super Bowl I, a simple sporting event with halftime marching bands that did not sell out.
That landmark contest was played between teams from the American heartland, the Green Bay Packers and Kansas City Chiefs, while 2066 might see the Mexico City Aztecs taking on the London Jaguars, envisioned as the NFL's first international club after relocating from Jacksonville.
It could be the first Super Bowl with the teams employing women head coaches.
The biggest changes of all will be how fans experience the Super Bowl.
At Sunday's game between the Denver Broncos and Carolina Panthers at Levi's Stadium, one of the NFL's newest state-of-the-art venues, fans will be able to download an app to order food and watch replays.
In 2066, Levi's Stadium will be as outdated as the Roman Colosseum.
"Super Bowl 100 will definitely provide a variety of choices in the way you can experience the game," futurist Dr. James Canton, CEO of the San Francisco-based Institute for Global Futures told Reuters.
"You can experience it in virtual reality where you actually get to be on the field. You can actually experience what a player on the field is experiencing.
"There will be virtual reality where you will be able to be inside and see out through the visors at what exactly players are doing on field and you can pick which player you want."
It gets even wilder for future fans.
"Then there is augmented reality, where you will have the experience, if you choose, of feeling what the emotions are or there will be a sensory kind of impact of what you might feel.
"Imagine when the quarterback throws, you could choose to be on the ball, actually on the ball, things that could never occur in the real world you will be able to through virtual reality," added Dr. Canton.
During the Super Bowl 50 week, the NFL has also gazed into the crystal ball, staging technology workshops and a first NFL women's summit.
While commissioner Roger Goodell did not want to look too far into the future, refusing to speculate on the timing for a first franchise outside the United States, he acknowledged that technology will be the game changer.
Supersonic planes will be whisking people around the globe in a matter of hours making travel concerns a non-issue, while fans on moon and Mars colonies will be able to watch the game the same as earthbound supporters.
"I don’t believe that we’re going to try to do all the innovation ourselves," explained Goodell during his state-of-the-league address.
"We have great people who know how to innovate in certain areas – use technology that may be used in other areas ... that can make our equipment safer."
By the centennial Super Bowl, it could be a world where nanotechnology has eradicated concussions from the game.
While the sport may look much the same as it does now, space age materials will make players almost indestructible.
Players in Sunday's Super Bowl already have microchips in their shoulder pads transmitting data to the coaches.
In 50 years the amount of information transmitted will be enormous, allowing teams to monitor everything from energy output to a player's emotions which can trigger auto-protectors when a collision is imminent.
"It will look the same except the equipment will be infinitely better," predicts Dr. Canton, author of "Future Smart: Managing the Game-Changing Trends that will Transform Your World".
"Imagine nanotechnology in super materials that are very light but have the strength of steel.
"When you suit up to go out, when you pass through the threshold of leaving the locker room onto the field, automatically the sensor will trigger the auto protectors that will be in your body. That will be a game changer."
While the Super Bowl is already one of the planet's biggest sporting events, in 50 years the league will rule over a massive domain - NFL World.
Fans will live in fantasy leagues that will have their own Super Bowls with multiple outcomes.
"By Super Bowl 100 you are going to have so many choices that whether you are actually in the stadium or at home you are going to be able to augment your emotions," said Dr. Canton.
"Right now we have one primary league in this physical reality, but in 50 years you are going to have NFL VR, virtual reality, where any day of the week there could be multiple number of games played with virtual avatars.
"There will be NFL tribes.
"The NFL interactive experience, there will be whole virtual worlds, NFL World.
(Editing by Larry Fine)