Now that 49ers fans (well, some of them) have moved on past last week's bitter playoff defeat, we can all get excited about watching the Super Bowl.
In fact, if you like the way football is played today, you should definitely enjoy the Super Bowl as much as possible. Because the game is going to change over the next decade or two -- in ways we probably still don't fathom. That's because the issue over concussions and player safety is not going away.
My chief witness on this subject is Leigh Steinberg. You surely know his name. He's the famed sports agent on whose career the film "Jerry Maguire" was based. Last year, Steinberg wrote a magazine piece for Forbes about how "the looming specter of concussion consequences puts the future of the sport at risk."
Steinberg is not backing down from that notion, even as the NFL has shown itself again to be not just America's most popular sport but also the nation's most popular television show. Sunday night football ratings topped "American Idol" and all other prime-time programming. Playoff game viewership is through the roof.
So how's the game at risk?
"What will happen is, football won't die," Steinberg said this week. "But the socio-economic demographics of the game will change, so that the same people who play will be those people who choose to box and pursue other such sports."
The focus on football's "concussion crisis" has centered on football at the NFL level. Steinberg, though, is peeling back the issue to the youth and high school levels. The frightening new information about the way football can damage the brains of young people is scaring the wits out of moms and dads from coast to coast.
The response, Steinberg says, will be that those parents in upper- and middle-class homes will steer their kids toward less injury-prone sports. Ultimately, the pool of football players will be less diverse and full of more desperation. That won't be healthy for anyone, on several levels. And it could seriously harm the game's public appeal.
Steinberg calls this "the existential threat to football." And whether you agree with him or not, it's refreshing to have his voice so solidly back in the game. After well-documented struggles with substance abuse and a successful path back to sobriety, Steinberg is once more fully engulfed in the sports representation world.
Funded by Texas investors, his new company is churning harder than ever, forging partnerships with athletes and media. Steinberg has a new book ("The Agent: My 40 Year Career Making Deals and Changing The Game") and next week in New York will once more play host to one of the best Super Bowl parties.
But none of it makes any sense to him, Steinberg said, unless the athletes he represents emerge from their careers in better condition than many currently do. "It is one thing to know that years of football will make it harder for an athlete to bend down and pick up his child when the athlete is 40. What if he can't recognize the child because of concussion-related dementia?"
Steinberg has some suggestions about how to make the game safer, outlined in the book. Generally, he believes that high-tech advances in equipment (particularly with helmets) will help, along with some rules changes (maybe no more three-point stances?) and far greater awareness in minimizing risks. But only if football people are open to the ideas.
They might want to listen. In Steinberg's early years, he was always someone who could see around the corner at what was coming next. He merged his clients with the entertainment/online worlds long before anyone else, had them writing online diaries and forging partnerships with community causes. Today, all that is standard practice. And now, Steinberg is doing what more sports agents should be doing -- engaging the subject of player safety with full frontal concern, recognizing that if a sport's image suffers, so do the endorsement deals.
Football will never be as safe as hopscotch. But if Steinberg and others with his view have their way, it will be safer in 2025 than it is in 2014. What's wrong with that?