Here's the problem: NFL fans suppress their knowledge of how violent the game actually is. Me too. Because it's fun to watch. For me, not so much for the violence, though I like the "physicality." Even when we attend a game live - heck even high school games - we're not that close to the action. We know that the game involves people between 200-340 lbs crashing into each other at high speeds, but we have enough distance from that to shield us from the reality of it. We don't want to know.
When reality intrudes, we don't like it. We don't quite want to have the distance of Madden 2010 or World of Warcraft, but really, what we want is closer to that than to the actuality we would see if we were within 10 feet of one of these hits. We've been hearing a lot about concussions this year. The reality is that concussions aren't new, and we always knew they were bad, just not how bad. It used to be called "getting your bell rung."
Matt Millen was talking to Steve Young last night. Millen's was maintaining that much of what people are suddenly nervous about is just what football really is. They players and everyone that close to the game knows it (though they may also deny reality as too frightening), and without it, it's not football anymore. Young stated "It's a TV game." He was cut off from expanding on that, but he hit it right on the head (unfortunate metaphor, actually). Reality can't leak out into the living room too much, or the fans go away. That balance of reality and fantasy must be maintained, and the line moves over time.
Millen is speaking from inside the game, as if the arbitrary composition of the game represents some important reality. Well, you want your Madden or WoW characters to exist entirely in the game as well. You don't want them suddenly becoming self-aware and realising this is just pixels and fantasy - it has no meaning. Young, whose career ended because of concussions, steps back a bit more and sees that the NFL is a lot closer to being just pixels than something with real meaning.
Widen the field to 58 or 60 yards, improve the helmets, and the fantasy comes back again.