I remember the first time I fell in love. It was actually the day after first feeling painful heartbreak. All I wanted for Christmas that year was a Nintendo. Coop had one, Corey and Jared had one. I wanted one. Christmas Eve is always when we celebrate with my Papa. We had it at our house that particular year and as the festivities were dying down, discussion among the kids turned to what they hoped Santa was dropping off overnight. As visions of “Crossfire” danced in Coop’s head, I was mentally rearranging my room to perfectly house that electronic dreamboat. As the final guests left, Dewey dropped the bomb on me that Nintendo was likely not in the cards. Devastation, call Santa and tell him not to bother. He could just drop off Chase’s sweet bolo tie and cowboy hat and hit the road.
Alas, my old man had set me up. That sweet piece of technology was front and center the next morning as I stumbled into the living room. Looking back, I understand why the let down had to happen the night before. I had all but accepted that I was getting one and there would be no fun in that for my folks. Back then, they videoed our reactions as we entered the room to see our gifts and that year I let out a boisterous “Ninnn” and didn’t finish the word. Don’t worry, Chase got the cowboy hat too.
Thus began my lifelong love affair with video games. I still play them today. I just put the controller down from another session of Fallout 4. Games have come a long way since that Christmas. Now there are ever expanding storylines, open worlds to explore and graphics that make you think you are watching a movie. Groundbreaking stuff I tell you. Perhaps the first groundbreaker though was a game that is what I can only describe as the most amazing game of all time. Super Mario was fun, RBI was a classic and I always had a great time battling Uncle Speedy and Greg with the Bash Brothers, Lego my Gallego and Walt “Three Blind” Weiss. But in 1991, the video game industry was turned on its head with the introduction of Tecmo Super Bowl “TSB”.
TSB was the first sports game that had all of the NFL players (well, almost – more on that in a minute) and allowed you to play an entire season while keeping stats and setting up playoffs and a Super Bowl. It’s not the first time stats had been involved in a video game but it was definitely a much easier process. Prior to that, Jim and Rusty and I had played various seasons of RBI Baseball 3 with us keeping stats ourselves over the course of battle. This time, the game kept it for you and saved it, provided you held down reset while powering off. Tecmo Bowl (minus the “Super”) preceded TSB but didn’t have all of the teams and didn’t keep stats over time. This game introduced a whole new way to play video games. My buddies and I became stat junkies and began trying to one up each other on a daily basis.
For me, there was only one team on TSB back in my younger days. That was the Buffalo Bills. I loved them, despite their inability to win the big one. I made sure that I won it for them over and over on TSB. They had it all. The stout defense included Bruce Smith, Cornelius Bennett, Daryll Talley and Little Man Nate Odomes. Then the offense was high powered with Thurman Thomas, James Lofton, Andre Reed and QB Bills. Ah, “almost” all of the NFL players. The game lacked 4 official NFL’ers. QB Bills was Jim Kelly, QB Eagles was Randall Cunningham and QB Browns was Bernie Kosar. There was some issue with a new licensing group called NFL Quarterback Club and the NLFPA that disallowed their names from being used. Their attributes were the same as their real life personas though so we all knew who they were. The fourth player not included was a biggie too. Eric Dickerson was not included on the Colts due to a contract squabble and I wager that they would have been quite the team with Jeff George and Dickerson but it was not to be.
I became quite the player, in my opinion, with the Bills and was able to dispatch most opponents with relative ease. I recall the first time Coop almost took me down with Philly. QB Eagles was a difficult weapon to stop. He was one of the fastest offensive players on the game and he was a QB. The ultimate run/pass option. If you wanted to beat this guy, you better be prepared to put up 60 points. Coop battled hard that day but he was ultimately bit by an ugly facet of the game. In what would later be dubbed “Self Preservation”, the game had a way of sensing when someone was on the cusp of ultimate joy and it would pounce. Late in the game, Coop was trailing by a slim margin when Reggie White, The Minister of Defense, smashed QB Bills causing a fumble. White picked it up and Coop began the cheer “Go Reggie, Go Reggie!” Thurman Thomas chased him down and White promptly fumbled it back to the Bills as the cheer turned to a cry of desperation “Noooo Reggie!” Bills win!
I spread my teams out a little more over the years but I’ve always had my favorites. The Bills, Lions (Barry Sanders), Chiefs and Bengals have remained go to teams. I still recall David Fulcher and the Bengals putting Byron’s Chicago Bears in their place as he tried to take down the champ. Though I rarely used the Raiders, the greatest player in TSB history, without a doubt, was Bo Jackson. Epic YouTube videos are available that show the sheer dominance one 8 bit player was able to inflict on the video game world. It’s the stuff of legends. There is one video in which a player takes Bo, runs the length of the field, turns back right before he scores, runs back the length of the field and then turns one more time to score what is essentially a 300 yard TD. The game could have been called “Bo Jackson’s Tecmo Super Bowl” and there would have been no arguments. Besides Barry Sanders, there wasn’t even anyone close to his ability. Christian Okoye had a shot but was injured too often in the game and was always one self preservation play away from a controller toss. There are still T shirts being made in 2016 in their honor.
Speaking of 2016, the game remains so popular that clothing is not the only merchandise that still pops up. The masters at Tecmobowlers.com updated the original game on NES to bring fans TSB 16 with fully updated rosters but the same old gameplay. Like a true dork, I bought it right up and rotate playing that and the old one on my classic NES. It’s truly the only game that holds up in my opinion. It has replay value out the wazoo. It has been called the greatest video game of all time by major video game publications and to this day is the standard bearer for football video games. It brought out the best and worst of my generation and still has its own annual tournament in Madison, Wisconsin each year. This years tourney is Feb 20 and I would love to go but just don’t have the proper time to prepare. Entry fee is only $40 but the experience would be once in a lifetime. It would so be worth the thumb callous that would be sure to follow.
From “Go Reggie” to “Self Preservation” to the most famous scream in TSB history, “PLAY ME!!”, the game left its mark on my youth. By the way, “PLAY ME!!” immediately followed one of the most egregious forms of “Self Preservation” in TSB history and ended with a head butt to the closet door, all at 3am. Never has a video game been so triumphant and emasculating at the same time. Today’s kids can have their Madden and NCAA football. They will never know the feeling of winning a super bowl with only 8 plays in your arsenal and no way to audible in and out of poorly timed pre snap movement. If I didn’t think Alicia would kill me for waking her up, I’d get a game in right now. I’m proud to say I’m a Tecmo Bowler and will die one. Hopefully they will play the TSB injury music at my funeral.