In case the Best Buy parking lots littered with Pop-Tart wrappers or the scores of coworkers calling in sick with bubonic plague hadn’t tipped you off, Madden 15 officially hit the shelves Tuesday. For roughly two-thirds of the American male population, the annual event has usurped Labor Day as the new unofficial end of summer. It also reflects a very specific point of demarcation where sunlight, fresh air, and human interaction give way to endless slack-jawed stares at Samsung flatscreens and to bodies mummified by thick films of sweat, Cheetos dust, and shame.
I, for one, have never much understood the Madden obsession. Not since the greatest of all games long ago retreated from the public consciousness, doomed by technological obsolescence, fated to footnote status by borderline cultish obsessives.
I’m talking, of course, about Tecmo Super Bowl. Not only is it the greatest video game in human history. Next to fire and those fantastic no-tangle hoses, it’s the single best invention in human history.
To those who would accuse me of hyperbole, I submit: Have you ever dropped Babe Laufenberg to the back of the end zone, miraculously avoided a diving Charles Haley three times, thrown a pass so high and devoid of mass and velocity you fully expected it to dissipate into the sky, only to have the ball miraculously sneak, 114 yards and about 10 minutes later, over Ronnie Lott’s severed pinkie and into the waiting arms of Alonzo Highsmith, so excited he flaps his arms up and down like some giant prehistoric bird? Because there’s a 0.00003% chance of that happening. Yet happen it did.
Any video game that has that kind of impossibly remote miracle programmed into it does not and cannot exist by the hand of man alone. No sir, Tecmo Super Bowl is a communique from the gods. We thank them with our cartridge blows.
In honor of this, the most magnificent of 8-bit creations, I came up with 10 things — soldiers and strategies, gimmicks and glitches — that made Tecmo Super Bowl the heaven-sent Satan’s tool it was. And very much remains, to real gaming men.
Does your Packers playbook include a Sterling Sharpe double reverse? You have no idea what the fuck I’m talking about? Take a lap.
10. Bo Jackson
Bo Jackson was as close as you could get to an embedded cheat code. If he’s in “Excellent” (conditions ranged from “Injured” to “Bubby Brister” to “Bad” and beyond), all you have to do is load up on sweeps and tosses and possess the baseline reflexes of a three-year-old child. From there, it was simply a matter of three or four prolonged zigs and zags down the field, or — if you happened to be playing the Patriots — running for 45 straight minutes between end zones, with 11 defenders trailing behind like sad apostles on a trail of vomit.
When things broke right — and your zigs consistently zagged — you could ride Bo to 5,000 yards and 150 touchdowns in a single season. And he loved every second of it.
9. How Angry I’d Get
I was probably the biggest Tecmo bitch that ever lived. It didn’t matter if it was the Super Bowl or some throwaway friendly between the Bengals and Rams (Jim “Chris” Everett to Flipper Anderson, FTW). If you caught me after a loss, you’d think I’d just found out I had Crohn’s Disease. When I lost because my buddy blocked my 23-yard game-winning field-goal attempt and took it to the house, I threw the controller so hard the snap of the cord made my sleeping parents think they’d heard a gun shot. I don’t take raising my infant child half as seriously as I took Tecmo. Following some epic losses, I wouldn’t speak to anyone for months. I probably should’ve seen someone about that.
8. QB Eagles
There were a handful of Tecmo players who, either by dint of contract negotiations or licensing disputes, didn’t allow the NFL Players Association to levy their names and likenesses — mostly quarterbacks. One of them was Randall Cunningham, the Eagles’ impossibly athletic field general who was basically Michael Vick with a better arm.
Imagine Adrian Peterson with the passing accuracy of Phil Simms, and you’re still not close to approximating the sheer malicious magic of the nameless assassin that was QB Eagles.
It didn’t matter if you had Derrick Thomas in “Excellent” mode with a cheat code that armed him with a Contra spread gun — there was no sacking this man in the backfield. Which is pretty funny, considering Cunningham refused to lend his name to the game. If I’d been the folks at Tecmo, and he’d spurned our great game, I probably would’ve been tempted to give him the attributes of Rodney Peete, but with one leg and hot dogs for arms.
7. Dan Marino’s Passes
The Dolphins were one of those second-tier teams — not quite on the level of Montana’s Niners or QB Bills’… Bills… but still scarily solid. The reason: Dan Marino, who I swore sometimes threw so hard it actually caused a glitch whereby the ball sailed through the defender, who’d just stand there, confused as to how he was still standing after being impaled by a missile. Of course, it didn’t hurt that he had two of the game’s better receivers — the Marks Brothers, Clayton and Duper — at his disposal. Marino in “Excellent” meant you could conceivably throw for 800 yards in a single game. Just traipse to the back of the end zone, buy some time, and let the brown laser blob fly.
6. The Profile Pictures
When you’re dealing with the graphic equivalent of the Lascaux cave paintings, the likenesses are bound to be haphazard. Some guys, like Bo Jackson, Mike Singletary and a slew of others, appear passably akin. Others, like Steve Grogan, look like they have dicks for noses and haven’t slept in 96 hours. You basically fall into one of a dozen or so face schematics — everything from dapper Washington politician to wild-eyed Satanist and just about everything in between. And jheri curls. Soooooo many jheri curls.
On the field — particularly in the end zone — anybody was everybody, and it was beautiful.
Any fool could go all the way with the Giants, Raiders, Bills, or 49ers. But it takes a unique genius to devise as diabolical a scheme as my friend Pat concocted with Warren Moon and the run-and-shoot Houston Oilers. The strategy: Put Lorenzo White at wide receiver, and Ernest Givens at running back. For whatever reason, this made Houston a damn-near unstoppable offensive juggernaut. Unless, of course, Frank Reich was in town.
4. Christian Okoye
By all accounts, Christian Okoye’s career was short and by no means extraordinary. But sit down to play a full Tecmo season with the Nigerian Nightmare (easily a top-five all-time great football nickname), you’ll be convinced he’s some sort of alien hybrid of Barry Sanders and an Abrams tank covered in fractured skulls. In “Very Good” or “Excellent,” defenders had no chance — like rogue space rocks flying straight into the sun. All this from a guy who gained more than 1,000 yards twice in six seasons. He’ll never make it to Canton, but in the pantheon of Tecmo heroes, this 6-foot-1, 250-pound beast deserves a special designation beyond some pedestrian “running back.” Merchant of Death and Shit-Filled Pants? Yeah, Nigerian Nightmare works just fine.
3. No Penalties
Seriously, no penalties are ever called. Ever. No holding, no false starts, no pass interference — nothing. While the refs concerned themselves with nothing more than whistling a dead play or signalling a touchdown, I liked to imagine an incredible world of violence unfurling beyond what our 8-bit eyes could see: lineman punching one another with razor blades on their knuckles, or Hart Lee Dykes stopping dead in his tracks on a post pattern because Gill Byrd just blasted him in the face with mace. This video game was football how it was meant to be played: complete anarchy, where only the strong survive and David Fulcher wouldn’t think twice about taking you out at the knees with a machete.
2. The Music
Totally underrated soundtrack. A weird hybrid of synthpop, ethereal space grooves and straight-up ‘80s cock rock. This is what used to play in my head on an endless loop while staring awkwardly at girls from across the floor during grade school dances.
Oh yes, my friends. This is what it felt like to be aliiiiiiive.
1. Lawrence Taylor
Speaking as someone who rode the Giants to quite a bit of my friends’ leaf-raking money, Lawrence Taylor could harpoon an endangered manatee from a Ski-Doo powered by unicorn blood, and I’d still be willing to bear his children.
The folks at Tecmo would never openly admit it, but LT maxed out at 100 in the most-important-but-never-mentioned game rating: pure cocaine rage.
Oh, your opponent plans to run 10 straight passing plays with Joe Montana? Drop LT into the secondary, and watch Rice and Taylor’s brains melt with fear. Merril Hoge taking a delayed handoff out of a shotgun? LT will vaporize him before he even sees the ball. Want to put Steve DeBerg out of his misery? Blitz him from the blind slide, and watch him get carried off the field by an industrial-sized vacuum cleaner.
Leading an already-frightening NYG defense, Taylor was a bloodthirsty wraith straight from the depths of Hell — a guy who covered 50 yards faster than Usain Bolt, hit harder than a Viking naval ram, and caused more sheer panic than a hundred Bruce Willis-endangered, Earth-targeting asteroids.
In terms of pure production, it’s hard to argue against Bo Jackson being Tecmo’s most incendiary star. But nobody, and I mean nobody, could piss on a half-dead body like Lawrence Taylor.