Three hours to make six yards, there you go, I’m a statto

Tecmo Bowl (1989)

I’ve had a patchy relationship with American Football over the years. In the first instance, I don’t understand the game at all. And that’s the kind of thing that always makes me feel intellectually inadequate, because the stereotypical NFL fan is always the exact same.

You know, the squash-a-beer-can-against-their-head, wife-beater-wearing ignorant type of gun toting person. They seem to get what’s going on in a game. I don’t know, maybe they just like to see the numbers go up, and because there’s bigger and better numbers in American Football than there is in soccer, it’s got to be a better game. But even rugby seems to be more cerebral, when you look past games of soggy biscuit and peeing in your fly-half’s pint, so that doesn’t make sense either.

But it gets worse – increasingly you’re starting to get different series of American football series being held over here, which inevitably gets the worst type of bandwagoner fan interested. They’re all of a flutter when a game is held in Wembley in London, and I know they’re dying to host games in Dublin’s Croke Park Stadium.

Bandwagoners aren’t so bad usually, and I suppose I better say that since I often bandwagon the Irish rugby team myself. But when these people talk at length about awf-ense and dee-fense, start wearing ridiculously oversized jerseys, and get up in the middle of the night to watch RedZone, this is when you have to laugh.

Worst is when they cross the Rubicon and end up adopting this haughty attitude that American football is better than your sport, and the reason for this is because there’s more emphasis on stats or the coverage is better or something like that. Just remind them that you don’t need to listen to hours of podcasts just so you can be ‘in the know’.

You look at these people and you can’t help but beg for the rapture. These are the kind of people who go crazy over Oreos, Five Guys and Subway when they finally made it to their hometown. It goes without saying that you must avoid plastic NFL fans as much as you’d avoid a nasty sexual illness.

Case in point, we had two Fantasy Football leagues in the office one time, one for soccer and one for American football. Now, you and I know that when it comes to the Premier League fantasy equivalent, you just set your team and you quickly forget all about it. It’s good if you win the first few weeks, but it doesn’t really matter that much to anyone, and nobody cares who wins in the end.

But you should have seen the American Fantasy Football equivalent. I was invited along to an online e-draft to start it off, that took place at around 9PM, way after work hours for God’s sake. You’d have thought we were recruiting players for the game against the aliens to save planet Earth.

And I didn’t know who the hell I was picking anyway, since I didn’t know a single player. The names all seemed to be a variation of Shawn: Marshawn, LaShawn, DeShawn, LaShawnda, so I just stuck with those. Actually, I did know a few player names, like D’Brickashaw Ferguson, but I didn’t see him anywhere. The most obvious players, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning, were obviously snapped up before it got anywhere near my turn.

No doubt I was already getting laughed at by the rest of the NFL geeks about the “team” that I selected. But as both of us know, when it comes to ignorance, laughter quickly turns to hatred. See, there were transfers – sorry, that’s “trades” – that used to take place among people in the office, which all seemed to be of prime importance. But nobody ever seemed to come my way, looking for a trade.

I imagine what happened here is that I took a batch of horrendous players and collectively sentenced them to death at the bottom of the ocean, an ocean of a zillion other football players whose names I’d never know unless I listened to hours of podcasts every day.

Those were the players I picked anyway, so the league began in earnest. From here, the guys in the office began talking about everyone’s record, which has its own nomenclature – somebody being ‘six for two’ means they’ve got six wins and two losses.

Generally speaking, the teams don’t draw – ugh, sorry, “tie”. If someone has a horrendous record, and I should imagine I was ‘zero for twenty-five’, then they get a better draft pick next season probably. I really was no clearer on understanding my position.

But I don’t want to live in ignorance all my life, I do like to sit down and give things a chance. I’ll give anything that chance – I learned how to play cricket before, and got most of its rules. What’s to stop me grasping American football? Thus, I set myself some homework, and I sat down to watch the Super Bowl in 2016, between the Denver Broncos and the Carolina Panthers. Even I’d heard of the Denver Broncos, which was a boost for me. I was ready to give it a chance, the regulation four quarters of 15 minutes.

That’s what you’re told, anyway. But there was a whole pre-match show to get through first, before the commentators told us that coming up next would be the coin toss, sponsored by KFC. The toss of a coin was being bigged up as a massive event, for God’s sake. Of course, you’ve then got fighter jets flying overhead, along with a butchering of the national anthem.

Then the game began, and that fifteen minute timer wasn’t counting down anywhere near as fast as I’d have thought. Only in America could they squeeze twenty ad breaks into fifteen minutes – and that’s what it was, ad breaks between each and every blow of the whistle. I still didn’t know what was going on.

I made it to the half-time show, which itself is another mega event, endlessly discussed. How do the players even keep their focus, waiting for that rubbish to end? The year I watched, it was Coldplay – just what you need to rouse you for battle. Did Slayer ever do a half-time show?

It doesn’t matter anyway, because the whole thing goes on for about three hours, and keep in mind that the match starts near midnight where I am. This would explain why I came to work the next day, bleary-eyed, still not knowing what the hell happened, while everyone else in the office looked wired and abuzz with excitement over the game.

Look, I do understand that not every Champions League Final is a great soccer match. If newcomers judge the sport of football off one showcase game like that, then a lot of them will react the same way as I did. But Jesus, I just couldn’t get it. Still, no matter: if the TV couldn’t show me, and my colleagues couldn’t show me, then maybe video games, my place of refuge, could help me out.

Hence I decided to look for the best NFL game out there. And I know that there have been about 20,000 Madden games, but these games presuppose that you have a bit of knowledge about the sport, and John Madden himself would laugh at how little I knew. I decided to start from the start and look to the NES, and what many people dubbed the best NFL game to this day – Tecmo Bowl.

Now, I find it difficult to believe that any NES game could be the best representation of a sport. Mind you, Super Soccer is the best real football game out there, and Blades of Steel is the best ice hockey game, so it’s not entirely unheard of. Thus I had high hopes for Tecmo Bowl. Of course, I didn’t know any of the players from back then – I don’t even know any of the players now. I do happen to know that Bo Jackson is apparently overpowered and unbeatable in this game. Once I found out what team he played for, the game was on.

But not so fast. Nothing is ever fast in NFL. Before every play – and that’s what it’s called, a play – you’re invited to select your desired tactic. It’ll make sense to the geeks, but the outcome is just one load of refrigerators charging after another load of refrigerators, until your guy falls over.

At that point the ball comes loose, and then it goes back to being a game of chess again. This is where the fault in NFL likes – you can have a thousand different tactics in your playbook and all, but if you’re the fastest and most powerful guy then you’re going to get to the end.

That’s how I won games in Tecmo Bowl, even if I couldn’t buy a win in Fantasy Football. Pick a tactic that you don’t know what the hell it does anyway; execute that tactic with a certain button input combo; listen to the game incessantly cry “Hut! Hut! Hut!”; then just pass it to your best player, outrun the “dee-fense”, get to the end zone as it’s called, and touch it down. Tecmo Bowl is probably decent for what it is, and I’m clearly the wrong guy to ask.

I’m not going to write the game off. In fact, I had a little bit of fun with it. But I just have to object to the American football fad or phase that Britain and Ireland seem to be going through, with fans using Americanised language in an effort to make NFL bigger over here. Lads, just stop right now. And if I see you wearing those oversized jerseys and talking about tailgating, I’m telling you, there’s going to be an atrocity.

4 May 2021

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