JP Pelosi remembers the greatest video game of the Eighties and finds Tim Tebow’s missed calling.
There are two scenarios in which Tim Tebow would be the world’s greatest quarterback: the first, on a frost-covered gridiron in Duluth, Minnesota in 1923; the second, inside a football video game from the Eighties—coincidentally an era when aimlessly running in hostile environs was at a premium (see the movies Running Man, Blade Runner and Predator).
Too many people expect too much from Tebow. Of course, this past season he couldn’t pitch a nine-yard out to save his life—he’s a born runner, a replicant created better, for short term gain only. There’s some kind of genius to his rare design.
When the video game gods considered the possibilities for a football prophet to eclipse black and white Xs and Os, they surely conjured a mold in Tebow’s image. If you look closely, Tebow is in fact a Nintendo sprite, circa 1985. Left. Right. Forward. Back. The occasional awkward diagonal. Stick with these controls, and Tebow will take you far. If he freezes mid-play, hit reset. Born to play inside your TV, Tebow’s stuck in reality.
My favorite football video game as a kid was the underwhelming-but-charming 10-yard Fight. I was nine when it was released, which gifted me with a suitable lack of expectation and a necessary amount of patience to enjoy such a limited game. But then again, 10-yard Fight moved video gamers beyond Atari’s pixilation and into, well, a sharper variation of little blurry squares.
The beauty of Fight—as anyone nostalgic about the original batch of Nintendo offerings will attest to—was its simplicity. No fancy intro featuring Kid Rock or Creed. No mistimed broadcasting on a loop. No overcompensating mini-games because the main product’s bogged down in complex playbooks. Instead, Fight resourced one offensive mode—Tim Tebow’s preferred attack—the read-option. Your quarterback simply took the snap and could make three choices: 1) run, 2) toss the ball horizontally to a running back, or 3) throw the ball to your lone down-field receiver. It was the sort of stark, unscheduled, draw-it-up-the-sand approach to football that made you fall in love with the sport in the first place.
Playing the game again also reveals the ungoverned zeal Tebow must experience as he zigs and zags and then darts into every line, and finally, charges away from every helpless secondary. Tebow, like the Fight signal-caller, hurriedly scans for space, reads the lean of defenders’ bodies and chooses an angle, by foot or by air. It’s a basic premise with an understated beauty.
But 10-yard Fight, like Tebow, is polarizing because most gamers, and even those with a penchant for anything retro, prefer the oft-heralded Tecmo Bowl. And to be fair, Tecmo seems a superb blend of dynamism and graphical prowess in hindsight. Indeed, Fight never matched its game play, but made up the difference with quirky, old-fashioned touches, chief of which were its sound effects. Its mirthful audio snippets can only be described as cuts from an abandoned Casio keyboard recording session, which provided both practical and emotional checkpoints for a game that hinged on such things. Fight’s intermittent jingles signalled new downs, first downs, and touchdowns—but more importantly, success!
Football deconstructed into 10-yard struggles posed a feasible and enticing challenge in the Eighties, kind of like the “It girls” they casted during the era’s teen movies: Cindy Mancini in Can’t Buy Me Love or Andy in the The Goonies were just the types of love interests nerds locked in their rooms with Nintendo could not attain, but hoped to. Yet, if you consider today’s It girl—Madden on the Xbox, if you will—they’re all uninhibited nymphs whose mere silhouettes are enough to unsettle the fit of your Dockers. It’s a challenge of another kind.
Fight has its own sex appeal, though. How about, for example, when the marching defense is coming for you, with that tappity-tap drumming sound in your ear? Then, at a speed equitable to the one typically seen on CBS replays, you retreat your quarterback toward your own end zone, spinning and ducking in a Tebow-esque fashion until ultimately you find yourself yards from the goalposts, at which point your only option – your only read, Tim! – is to heave it back down field toward your lone receiver. If you’re lucky, the ball will sail beyond the smattering of defenders—who by this stage have mostly drifted toward the sideline in search of pixilated Gatorade—and will conclude its flight in the opposite end zone, in the hands of your receiver. The bird-like whistle will sound repetitively as your man leaps for joy on the spot. You glance at the rapidly ticking clock and get ready to defend, where you’ll soon play the part of cumbersome obstacle, and your opponent will attempt to secure ground in highly-coveted 10-yard increments.
Football, the way it was intended.