Some video game sports moments are so indelible we remember and narrate them the same way we do the ones from real life.
I'm not saying we confuse the realities, necessarily, although anyone who's completed his third season of a dynasty in any simulation can be forgiven for wandering into an alternate reality. "My star linebacker, Rocky Doss, was lost for the season with a broken leg today," my friend Dav, playing his fifth season as Air Force's head coach, told me a few years ago. "And honestly, I really felt sorry for the guy. He was in the second game of his senior year."
Andy Hutchins, who writes The Arena sees things in just such a way. I went to him a week ago with this Greatest Sports Moments idea. He immediately rolled off an AP-style lede, complete with a quote. And to be fair, if I took Northwestern to a national championship, I'd probably be hallucinating, too:
The nation's top two scoring offenses entered the BCS National Championship Game expecting pyrotechnics. But it was Tim Vincent and the Northwestern defense that proved more explosive, leading the Wildcats to a 17-14 win and their third straight national title.
Vincent, the NCAA's all-time sack leader, harassed Oklahoma's signal callers all game, sending two to the sidelines with injuries on his two sacks, and the Wildcats' defense gave up no points after the first quarter, holding the Sooners to just 143 yards of total offense.
"I've been a part of three special teams and three special defenses here at Northwestern," Vincent said. "What this defense did tonight makes this the sweetest win we've had."
So in this spirit, I asked around for some folks' top moments in sports video gaming. They follow below, with mine going last. Of course, feel free to share your own in the comments, and I'll excerpt some of them into this column in an update later today.
Steve Noah, Operation Sports (MLB 09 The Show)
I like to create myself in a lot of games, just to see how accurate the game is, compared to my real life, uh, non-existent professional career.
This time it was baseball, playing MLB 09 The Show. Building myself into a cyber-steroid emerging uber-talent was hard. But after a few years, I was eventually plugged into the starting lineup of the San Francisco Giants. Even though I had a great average with good power and speed, I wasn't what you'd call clutch.
It seemed like every imaginable time I had runners in scoring position, during the season or in the playoffs, when the team needed me the most, I would choke, crumble and let them down. Every single time. I'd dribble it off the plate, pop it up or just strike out at the most important time of the game.
That is, until Game 7 of the World Series. Steve Noah, "Mr. Choke Job" himself, stepped up to the plate, bases loaded, bottom of the ninth with one out, trailing 6-3. It was something kids daydream about when growing up. On a 3-1 count, the count that I would usually jump all over, only to see disappointment, I hit a 390 foot home run to win the game! I was jumping up and down, screaming and yelling like I actually did this in real life. Like I was a kid again, like a professional baseball player, living a dream. OK, maybe not. But damn, did it feel good, and to do it against the Yankees was icing on the cake.
Commenter "Michael Dukakis" (MLB 08 The Show)It all began as a baseball conversation among friends. With two Mets fans, two Yankees fans, and a Red Sox fan no matter how civil the discussion began,it always quickly devolved into something similer to the Dawn of Man scene from 2001: A Space Odyssey. So as our "discussion" continued it came to a bet. Me and one of the Yankee fans 1 on 1 MLB 08, $10 to the winner and of course, bragging rights. I, the Mets and he of course, the Yankees.
Before I was even settled in the La-Z-Boy a Derek Jeter home run makes it 1-0. No biggie, Carlos Delgado immediately homered and I was right back in it. The 1-1 tie held until the top of the 8th, when Jeter smacked a two-run double (Pixelated Aaron Heilman, my starter, was just as bad as his counterpart apparently).
Mariano Rivera began warming up, due to face the bottom of my lineup. My first two batters were retired on strikeouts. But a walk to a pinch-hitter and a base hit gets me in business. Rivera goes to full count on my next hitter and then walks him. That brough up Carlos Beltran, with the bases loaded.
Now this was a year ago so I can't quite remember the exact pitch sequence, but I remember the last pitch. Oh what a shot it was, clearly into the virtual parking lot. The gloating and $10 mine. That is my greatest sports video game moment ... and sadly, probably one of the biggest wins any Mets team has had in quite a while.
Jim Harris, Operation Sports (NHL 94)
As a teenager growing up in Winnipeg in the early '90s, to say we were preoccupied with NHL 94 would be the understatement to end all understatements. We played it when we were bored. We played it when we were avoiding homework. We played it to determine our social standing and our own sense of self worth. My younger brother and I were especially transfixed. We spent hours and hours battling it out in one fictional seven-game series after the next.
Having played the game so much, we were essentially equally skilled. If we played 100 times, he might win 51 games to my 49 (but I'd probably win six of the 11 ensuing fistfights).
One particular seven-game series still stands as my favorite sports moment. Having gone back and forth over the course of a particularly tense series, we finally entered Game 7. Much to my chagrin, my brother got the best of me that game, building up a comfortable lead over the course of the first two periods. When the horn sounded to end the second period, the taunting began. He started ripping into me like only a younger brother could. I was finally getting my comeuppance.
Then something strange happened. Singing a happy victory song at the top of his lungs, he danced his way right out of the room. After a moment, I realized he'd mistakenly thought the game was over. At that point, I did the only thing that was right to do: I turned down the volume on the TV and played out the third period against an absent opponent. I called my brother back into the room to politely alert him to his oversight, just as the third period wound down.
As I recall, he didn't take it too well ...
Owen Good (Hardball!)
This is from 1992, after my freshman year of college. By now I had been playing Hardball! on a Commodore 64 with a Wico Command Control joystick for close to five years. We'd gotten it from our next door neighbor, who was the software buyer for the catalog showroom store in town. He'd been sent a bunch of samples and regularly passed them along to us.
Somewhere around my sophomore year of high school I began keeping box scores on notebook paper in a three ring binder. I could routinely log a 10-run, 20-hit game against the computer, and with the right pitcher, toss an 18-strikeout shutout.
But never a no-hitter. I was Hardball!'s Dave Steib - the Toronto Blue Jays pitcher who twice took a no-hitter to the final out only to lose it. In this case, I was convinced the game's AI was rigged to assure you never threw a perfect game against it. Repeatedly - it must have been half a dozen times, minimum - I would record the first 26 outs and get to two strikes on the game's final hitter, who would then drop an unplayable flare just over the third baseman's head. No matter where positioned the infield or the outfield, they couldn't get to it in time.
So that summer in 1992, I sat down to play Hardball! on a Saturday. I took the Champs' screwballer, Pepi Perez (with the deceptive 5.47 ERA) up against the All-Stars (the only other team in the game.) Sure enough, I powered through the first eight innings without a runner reaching base.
In the ninth inning, after getting two outs, I figured the perfect game had been proven an impossibility, but I was not going to waste a no-hitter. So I decided to pitch around the final batter and see if I could get the next hitter.I threw every ball out of the strike zone, just to see how committed the game was to screwing me. The computer swung at two pitches and looked at the rest, running the count to 3-2. I delivered the final one low and outside, absolutely intent on walking the computer.
It hit the ball directly to my third baseman, who didn't have to move. He caught the ball for the final out. I'd finally thrown a perfect game in Hardball! I turned off the computer and never played the game again.
Update: More Reader Memories
Marcus Stephenson, (Producer, EA Sports Vancouver; Madden NFL 08)
To pass the time, I was a store manager at Game Crazy, and we were on a conference call. I hear this voice on the phone say "If anyone wants to play me at Madden for money, let me know." I spoke up, since my background is Madden (owned Maddenmania.com), thinking nothing of it actually. A month later, we had a district meeting with all of the store managers, and this guy (first time I've met him) brought his own controller to the meeting, and reminded me that we needed to play.
We sit down to play, and I'm playing a conservative —bend don't break defense, running the ball, and short passes. This guy is the Chargers (I'm the Cowboys), and he gets to the goal line twice, and goes for it on 4th down twice and fails. I end up winning the game by 21 because of this, and he just shuts up. The entire group of store managers was huddled around us watching. It was classic. "This guy" later became my brother-in-law, and is Justin Dewiel, who now works as a Community Manger at EA SPORTS.
Snakepliskin (NFL 2K3)
I've had a couple good sports game moments. Last one i can remember was actually on the dreamcast. Me and my brother drove down to visit some family and we pulled out the old dreamcast to play nfl2k3.
My brother always whipped my ass at every game we played. So im playing against him and my cousin and i got one of my cousins on my team. I hadnt played on the dreamcast in a while but the vmu playcalling still worked and i still remembered the plays i use to run.
Either way my brother lights us up goes ahead by 2 scores and is leading up to the 4th. But then it starts clicking for me.
I hit my tight end going across the middle 3 times in a row till he finally adjust. At which point i throw to my receiver running a go route down the sideline for a score.
Still down 5 we get some luck when my cousin playing on my brothers team inexplicably moves out of his route for an incompletion, followed by a clutch sack by me. We get the ball back but time is running out. I make one throw on a crossing route. My cousin who made the mistake the last time made another one, he jumps going for the pick and misses leaving my receiver wide open and nothing but open space for the td. Nothing like beating your brother.
trunkenmath (Bases Loaded)
Bases Loaded on the NES. My Dad and I were crazy into this game. We played every single day when he got off the boat. He never let me win though, he would adjust his game to give me just enough hope to continue improving and coming back for more.
Anyways, one day I beat him and he told me it was time to hold our World Series, Best of 7 match to determine the champion. On the line: If I could win he would buy me a Sega Genesis. This was a dream chance for me.
I was too young to remember the details, but I can clearly remember the worst part. I won game 6 and forced a final battle. Excited he tucked me in and I went to bed dreaming of NES baseball and the wonders of Sega.
The next morning I woke up and rushed into my Dad's room but the bed was made and my mom was just in there alone. The night before my father's submarine had been deployed for an unknown amount of time. I was distraught.
After months of worrying and waiting my Dad came home. The first thing he said to me after he walked off the pier was "Game 7?". I don't recall how, but I won. My Dad and I celebrated like it were the real thing. Cakes, Soda, Pizza, driving around the block in a victory parade, no little detail was left out. Sure it sounds kind of lame but for us it was epic.
BryanH (NBA 2K8)
My friend would always play as the Spurs, because that's his favorite team, he's a huge nerd for Tony Parker and Tim Duncan and whatnot. I decided to be the Mavericks, no real reason, I don't even like them all that much. For the majority of the game, he's beating me pretty bad. He loves staying on Parker and annoying whoever has the ball, bringing in the big men to double whenever I get close to the rim. I can sometimes dish it out to an open man for an easy basket, but his plan is working, and by the time the 4th quarter rolls around I'm down by 20+.
This is when I go into 'screw it' mode. I think anyone who has played sports games knows what I mean, when you're either doing so good or so bad that you just say 'screw it' and start messing around, figuring the game is pretty much over anyways. In this case, I decided to start shooting 3 pointers with Jason Terry, just running up and immediately shooting it, defender in my face or not.
The first went in. The second too. And the third, and the fourth... Suddenly Jason Terry is on fire, exploding to make something like 13 of 15 three's. My friend is making some baskets on his end, but not enough to hinder my onslaught. At this point he's cursing Terry in real life, wishing him to drop dead as his virtual counterpart continues to score. Like a true bitch, he starts to intentionally foul me, but I still manage to cut it to one with the final possession, so he can't foul me now.
At this point, I'm already dying from laughter, both at his newfound hatred of Terry and the fact that I've made a comeback somehow. Despite needing only a 2 point basket to win, I looked at my friend and told him, "I'm going to shoot a three pointer with Terry and win." The fact this is my favorite story should tell you the outcome.
huginn (NCAA Football 07)
As an NCAA Junky my self, I can atest to the personal game drama a series can bring. And each title brings with it it's own stories and memories.
I can remember 07, playing Online with my PSU lions verse another who lovely decided to play OSU buckeyes. Up by 7, OSU runs a late 2 minute drill in the fourth quarter. With 5 seconds left, a quick corner strike goes to the endzone. OSU's WR (Ginn I believe) catches the ball.. but lands out of bounds as time expires. No review called but on replay, it looks close...
This year, I'm taking Louisville into a mutli-year season and had one game where I started a freshman QB who had a terrible 53 awareness rating. He throws 3 picks and I find my self benching him for my bench riding backup. I'm down 28-0 against kentucky and have to pull out a hard fought double overtime win to keep the upset from happening.
In my head I an see the coach (me) screaming at his players to play better, while consoling his freshman QB that it's ok. Little stories like these are about as non-linar as gameplay comes, and this experience is what keeps me coming back to sports titles.
Han (Brian Lara Cricket 2005)
In Brian Lara Cricket 2005 Australia needed 3 of the last over to win a match having scored 22 of the last Shane Bond over. I let the virtual me bowl and the over went like this.
Wicket, Wicket, 1 Run, Wicket, Wicket, Dot Ball.
And this was also on the hardest difficulty.
We obviously won and were off the the World Cup final when under the pump against Pakistan at 28/7 in chase of 46 for victory (10 over games) McCullum hit 20 of Afridi to win the World Cup.
Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Saturdays at 10 a.m. U.S. Mountain time.