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The Great Anthems of Sport Belong in Video Games

Illustration for article titled The Great Anthems of Sport Belong in Video Games

Today I wrote about "Augusta," the theme of The Masters Tournament television broadcast since 1980, and its inclusion in Tiger Woods PGA Tour 13's collector's edition. The emotional violin, piano and guitar ballad is instantly recognizable, and you're going to hear a lot of it this weekend as the tournament plays out on CBS.


There are many other sports broadcast anthems of similar, or greater stature; some have made their way into video games, others have remained distant from them. Still, if you're not a golf fan, you may wonder what the fuss is about. Well, if you are a fan of soccer, basketball, football or baseball, you can imagine playing a video game to your sport's most powerful theme and understand the significance.

Click on the videos in the gallery above to hear the songs.

UEFA Champions League Anthem (UEFA/Tony Britten)

Let's go ahead and get this on the record first: "The Champions," the anthem for The UEFA Champions League. There is near-unanimous admiration for this song as the greatest ever produced for a sports broadcast.


"The Champions" has appeared in Konami's Pro Evolution Soccer, which holds the Champions League rights. It probably helps that this music is owned by the sport's license holder, not a broadcast partner. Generally, when you do a deal with a league, you get permission to use all of its symbols.

English composer Tony Britten was commissioned by UEFA to create a theme 20 years ago. This is an adaptation of Georg Frideric Handel's "Zadok the Priest," performed by the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. The lyrics are in the three official languages used by UEFA.

Identity is everything in international football, and if your club wins, to hear it celebrated or introduced so, so gloriously, as "The Champions,"—and three languages are represented in its lyrics—must be overwhelming to behold.

"Roundball Rock" (NBA/John Tesh)

This is the title song for professional basketball at its most telegenic, the Jordan era, the NBA on NBC of the 1990s. This is the Shrug, the Switched-Hands Layup, the Double Nickel, the Flu Game, with Reggie Miller plunging the dagger in the Knicks on top. Few songs, whether sports broadcast themes or otherwise, convey a sense of time and place like this one.


John Tesh wrote Roundball Rock and while I thought he, not NBC, owned it outright, it appears to be in use for NBA Developmental League games on Versus, which has since been acquired and renamed the NBC Sports Network. It was also used in NBC's coverage of basketball at the 2008 Olympics.

Regardless, I have campaigned to 2K Sports and Visual Concepts to acquire this piece of music for its NBA 2K series. They've probably paid a lot of money for their current 2K Sports theme, so, to replace it and make this the game's broadcast theme, even an optional one, is probably a bit of a stretch. But every time I sit down and fire up NBA 2K12, especially the 1990s matchups of it's NBA's Greatest mode, I think about beginning a game to this theme and I nearly put my fist through the ceiling.

"Heavy Action" (NFL/ABC/ESPN)

The NFL is shot through with outstanding music, much of it coming from the composers hired by NFL Films. That outfit's best song doesn't go here, because there's a spoken component to it, and it recognizes a single team, not a sport or a league. But every time I hear John Facenda draw up and declare, "The Autumn Wind is a Raider," I'm ready to run through cinderblocks. It's a very, very special song and it is a wonderful gift to the Oakland franchise.


Sadly, though, the league's current broadcast themes have been overwrought, over-martialed anthems trying too hard to recognize the league's significance. John Williams' theme for Sunday Night Football on NBC is much better than the sleigh-ride nonsense Fox has insisted on trumpeting for 20 years, but it still sounds like it belongs in Attack of the Clones. CBS has been rudderless in the music department ever since it came back from the wilderness of the mid-1990s to the AFC. The NFL Today in the 1980s had a superb opening, though it does sound a little dated today. Still, I can see Brent, Irv, Phyllis and Jimmy the Greek every time it hits that funky bass line.

Madden, however, hasn't adopted any network's broadcast package, preferring to develop its own presentational style, and it makes sense. Three over-the-air networks and two cable channels broadcast league games. Excluding any of them stabs at the immersion the franchise seeks to deliver, and 400 percent more commentary and music is neither going to make the game better nor fit on the disc.


Still, I wish I could someday play a game in Madden to a Monday Night Football opening. While we will never see Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford and Don Meredith back in the booth, Monday Night Football's theme will never, ever go away. Those opening horns communicate greatness. Not of a league, team, or player, but of a game. The game you are going to watch. Don't believe me? Here it introduces a matchup of the 1-3 Eagles versus the 1-4 Vikings in 1990, and makes it sound like Earth versus the Klingons in World War Eight.

I don't care for the modern version, which tries too hard to genuflect to ESPN's ownership of this franchise. This edit of the song, introduced in 1989, and as timeless as the original, is its best.

"Gathering Crowds" (MLB/This Week in Baseball)

MLB 12 The Show has the best original theme of any sports video game, bar none. The way it builds to its crescendo, for me, idealizes the tension of baseball, in the heat of a pennant race, in the late innings of an elimination game, in the final pitch to a team trailing by one run. But it is no "Gathering Crowds."


Baseball fans my age swoon when this plays. If you went to the park early on a Saturday to catch batting practice and the stadium had a JumboTron, they'd show "This Week in Baseball" as the crew cleared the field to get ready for the game. "Gathering Crowds" is the stirring recessional of the highlight show's closing credits.

It would be well out of place compared to either MLB 12 The Show's theme, or the 2K Sports anthem. But it works as an accompaniment to an end-of-year highlight, like a championship. And as career modes deepen, we'll inevitably get a career highlights package at the end of your player's professional lifespan. If the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, N.Y. ever got involved with a video game, curating a mode about the game's history, this song would be perfect for it, too.


Not a song of conflict, or drama, or even triumph, "Gathering Crowds" is simply about the pure joy of my favorite sport, and my nation's pastime.

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The worst part about the John Williams theme for NBC football was that they had some guy come and remix it with electronics and guitar and all sorts of mess to make it sound more "modern." Total disaster.