So far, the Deadspin Sports Quarantine Nintendo Club has been about seeing what Nintendo games hold up after all these years, while playing them on a Web-based emulator. This time, it’s a little different.
I don’t think there’s a video game I’ve played more in my life than Tecmo Bowl. I had it on my original NES as a kid, and on my Game Boy, and have returned to it online every so often in the years since those devices went kaput.
With the NFL draft this weekend, I’m in a football mood, and I want to play my favorite game of them all. I know there are arguments for Tecmo Super Bowl being better, what with the official NFL licensing to include every team, and playbooks expanded from four plays to eight, and we’ll get to that one, but to me, there will never be anything that matches the original.
There have been enough pieces over the years about Bo Jackson’s dominance in Tecmo Bowl, and that’s a famous enough thing that there was even a 2017 commercial for Kia with Jackson that focused on it, using Tecmo Super Bowl even though the stadium in the commercial said “Tecmo Bowl.” Anyway, I’ve played online with the Raiders enough that it’s not what I want to do here.
Ditto the Giants, not only because I’m a Giants fan, but because a Tecmo Bowl secret is that Bo Jackson is not the best player in the game. That would be Lawrence Taylor, who not only is the rare player you can use on defense to get both sacks and interceptions, but can block every single kick an opponent tries. There are other offensive players – Walter Payton in Tecmo Bowl, QB Eagles (an unlicensed Randall Cunningham) in Tecmo Super Bowl – who can at least approach Jackson. Nobody is on LT’s level, and I’ve rolled through the entire game with him on multiple occasions.
To pick a team for this, I went with the tried and true method of closing my eyes and holding the down arrow for several seconds, then opening my eyes to see what team I’ll play with.
Seattle, here we go!
The computer cycles through opponents and comes up with San Francisco, so it’s a rematch of the dramatic Week 17 contest that gave the 49ers home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs and helped propel them to the Super Bowl. At the time of Tecmo Bowl, though, this would be an AFC-NFC battle.
Seattle’s playbook is very average. There’s an outside run and an inside run with Curt Warner, and two basic pass plays, each of which have safety valves – a short out route on Pass 1 and a button hook on Pass 2. It’s not an explosive offense, even with Steve Largent, but I should be able to march down the field efficiently.
Indeed, my first drive, cycling through the entire playbook, consists of seven plays to go 35 yards after an excellent kickoff return by Bobby Joe Edmonds. Largent has the biggest play, a 15-yard reception to set up first-and-goal, but the touchdown is on that short out route, Dave Krieg finding Daryl Turner in the end zone.
After the extra point, my kickoff leaves San Francisco inside its own 20, and they present a challenge on defense. There’s only one running play with Roger Craig, so one option is to just call that every time and worry about pass coverage. But that’s a challenge, too, because Jerry Rice and Mike Wilson are both capable of breaking off huge plays.
San Francisco’s most dangerous play is Pass 3, the shotgun with Rice and Wilson both going deep and Craig coming out of the backfield to also go deep, but crossing the field in the process – plus, Joe Montana can run a sneak and get first downs. This is the play I’ll be defending against, because I’ll know from the time they line up if I’m going to be stopping it, or if I’ll have to really defend.
Of course, there’s not a shotgun play on the first San Francisco drive, nor is there a running play. But I’m lining up with Brian Bosworth at the linebacker spot best positioned to stop the run, and when it isn’t a run, to drop back into coverage.
Montana opens 3-for-3, but the gains are short, helped by the fact that I’m sending my defense into coverage each time, and even if you call the wrong pass play, there’s a little computerized help back there. What happens next, though, has nothing to do with the play-calling.
The Boz goes back into coverage, Montana sends one downfield for tight end Russ Francis, and matching him stride-for-stride, Bosworth makes the pick.
Warner runs for back-to-back first downs, but Krieg gets sacked on the next play. Another pass to Largent sets up another first-and-goal as time expires in the first quarter, and Warner punches it in on the first play of the second.
The extra point makes it 14-0, and I know that’s pretty much game over, but it’s not like this isn’t fun. Another San Francisco drive starts inside the 20, and this time they go to that Craig running play, which Bosworth stops for a loss by running up the middle and diving for the tackle. When they line up in the shotgun, I know there’s another negative-yardage play coming, and sure enough, that’s what happens. They do it again on third down, which brings up 4th-and-19, and a punt.
The only unfortunate thing here is that punt returning is so difficult, because Edmonds is really good. But even he can’t get too much yardage out of punt returns when the cover team comes downfield so quickly.
The first play back with the ball, the computer guesses my pass play correctly, and while Krieg gets the ball away to avoid the sack, Ronnie Lott intercepts the pass, and San Francisco gets another crack on offense.
Rice is locked down in coverage, but San Francisco does get chunks of yardage with Wilson. They’re in Seattle territory for the first time when Bosworth comes up with his second interception, leading to an all-passing drive to try to pad the lead before halftime. And with eight seconds left, Krieg finds Largent in the back of the end zone, finally getting the Hall of Famer his touchdown.
After halftime, I mess up on defense, cycling past Bosworth and unable to get back to him before the snap. I wind up with Kenny Easley. As mistakes go, landing on a Hall of Fame safety isn’t a bad one to make, and as Montana finally targets Rice, Easley slides down to that side of the field and makes the pick.
Krieg throws another interception, but it’s not all bad, because after San Francisco goes three-and-out, a long punt means the worst field position of the game for Seattle… and a 74-yard touchdown strike to Largent to make it 28-0 at the end of the third quarter.
Bosworth gets his third interception of the game, but Krieg throws his third immediately after, and that sets up San Francisco to finally score. It happens because I mis-time a diving tackle with Bosworth, allowing Craig to dash 55 yards to my 2. And it’s Craig who punches it in from there, because mistakes compound themselves sometimes and I misfire on another dive.
So it goes. At least it means another chance for an Edmonds kickoff return, and he does not disappoint, getting all the way to the San Francisco 25. That sets up Warner to get his second touchdown of the afternoon, wrapping up the game at 35-7.
There’s a password given to be able to come back and play on, and I just might. Seattle is a more fun team to play with than I remember, and as the opposition gets more challenging (the computer drops back its “controlled” player in pass coverage in subsequent games), it will be fun to try to grind out wins, and eventually stop Bo Jackson from doing in a video game what he did to Bosworth and Easley in real life.
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