No Less Of A Memory — The Human Drama Of Video Game Sports

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 offences entered the BCS National Championship Game expecting pyrotechnics. But it was Tim Vincent and the Northwestern defence 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' defence gave up no points after the first quarter, holding the Sooners to just 143 yards of total offence.

"I've been a part of three special teams and three special defenses here at Northwestern," Vincent said. "What this defence 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, $US10 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 $US10 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 favourite 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 realised 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 neighbour, 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.

Stick Jockey is Kotaku's column on sports video games. It appears Saturdays at 10 a.m. U.S. Mountain time.


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