Super Bowl MVP Hines Ward retired after this past season. He's 36. Atlanta's Tony Gonzalez, also the same age, is coming to the end of a hall-of-fame career as a tight end. Emmitt Smith, an extraordinarily tough running back for Dallas, was enshrined at Canton in 2010. "Runnin' the football was awesome," he said, "in Tecmo".
All of these men are of the generation that grew up with Tecmo Super Bowl, one of the greatest sports video games of all time. "That was the first game I think most athletes played," Ward said, "was Tecmo Bowl."
ESPN and NFL Films this week broadcast an outstanding look at the subculture helping keep Tecmo Super Bowl alive in modern times. The documentary centred on the Tecmo Madison tournament, the undisputed world championship of the 21-year-old video game, and outstanding characters like the Vogt brothers, the enigmatic champion Sobhi Youssef, and Chet and Josh Hozlbauer, organisers of the event.
But the power of Tecmo Super Bowl comes from knowing there were guys like us, who grew up, who played that game as high schoolers and college freshmen, and then went on to enter NFL lore in their own way. Even seeing someone like Christian Okoye, an absolute beast in Tecmo Super Bowl, struggling to contain himself two decades later, is immensely gratifying. (I delight in the irony that Okoye, playing as the Denver Broncos, at some point controlled Steve Atwater in the desperate fight against his video game persona). Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl exalt none and humble all. Only your skill in this game matters, not what you or your player may have done on the gridiron.
I contacted NFL Films and ESPN by phone and didn't get any word on when or if this particular feature would air again. The weekly NFL Films Presents features air Monday through Wednesday on ESPN2, and they have a different one queued for next week. If you missed it, I have no comfort. But Tecmo Super Bowl got its closeup with the legend-making NFL Films this week, and man, was it pretty.