Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tebow's a gamer


Tim Tebow's move to the New York Jets has confounded most NFL experts and commentators. And yet, there's a strange genius at play in acquiring the country's biggest football personality to showcase his rare stylings on its grandest stage.

Here's a satirical piece I wrote earlier this year for The Good Men Project about the one, and only, Tebow.

Tebow's a gamer

There are two scenarios in which Tim Tebow would be the world's greatest quarterback: the first, on a frost-covered gridiron in Deluth Minnesota in 1923; the second, inside a football video game from the Eighties - coincidentally an era when aimlessly running in hostile environs was at a premium (see the movies Running Man, Blade Runner and Predator).

Too many people expect too much from Tebow. Of course this past season he couldn’t pitch a nine-yard out to save his life - he's a born runner, a replicant created better, for short term gain only. Why can’t we just accept the genius of his rare design?

When the video game gods considered the possibilities for a football prophet to eclipse black and white Xs and Os, they surely conjured a mold in Tebow's image. If you look closely, Tebow is in fact a Nintendo sprite, circa 1985. Left. Right. Forward. Back. The occasional awkward diagonal. Stick with these controls and Tebow will take you far. If he freezes mid-play, hit reset.

Unfortunately Tebow's in the wrong era, trapped in reality. He competes in this futuristic pigskin we know as the NFL, where his indecision and inaccuracy are brutally punished by battering rams with hardened plastic shells. It can never work, no matter what the epitomic quarterback John Elway says. Video game QBs of the mid-Eighties were different to actual QBs - more innocent, dancing and dashing around the pocket like a kid playing hopscotch in the backyard. Being pummeled in the back field was not in their repertoire, but reserved for those plodding NFLers taught to launch balls from deep in the pocket like a rusty- wheeled cannon. No, '85 sprites bounced, rolled and rambled, without a hint of deference for the defense, which looked hopelessly blinkered on every down, mind you.

In this vain, my favorite football video game as a kid was the underwhelming but charming 10-yard Fight. I was nine when it was released, which gifted me with a suitable lack of expectation and a necessary amount of patience to enjoy a game with the limited locomotion. But then again, 10-yard Fight moved video gamers beyond Atari’s pixilation and into, well, a sharper variation of little blurry squares.

The beauty of Fight – as anyone nostalgic about the original batch of Nintendo offerings will attest to – was simplicity. No fancy intro featuring Kid Rock or Creed. No mistimed broadcasting on a loop, more obvious than Ferris Bueller’s rigged doorbell. No overcompensation of mini-games because the main product's bogged down in complex playbooks. Instead, Fight resourced one offensive mode – Tim Tebow’s preferred attack – the read-option. Your quarterback simply received the ball upon the snap and could enact one of three choices: 1) run, 2) toss the ball horizontally to a running back, 3) throw the ball to your lone down field receiver. It was the sort of stark, unscheduled, draw-it-up-the-sand approach to football that made you fall in love with the sport in the first place.

Playing the game again also reveals the ungoverned zeal Tebow must experience as he zigs and zags and then darts into every line, and finally, charges away from every helpless secondary. Tebow, like the Fight signal-caller, hurriedly scans for space, reads the lean of defenders' bodies and chooses an angle, by foot or by air. It’s a basic premise with an understated beauty.

But 10-yard Fight, like Tebow, is polarizing because most gamers and even those with a penchant for anything retro, prefer the oft-heralded Tecmo Bowl. And to be fair, Tecmo seems a superb blend of dynamism and graphical prowess in hindsight. Indeed, Fight never matched its game play, but made up the difference with quirky, old-fashioned touches, chief of which was its sound effects. Its mirthful audio snippets can only be described as cuts from an abandoned Casio keyboard recording session, which provided both practical and emotional checkpoints for a game that hinged on such things - as opposed to completing entire seasons or starting as a rookie and ending up an MVP. Fight’s intermittent jingles signalled new downs, first
downs and touchdowns, but more importantly, success!

Football deconstructed into 10-yard struggles posed a feasible and enticing challenge in the Eighties, kind of like the “It girls” they casted during the era's teen movies: Cindy Mancini in Can’t Buy Me Love or Andy in the The Goonies were just the types of love interests nerds locked in their rooms with Nintendo could not attain, but hoped to. Yet, if you consider today’s it girl - Madden on the Xbox, if you will - they’re all uninhibited nymphs whose mere silhouettes are enough to unsettle the fit of your Dockers. It's a challenge of another kind.

Fight will never hold a candle to a scantily-clad Shannon Elizabeth but it has its own sex appeal. How about, for example, when the marching defense is coming for you, with that tappity-tap drumming sound in your ear? Then, at a speed equitable to the one typically seen on CBS replays, you retreat your quarterback toward your own end zone, spinning and ducking in a Tebow-esquepixilated Gatorade - and will conclude its flight in the opposite end zone, in the hands of your receiver. The bird-like whistle will sound repetitively as your man leaps for joy on the spot. You glance at the rapidly ticking clock and get ready to defend, where you’ll soon play the part of cumbersome obstacle, and your opponent will attempt to secure ground in highly-coveted 10-yard increments.

Football, the way it was intended.

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