By Brian Cullen
If you made a Venn diagram between “jocks” and “nerds,” sports video games would land in the perfect, gooey center, along with statistics and a love of all things fantasy. Now, with any list about the best video game athletes, you’ll have your usual entries: Bo Jackson, Michael Vick, Jeremy Roenick, etc. But this list? This is about the other guys. Here’s our top 5 favorite underrated video games athletes.
5) Tracy McGrady – NBA Street
For those who have never wasted their freshman year investing hours into NBA Street, it’s essentially a souped-up, modern version of NBA Jam. Every time you defeat a team, you can take a player from that team. Throughout the game, it’s up to your created player — and the players you gain along the way — to rise to street ball dominance. Now, just so we’re clear, the willing suspension of disbelief is pretty high here (one of the unlockable characters is a Yeti. A YETI). But that said, one of the best characters in the game — and one of the characters I kept with me to the bitter end when I hit the reset button against my stupid roommate — was T-Mac.
He was awesome by every metric, and helped give you a team with a solid offense and defense. What’s heartbreaking, however, is that retrospectively, this might be one of the highlights of his career.
4) Tony Amonte – NHL ‘95
People who are wrong will argue that the Kings or Red Wings were the cream of the crop in NHL ‘95, thanks to the Gretzky/Robitaille and Yzerman/Federov pairings. But they forget that that the Blackhawks were solid in every position: Jeremy Roenick, Steve Smith, Steve Larmer, Chris Chelios and Ed Belfour were monsters. I didn’t need to look up that lineup, but I don’t know my brother’s birthday. I’ve had several decades worth of chances to remember. Still, no dice.
However, you’ll notice that that lineup is one short. That’s because the original Blackhawks lineup started off with Michel Goulet — who was a 67 overall — on the wing. If you’re playing without line changes (like a cheater, like me), the obvious choice was to swap out Michel Goulet with Tony Amonte, who was a 74 overall. This boost brought the Blackhawks from Death Star level (dangerous, but with one key exploitable flaw) into unbeatable digital juggernauts.
3) Chris Mullin – NBA Jam
Don’t come at me claiming Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant or Larry Johnson or even “Thunder” Dan Majerle were the best that NBA Jam had to offer. Besides, only a fool would track down slam-dunking glory, rather than chasing the real gold: the 3-pointer. Especially with the “On fire” powerup, you want someone who can constantly drain buckets from behind the line all day, every day. And that’s Chris Mullin.
Unlike tiny Tim Hardaway, Mullin was a giant. His stats eschewed driving the lane in favor of pure, sweet follow-through. And with Mullin as your go-to man, you could go toe-to-toe with any team in the NBA.
2) Vinny Testaverde – Tecmo Super Bowl
Sure, all the quarterback attention in Tecmo Super Bowl goes to QB Eagles, QB Bills and Joe Montana. But don’t sleep on Vinny Testaverde (which I can’t help but say in the same way you would say: “It’s a-me, Mario!”). Nobody picked the Bucs because they were lousy and wore a creamsicle-color uniform. But clever players could get away with picking Tampa Bay and relying on both Testaverde’s command of the field, as well as his surprising speed, to give them the edge, before ultimately losing. Because c’mon. It’s Tampa Bay.
1) Lefty O’Doul – Baseball Stars
Baseball Stars didn’t totally employ a real life cast of characters. They featured fake teams like the SNK Crushers and the Ghastly Monsters (who had Hollywood monster names, like “Zombie”). But one notable exception was the American Dreams. They were by far the best team in the game, and they were almost all named after great American ballplayers. For instance, Willy (Willy Mays), Babe (Babe Ruth), and Cy (Cy Young).
But the best player on the American Dreams was Lefty. Lefty was named after Lefty O’Doul, a name that probably isn’t familiar to casual baseball fans. O’Doul was a pretty great player and a pretty great manager. So why is he the best player on the team? Probably due to his popularity in Japan.
See, O’Doul served as something of a goodwill ambassador to Japan before and after the war. He’s credited with spreading the popularity of baseball in the country. In fact, Japan’s “New York Yankees” — the Tokyo Giants — were named after the New York Giants, where Lefty spent some time as a player.
In Japan, Lefty O’Doul is very highly revered. Meanwhile, the producer of Baseball Stars — SNK — was located in Japan. Is it any wonder, then, that they programmed him to do this?
So there you have it. Our top 5 underrated video game athletes. Now, if you would be so kind, please take to the comments section and tell me how I’m wrong and some slanderous things about my mother.