Another NFL season is about to come to an end, and if you're a Dallas Cowboys fan, it's probably not a good time for you. Not only did Jerry Jones' storied franchise come to a dismal end with a 4-12 record, but it also saw a list of season-ending injuries for players like Dez Bryant, Lance Dunbar, Sean Lee and Tony Romo. You've probably uttered the phrase, "At least we're not Detroit" more than a few times just to get through the end of the season.
Watching two other teams give each other concussions as they vie for the Super Bowl title must be devastating. The good news is that you've got one more chance to deliver a win for the Big-D by the end of the football season, and it doesn't involve breaking the laws of time and space or paying the Carolina Panthers to let the Cowboys take their place in Santa Clara, California, on Sunday (and I'm sure that Jones has tried both by now).
If you had a Nintendo Entertainment System as a child and cared even a tiny bit about football, then you definitely remember the classic, 8-bit football game Tecmo Super Bowl. The game and its franchise-launching predecessor, Tecmo Bowl, were the first to bring an NFL-licensed, play-calling football game into living rooms without the risk of breaking furniture or the need to re-spackle a wall or two. Even though modern consoles can deliver a football game that almost mirrors the real thing, these football video games still have a huge fan base almost 30 years later thanks in part to tournaments that are held every year all over the country.
Thumb jockeys who think they have what it takes to be the best armchair quarterback can compete in the Texas Tecmo III tournament. This 8-bit touchdown throw-down starts at 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 6, at Three Links on Elm Street in Deep Ellum.
Brett Michael Strawn, a Dallas native who plays in the band Party Static and has organized the tournament for the last three years, says he was one of the many children of the '80s and '90s who played the NES football game and still plays it with friends.
"It was my favorite game from my childhood and a bunch of my buddies are the same, so we have little tournaments at my house every year or two years," Strawn says. "It was always a blast."
Strawn started the Texas tournament after learning about the growing wave of Tecmo Bowl tournaments across the nation from an NFL Films documentary short about a huge, annual tournament in Madison, Wisconsin, that regularly attracts hundreds of players from all over the country. He and his friends also made the drive from Dallas to Madison to compete in the tournament.
"These guys are really respected and feared and I thought that this was just crazy and we need to check this out," he says. "So me and my buddies made a road trip to check it out and it was so much fun. It was ridiculous to get so many guys around to play this game and reminisce."
Chris McDonald, a friend of Strawn's who also helps organize the annual Texas tournament and made the trek to Madison, described the tournament as "like Comic-Con."
"It was a lot of fun and there were lots of people, but it was also really kind of an intense, long day," McDonald says. "You get there at 11 a.m. and you're playing this game until 7 to 8 p.m. at night sometimes, or even later."
Strawn says the competition can also get fierce, even if they are playing an old school football video game that runs on a cartridge with only enough memory for eight plays and five-minute quarters.
"When it's down to the last four to eight guys, you realize how much they go through to get to that point," he says. "The sheer number of players they have to get past, that's a real endurance test. They play tons of games. So the winner of that tournament plays so many games in the course of a day, it's really challenging. I didn't even realize the level of players there. I'm always really good against my friends and stuff so I thought I had an outside chance, but these guys play all around the year."
When Strawn and his friends returned to Dallas, he decided that "football country" needed a Tecmo tournament to call their own. So he made arrangements with Three Links and held the first Tecmo Super Bowl tournament in 2014. The tournament isn't as big as the one in Madison, which Strawn says is a godsend considering how challenging it can be just holding one with 30-plus people. However, he says they still manage to attract a lot of high caliber talent, including some from out of town.
"The guy who won last year lives in Austin and we have guys who fly in from Louisiana to participate," Strawn says. "People are pretty passionate about the game and when they find out about it, people show up from all over the place. One of the guys who won the first year tournament placed in the top of the national tournament."
The Texas Tecmo tournament pits groups of players against each other in a series of double elimination rounds with some possibility for Wild Card spots depending on the total number of participants. The top two from each group then move to the finals where a single loss knocks them out of the tournament. The finals run until one player is left standing with the top prize, a collection of cash from the buy-in that each player must pay to join the tournament. Everyone who finishes in the top eight will at least win back their entry fee.
The Tecmo football game is simpler than the football simulators from EA Games' Madden franchise or even the over-the-top arcade classic NFL Blitz, an adrenaline-style football game from Midway where pass interference and body slamming late hits are acceptable behavior. McDonald says that's what makes Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl so special and challenging.
"The thing about the game that's so crazy is that it's just a pick up and play kind of game," he says. "You only have eight plays in your playbook but there's always some kind of glitches, like the 90-yard ball, and everyone's seen Bo Jackson break through a tackle. It's always fun to watch that happen at a tournament."
The gameplay may be rudimentary compared to modern console games, but there are also strategies and tricks players can use to earn the edge they need, like the memorable "Zig Zig" running pattern for avoiding diving tackles after a player breaks through the defensive line and heads for the end zone.
"For me personally, you would definitely want to look at your playbook," Strawn says. "This game allows you to change your plays out, and some plays you never want to use, because there might be motion before the ball is snapped that gives it away or just from the way they line up, you can tell the play that is coming if you played it enough."
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If you find yourself unsure of what to do or if you never played it, Strawn says he's got a strategy for that as well.
"When in doubt, just heave it," Strawn says. "This game is ridiculous because you can throw an 80 or 90-yard pass if your receiver has the time to run that far."
"I love throwing long bombs," McDonald says. "That's the most fun, just chucking it up and throwing a 90-yard bomb with Troy Aikman to [Jay] Novacheck."
The Tecmo Texas III tournament starts at 11:30 a.m. at Three Links, 2704 Elm St. Participants can register by sending a non-refundable $20 buy-in fee through Paypal to firstname.lastname@example.org. Players can also buy a spot in person for $25 if space is available.