5 Video Games That Made Me A Sports Fan

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Two nights ago, after Alabama scored a touchdown to take the lead on LSU with 51 seconds remaining, I found myself literally running around my house and leaping for joy, whispering (because our six month-old was asleep) all sorts of jubilant curse words. My wife, who was asleep on the couch for entire second half, woke up and muttered something to the effect of, “Good God, Will. Calm down.”

I care about sports far more than anyone should care about ultimately irrelevant contests between teams of people I will likely never meet. Right about the time my wife was asking me why on Earth I had woken her up, I started to wonder how I had gotten this way. Why do I care so much? What has made me such a passionate sports fan?

Well, there are lots of things—weekend trips to visit family in Tuscaloosa, the place of my mother's birth all throughout my childhood, watching UNC games with my father and hearing him scream obscenities at Duke, playing sports since I was old enough to carry a bat, to name a few. Also, though, my sports fan experience has been greatly enhanced by my growing up during the video game generation. I didn't just watch games on TV, or read about them in the paper; I was actually playing them. Indoors. With my favorite players.

While I don't consider myself a gamer, I have certainly spent far more hours in front of a TV with a controller in my hand than anyone should. When talking about my sports video game experience, a few titles stand out more than others. These are the five games that inflamed my passion for sports and, in addition to all of the other reasons, made me the sports fan I am today.

Tecmo Bowl/Tecmo Super Bowl (NES):

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Whenever someone compiles any list of the greatest sports video games ever, said list is dead to me if one of these games is not in the top 3 at least. Bo Jackson, Lawrence Taylor, and Cap Boso are sports game legends. These 3 are literally unstoppable in the original Tecmo Bowl. Tecmo Super Bowl featured an expanded playbook and NFL licensing, which meant that you could actually play as your favorite team. It also featured a full season mode and full statistics, which at the time was absolutely mind-blowing. Seriously, these are the best sports games of all time. It's not negotiable.

Baseball Stars (NES):

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While RBI Baseball gets a lot of deserved love for early baseball games, I would argue that Baseball Stars was more addicting. RBI Baseball had a lot of charm, mostly because of the morbidly obese players and the fact that space for names was short; you'd end up with player names like Clmns (Roger Clemens) and Glrga (for Andres Galarraga). However, Baseball Stars was easily the best baseball game in the early Nintendo years. Slick fielding, full season mode, team creation, and the fact that you could play as Frankenstein and Dracula make this game superior to RBI Baseball.

Tecmo Super NBA Basketball (Super NES):

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I spent God knows how many hours in my middle school years playing this game. There are lots of reasons this game stands out, but the main one is Michael Jordan. You could play with Michael Jordan. Easily the most memorable basketball game from my childhood. Because you could play with Michael Jordan.

NCAA Football '98 (Playstation):

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This game got me through my freshman year of college and probably contributed to my sub-standard GPA. This was the first college game to feature a Dynasty Mode that allowed the player to take control of teams for multiple seasons and recruit. This was right during the heyday of Mack Brown's tenure at UNC, and it absolutely infuriated friends that I crushed with the Heels. They couldn't stand it that I was playing with a basketball school.

MLB 2000 (Playstation):

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Let's just say that Spring Training Mode—the mode where you create a player from scratch and take his career through the minor leagues to the majors—gave me a little bit more hope than I should have about how easy a career in baseball was. My created player always was a huge contributor on MLB teams, while I never made it out of Single-A. I guess that's why I live vicariously through video games.

Without these games, I probably still would have run around my house like a joyful idiot on Saturday night. My love of college football runs deep. Without these games, though, I doubt I would have considered a career in sports media. Games have an ability to immerse us in a world that we have no hope of being a part of normally. These five gave me an escape. What are the games that made you a sports fan? How big of an idiot am I for leaving your favorite game off this list? Let me know!

Will Askew has more than a decade of experience in sports media. You can follow him on Twitter @waskew for his thoughts on sports, history, politics, and whatever else strikes his fancy. He has a patient wife of over two years and a lovely six month old baby boy named William, who will also care way too much about sports.

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