When it comes to football video games over the last 15 years or so, there’s only been one that’s mattered: Madden.
When’s the last time NFL Gameday was even a consideration? Late 90s? Early 2000s? Once that series quietly went defunct after EA acquired exclusive rights to NFL licensing, the hype for the new Madden game release each and every August has reached such absurd heights, it almost feels like a shoe release for the latest Kobes or LeBrons.
But before all of that, there was a football video game that nearly took priority over actually playing football, and greatly helped propel the billion dollar gaming industry to what it is today. And that game, of course, was TECMO BOWL.
Simply put, without Tecmo Bowl, there’s no Madden. Just like without Dr. J, there’s no Michael Jordan.
So despite being released TWENTY-SEVEN years ago, which is a rather scary reality, this game has firmly stayed in the picture. And given that we’re in the midst of Super Bowl week, what better way to celebrate a beloved sport like football than by celebrating a beloved football video game like Tecmo Bowl?
Specifically, by ranking the very best players who were the sole reason we chose to use teams like the Raiders, 49ers, and Giants, among others.
Hell, the mere idea of this discussion already has a crazed Bo Jackson running all over the field like Beaker’s lab just caught fire.
NOTE: Just like the rankings for Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out, let’s get this out of the way right off the bat and agree to agree that NO ONE is going to agree on anything. EMBRACE DEBATE.
17. Dan Marino
Out of the 17 players ranked, Dan Marino comes in 17th because I strongly believe that even being short-changed in something as trivial as video game rankings would still be more than enough to set off the notoriously cantankerous fella, who seemingly always gets the short end of the stick. And while I’d love to say I’m kidding, Mr. Thin Skin would say otherwise.
But in all seriousness, Marino and the Dolphins were always fun to use as long as Player 2 agreed not to use the Giants, Bears, 49ers, or any other team that had a speeding wrecking ball on defense. So basically, as long as you were playing against the Browns or the Jets, you were safe. Some things never change.
16. Warren Moon
Warren Moon had Drew Hill, Ernest Givins, and Haywood Jeffries. Having this kind of arsenal at your disposal in Madden would all but REQUIRE you to run the “streaks” play every single down. If you ran the ball even once with this squad, you deserved to have your controller meet a chainsaw. Sadly, Moon and this flashy trio will forever remain criminally underrated thanks to that choke job at Buffalo in 1993. But in terms of Tecmo Bowl and video game lore, Warren Moon is an an IMMORTAL LEGEND.
15. Deion Sanders
Deion Sanders was so fast in Tecmo Super Bowl, he might as well have been playing defensive end because, unlike real life, he could actually stop the run too. That’s why they call them VIDEO GAMES. The only chance in hell you had against the Falcons D was if the person you were playing against had a slight delay in selecting their defender, allowing you to snap the ball before they got to Deion. Whatever it takes to win, man. Whatever it takes.
14. “QB Bills”
This felt like the appropriate graphic to use considering the Bills were “on the cusp” when Tecmo Bowl was released in 1989, and well into their run when Tecmo Super Bowl was released in 1991. Having said that, this is about “QB Bills” aka Jim Kelly, who had a pretty high rating and a slew of weapons, but also sported a disturbingly ominous profile.
Frankly, Machine Gun Kelly should be honored to be the 3rd highest ranked quarterback on this list.
13. Rod Woodson
Rod Woodson was basically Deion Sanders with the ability to force a fumble because he hit like a family of flying, spiked asteroids. Woodson valiantly took the torch from Tecmo Bowl Ronnie Lott and carried it into Tecmo Super Bowl like a proud gold medalist. It would be remiss of me not to mention that Video Game Rod Woodson also housed the heart of a lion, because to this very day no one has any idea how he played All-Pro football on a weekly basis with this guy manning the Steelers offense:
Five of eight categories well below 50? Good god. And why does Bubby Brister’s profile photo looked more like Roger Craig than it does Bubby Brister? This is starting to become a slippery slope, as I feel like we’re starting to come away with more questions than answers. Screw Bubby Brister. Let’s stick to talking about the greats.
12. Mike Singletary
Mike Singletary’s imposing presence in the middle was just as terrifying as the real thing. If you were going to throw, you either spastically hit the pass button immediately upon snapping the ball or you were flat on your ass. Plain and simple. Also nice to see a special guest appearance from Steve “Mongo” McMichael in this graphic, sans steel briefcase.
Now please, hammer away at that “B” button before Singletary ends your life.
11. Walter Payton
We’ll make this one short and sweet: It’s not a proper or respectable ranking of Tecmo Bowl players, or NFL players in general, without the presence of Sweetness. And if you didn’t know, your ass better calllllllllll someboooooooody!
10. Derrick Thomas
A complete freak in Super Tecmo Bowl, however Thomas gets docked a few points from his bulbous rating of 86 for once saying, “the 80s belonged to L.T., but the 90s belong to D.T.” No, that has nothing to do with the video game. Yes, it’s completely unfair to hold that against Video Game Derrick Thomas. Alas, sometimes when you’re in this deep, it’s very difficult to differentiate the two.
9. Bruce Smith
Sometimes ranking players from games like Tecmo Bowl are partly influenced by how often you used the best of the best. And I don’t think people used the Bills enough to appreciate the masterful mayhem of Bruce Smith, who had an obscene rating of of 91. The guy was a complete beast who somehow became a bit of an afterthought whenever it comes to discussing this game, probably because Lawrence Taylor was busy blocking extra points like football’s version of Mutombo.
NOTE: While the graphic being used for Bruce isn’t exactly flattering, it’s there as a testament to show just how hard it was to bust up a run designed for Bo Jackson, who — as you can see — is headed straight for glory.
8. Ronnie Lott
Ronnie Lott was part of the reason it was completely unfair to play with San Francisco. Take a completely unstoppable offense to go along with a sociopath of a safety who could seemingly play three positions at once, and you basically have football’s version of the nWo at its peak. And if you got tired of flying all over the field with Ronnie, you could always opt for a true sociopath in Charles Harley, just for kicks. This team was LOADED.
7. “QB Eagles”
Randall Cunningham went by the captivating name of “QB Eagles” in these video games by Tecmo because he was not a member of the NFLPA’s marketing agreement. This would also be true for Jim Kelly, obviously, as well as Bernie Kosar. But of the three “this is this guy even though we can’t say this is the guy,” Cunningham was most famous for it because he was a one-man gang. Seriously, look at that fucking playbook. Are you gonna hand it off to the dead hands of Keith Byars and Heath Sherman, or are you gonna take your chances with Randall’s blistering speed on that bootleg? You can almost understand why Cunningham wanted nothing to do with the game.
6. Christian Okoye
Christian Okoye was called the Nigerian Nightmare for a reason. More often than not, zig-zagging up and down the field to avoid defenders wasn’t even necessary. Upon contact, linebackers and DBs would simply fly into the air as though Okoye were flicking paper footballs just to pass the time while running down the field like a runaway hearse engulfed in flames.
The downside? The real Christian Okoye is not very good at Tecmo Bowl.
Then again, if he were good at video games, Christian Okoye never would’ve become the Nigerian Nightmare and earned the status as one of the most fierce video game running backs we’ll ever see.
5. Barry Sanders
Using a circus act of a runner like Barry Sanders in Tecmo Super Bowl was just as fun as using Bo Jackson when it came to blatantly toying with all 11 defenders, with the only difference being that it was exactly like watching Barry Sanders on a real football field as a member of the shitty Detroit Lions. And that’s mostly why Barry gets the nod over the Nigerian Nightmare. The sympathy factor. Eight carries for 210 fucking yards and what does he get? Retirement at age 30.
What’s not given enough attention to this infamous Tecmo Bowl moment is just how badly Richard Dent got worked at the line. Disgrace.
4. Joe Montana
Montana to Rice, Montana to Rice, Montana to Rice. And in the very rare case that wasn’t there — for example, if your opponent was savvy enough to have someone like L.T. drop back into deep coverage — there was always John Taylor, Brent Jones and Roger Craig. In the event that even those guys were covered, Montana would still complete the pass because his rating was so damn high. Selecting the 49ers while playing a friend was usually followed by “you dick,” and for good reason.
3. Lawrence Taylor
The most satisfying part about using L.T. was for his uncanny ability to sprint down the line and burst through the middle to flatten the kicker during field goal attempts and extra points, which was somehow legal and widely celebrated. If you somehow managed to get an extra point or FG through the uprights while playing against the Giants, it was a fucking miracle.
2. Bo Jackson
Any time you purposely return a kickoff to your own 1-yard line for the sole purpose of busting a 99-yard zig-zag sprint for a TD usually meant you were using the Raiders and giving the ball to Bo Jackson all game long.
There’s no better example of that than the balanced stat sheet seen below. Bo with 22 carries for a mere 399 yards to go along with a whole lot of “production” from esteemed quarterback Jay Schroeder.
Below is how everyone will always remember Tecmo Bo Jackson: An open field ahead with 11 carcasses laying on the grass and eventually getting back up, only to lay down again.
To this very day, Bo is still seeking that 23rd carry to break the always elusive 400-yard rushing barrier.
This clip remains equal parts hilarious and impressive. If it’s ever taken down from YouTube, the entire company should fold. It’s footage like this that should’ve put Tecmo Bo at the top of the list, but didn’t.
1. Jerry Rice
It really doesn’t matter where your allegiances stand, how can anyone say Jerry Rice isn’t the best Tecmo Bowl player of all time? He’s better than Bo and any of the other beastly running backs for one very simple reason: All you had to do was drop back, evade defenders for a little awhile, and then launch it 96 yards to Jerry, who would catch it even if eight defenders were draped all over him. And then he’d casually break a couple tackles and waltz into end zone for one of many touchdowns. It was Jerry’s ease of greatness that makes him No. 1. Plus, using the 49ers put far less stress on your thumbs if you just threw bombs to Jerry all day. Everybody won, including Jerry, the best Tecmo Bowl player of all time.
The fine folks at Tecmo did a Super Bowl 50 simulation and it’s fucking awesome. So good, in fact, that it feels a little too real. On Cam’s first snap, he throws a bomb to Ted Ginn for the TD. On Pey-Pey’s first snap, he gets murdered by four Panthers.
Seriously, watch this sim to learn just how much the programmers at Tecmo loathe the Denver Broncos.
In closing, this might be the saddest sentence you’ll ever read, assuming your heart stands with the O.G. that is Tecmo Bowl:
The 2007 and 2013 Virtual Console releases [of Tecmo Bowl] are a modified version of the game without the NFLPA license, since EA owns exclusive rights to it; thus, the players are represented only by number and not by name.
So instead of the occasional “QB Eagles,” everyone now has a similarly engaging name. Wonderful. On that note, you may now go back to playing Madden with a friend in Japan.