Over a joyful, crushing, blood-sugar-destroying 14 hours on Monday and into Tuesday morning, I was able, with remarkable precision, to approximate the 2013 Vikings season during a marathon season of Tecmo Super Bowl. I’ve written about Tecmo before. It’s my favorite video game ever and one I could write 5,000 words about at anytime. This week I went up to Wisconsin with my old friend Brandon to visit my cousin Matt. I was only there one day and night. But during that time — from 1 p.m. to past 3 a.m. — we played a season of Tecmo, conjuring up old memories of seasons past and creating new memories I’ll be cursing 15 years from now.
Fueled by Mountain Dew — and other liquids not legally available to anyone under 21 — we powered through the season, Matt with Kansas City, Brandon with the Redskins and me with your Minnesota Vikings. We came to these teams randomly, pushing the controller for several seconds with our eyes closed. And as the sun went down along with the temperatures, I slowly began to realize that what I was experiencing on Tecmo was the same thing the real Vikings — the players, coaches and fans — lived through in the real world last season. Specifically, I learned what it was like to play with a quarterback rotation that makes people throw small objects at large TVs.
My Tecmo record proved much better than the real Vikings — we lost a mere two games while the real ones won only five. Remarkably, I also had a tie, perhaps the first time I’ve ever tied in Tecmo, equaling the human Vikings who tied the Packers. And we actually made it to the Super Bowl while the real Vikings…did not.
But in the same way that Christian Ponder, Matt Cassel and Josh Freeman flailed for Leslie Frazier, so Wade Wilson and Rich Gannon did for me in video game form. Poor quarterback play truly is the most frustrating aspect of Tecmo, just like in real life. Bad secondary? Whatever. Receivers who drop passes? Maddening. Weak offensive line that needs rudimentary weight-training lessons or mandatory steroids? Frustrating. But it always comes back to the quarterback in Tecmo. You have the greats — Montana, QB Eagles, Marino — and average guys. Then you have what I had to deal with.
I’m partly to blame. At one point, after the 7th Mountain Dew, I told Matt and Brandon I was going to take a LaRussa-like approach to managing my QBs. I started yanking Wilson if he threw two bad passes in a row, only to put him back in when Gannon misfired on three straight. Poor Wade and Rich. Obviously any quarterback needs reps to establish some consistency. But my belief has always been that you’ll get rewarded for excellence, not for incompetence. I only had one day to finish an entire season — I didn’t have time to coax and soothe.
Wilson certainly has more talent on Tecmo and should obviously be the starter. But just as real-world Wade always seemed to be missing something — a bit of charisma, a sense of the big moment — my Wade could never put it all together. Time after time during my Tecmo marathon I watched as Anthony Carter and Hassan Jones broke free, only to have Wilson blindly — I’m assuming he had his eyes closed because nothing else could explain the inaccuracy, aside from point-shaving — fire into the stands or 15 feet past his receivers. Furious, I’d pull him for the fresh-faced Gannon. Rich had his own problems, most of them stemming from his cannon. It’s hardly unique — any QB in Tecmo can do this — but Gannon spent most of his games throwing 110-yard passes, even when he was only trying to throw a ball 50 yards. At one point, Matt declared that one of Gannon’s passes looked like the Hindenburg falling to earth. Our offense only succeeded when Steve Jordan leaped like another guy with that last name and snared potentially errant passes. It was shameful relying on this, but as midnight approached shame was no longer allowed inside Matt’s house. We did, at least, fulfill the demands of Vikings fans throughout the 80s and early 1990s who always wanted the team to feed Jordan.
At some point in the evening, perhaps in about week 8, Matt ordered a pizza. An hour later I held the grease-stained controller and could only shake my head as my Gannon-Wilson-led operation struggled against a weak — and amazingly bizarre — schedule. That season the Vikings faced nondivision foe Phoenix twice. In Tecmo Phoenix is one of the patsies of the league, a potentially solid squad done in by a playbook put together by a 6-year-old — flea flickers, reverses, flea-flickers off reverses. Opponents routinely score 40-50 against them. I scored 9 the first time, 20 the second, all because my quarterbacks — the tabloid that existed in my head called the combination Rade Wannon or Wich Rilson — completed approximately 20 percent of their passes. While the real-life 2013 Vikings relied as ever on Adrian Peterson, the somewhat-hobbled star running back wasn’t what he has been, just as my Tecmo Vikings relied on a hobbled Herschel Walker, who also wasn’t what he once was, and Alfred Anderson, who was the same as always.
Still, perhaps I’m being too harsh. Rich and Wade led us into the playoffs and after a first-round bye we easily dispatched the Cowboys, as the clock struck 2:30 a.m. in Grantsburg. In the NFC title game I throttled Brandon and Washington in a game highlighted by the play of the year by the much-maligned Gannon, who, in classic Tecmo fashion, threw Wilber Marshall off him while fighting for yardage at the 10, spun away from two tacklers and scored the first TD in a 30-0 rout.
The Vikings were in the Super Bowl! We met Matt and Kansas City, a grudge match, a chance at revenge for Super Bowl IV. Gannon and Wilson combined for three interceptions as the Chiefs matriculated down the field for the victory. Matt played the role of Hank Stram, narrating the maddening victory. The Super Bowl ended in misery, offering more proof that whatever happens to the real-life Vikings will almost surely always happen to the Tecmo Vikes.