Sports and video games are connected more than some might think. The first video game to reach worldwide popularity was in fact a sports game. It was none other than Nolan Bushnell and Ted Dabne’s (founders of Atari) creation called Pong, a table tennis game. Going from Pong in the early ‘70s to what we have now is remarkable. At some point along the way, sports organizations (MLB, NFL, etc.) and video game industries (Nintendo, Sony) decided to team up to bring a better experience for the video game user.
The outcome couldn’t have been more successful and this has helped usher in a new world of video game enthusiasts. It’s a great feeling to trash talk your friend over a game of Madden. We all have our favorite teams and players. Sometimes the developers of games make the athletes we love better than the rest of the roster.
This brings us to our list. To qualify, the character can be fictitious but has to be a replacement for a player who isn’t licensed for the game. Sorry to the fans of characters like Paste in Jaleco’s Bases Loaded, King in Sega’s Virtua Tennis, and the lovable Pablo Sanchez in Humongous Entertainment’s Backyard Sports. If the athlete is constantly unstoppable in ever title, they don’t make the list. Examples include superstars Peyton Manning, Barry Sanders, Lebron James, and Tiger Woods.
There are many characters that deserve to be on this list. Breaking it down to 15 was pretty tough, so I have to give a shout out to some awesome avatars. Honorable mentions include Devin Hester in EA Sport’s Madden’08. Sega’s NBA JAM had Dell Curry and the Utah Jazz. Celtic’s Larry Bird in NBA2k3 and Tom Chambers in EA’s Lakers vs. Celtics and the NBA Playoffs could put on dunk-a-thons all day. Who could forget about Shaq Fu? Last but not least, we have Allejo (replacement player for Ronaldo) in Konami’s International Superstar Soccer.
15 Bill Elliot
Game: Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge
You will notice many athletes with their own video game are typically the best in their sport. Now, as a case in point, look no further than Konami’s Bill Elliott's NASCAR Challenge. Players can take a crack at a season championship or just have a single race. Either way the outcome was similar. You couldn’t really do anything to stop Elliot. It wasn’t as if there was 30 plus cars in the race either, the field only had 11. He would either win the race out right or gain points in some way or fashion.
14 Tim Tebow
Game: EA Sports NCAA Football 2010
If you had to choose the best quarterback in the game you had two options, Tebow and University of Oklahoma’s Sam Bradford. What separates the two is Tebow’s speed rating. Just like a few other quarterbacks on the list, Tebow made it easy for you to either run the ball or throw it before a sack. Even though good sportsmanship and fairness are hall marks of sports culture, EA Sports decided to make it almost impossible to stop Tebow. So for all you Tebow maniacs out there, play this game with a friend, score a touchdown, and then proceed to pose in a “tebowing” fashion.
13 John Dowd
Game: MVP Baseball 2005
Yes, he’s Caucasian and yes, he bats righty, but we all know he was in there as a replacement for controversial baseball star Barry Bonds. If you didn’t like his facial hair, I’m almost positive you would like his swing. His ratings weren’t nerfed and he could literally hit a ball just like the Bonds we all came to know. Hell, when I faced him, I would walk him every time. Dowd can be compared to another ruthless home run hitter in David Ortiz and his character in Sony’s MLB ’06: The Show.
12 Jerry Rice
Game: N64's EA Sports Madden 98
I’m breaking my qualification rules with this one. From the beginning of football games, Rice has always had a high rating -which made many players throw their controllers at the television. So, why is there an exception? His rating in Nintendo 64’s Madden ’98 was a 189 overall. I’ll repeat this so you know it’s not a typo, he had a rating of 189. Why EA Sports and Nintendo did this beats me, but hey, it happened. Maybe there was a die-hard Rice fan developing the game? Quite frankly, I would be too scared to be humiliated by my friends if they picked him.
11 Reggie Jackson
Game: R.B.I. Baseball
Ever seen The Simpson’s episode with Mark McGuire? McGuire asks the crowd, “Do you want to know the terrifying truth or see me sock a few dingers?” Of course everyone wants to see the home run ball and we did see that happen a lot when Mr. October was up at bat in R.B.I. Baseball. You had Jose Conseco in the game but Jackson was the ultimate power hitter. Even though he was in the late stages of his career, you couldn’t notice if you were pitching against him in the game.
10 QB Eagles
Game: Tecmo Bowl
In the first game to have the names of NFL players, you could have chosen from Dan Marino, John Elway, and Joe Montana but most preferred QB Eagles. Created after Eagles quarterback Randall Cunningham, the character’s speed and throwing power could be compared to none in the series. Cunningham‘s dominance in video games would disappear for a while. He would resurrect his career with the Minnesota Vikings, leading the team to the playoffs, and becoming a worthy character in the EA Sports Madden series. We wouldn't see such speed from a Quarterback in a video game again until the fourth member of this list decided to show up.
9 Charles Barkley
Game: Barkley's Shut Up and Jam
The Bread Truck, Love Boat, Food World, Crisco Kid, Wide Load from Leeds, Goodtime Blimp, and everyone’s favorite, Round Mound of Rebound. These are just some of the nicknames for Hall of Famer Charles Barkley. He’s not only known for his nicknames but his mouth (trash talking) as well. It makes perfect sense to have a video game title that ties Barkley’s name to the phrase “Shut up.” The only professional player in the game, Barkley was pure excellence on the basketball court, more so than his career. The game was similar to Midway’s NBA JAM series but falls flat on being one of the better basketball games on the market.
8 Rickey Henderson
Game: R.B.I. Baseball 4
Henderson was the fastest player in the R.B.I. Baseball Series. The fourth instalment was made after his MVP season for the Oakland Athletics. To say he was fast is an understatement in that game. Henderson was faster than lighting. He would beat out ground balls, you couldn’t throw him out when he was stealing a base, and they gave him power on top of all that. You have heard the expression speed kills, well I thought about killing my friends when they picked Henderson and the Athletics.
7 Lawrence Taylor
Game: Tecmo Bowl
Sure, his ratings are pretty good in other games but Taylor was the most feared and dominant defense player on the field in Tecmo Bowl. The only defender that could potentially stop the number one video game character on this list, Taylor was the most dominant defense player to ever be a part of the series. He was just as fast as any offense player, making him a sack master. You can never run near him nor hold the ball too long. When you have offense beasts such as Barry Sanders, Jerry Rice, Christian Okoye, and Dan Marino in the game, LT was the only answer to stopping them.
6 Ken Griffey Jr.
Game: Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball
Nintendo had a Major League Baseball license but not a Major League Baseball Players Association one. This meant that the developers could use the names of the Stadiums and professional teams but not the players. But I’m sure you can guess who the only professional baseball player was in the game. In ’94, Griffey Jr. was like what NBA’s Stephen Curry is today, minus a championship. He was cool, young, and better than most at what he does. It’s no surprise that he was the most dominant character in his own video game. If your friend picked the Seattle Mariners, you probably weren’t friends after the game.
5 Jeremy Roenick
Game: EA Sports NHL '94
“It’s not even so much as me, as it’s Roenick, he's good” said Vince Vaughn’s character, Trent, when playing the video game against his friend in the movie Swingers. That pretty much sums up how powerful Roenick was. Sure, players relied on Paul Bure and Mario Lemieux but Roenick was the absolute monster of that game. He had a combination of speed and power that made him a stud in NHL ’94. If you want to know how much of an impression Roenick’s character made on video game enthusiast in that era, you can watch any of the countless tribute videos that are out there.
4 Michael Vick
Game: EA Sports Madden 2004
Before Vick tainted his good name, he was one of the most athletic quarterbacks to ever hit the field. EA Sports decided to give him the speed of a cheetah, making him one of the most difficult and deadliest video game athletes in history. You can easily rush anywhere from 10 to 20 yards if the defense plays back. Sure you can try and blitz, but he’ll make you pay if he gets in the open. Another way to piss off your friends was to roll out left or right, let the defense come in, and then throw a bomb to an open receiver. I still have nightmares to this day.
3 Player 99
Game: NBA Live ‘96
I was a kid when I first played NBA Live ’96, so I had no idea about real life business transactions, trademark rights, etc. To my disappointment, my favorite player, Michael Jordan, wasn’t in the game. After sobbing for a few minutes, okay maybe a little longer, I stumbled upon Player 99. Apparently the guys at Live decided to make a player better than Michael Jordan. If you wanted to dunk for an entire game or drill 3-pointers, Player 99 could do that and more. Looking back now, Player 99 is arguably better than any other version of Jordan, including the brands of EA Sports NBA Street and Take-Two Interactive’s NBA2k series.
2 Mike Tyson
Game: Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!
There was no one more feared in sports than Mike Tyson in his prime. He knocked out opponent after opponent in brutal fashion. It’s only fitting that as the youngest boxer to ever claim the undisputed World Heavyweight Championship (20 years old), Nintendo would reincarnate him into one of the toughest challenges in video game history. Don’t let those YouTube videos fool you into thinking it is easy to beat Tyson. There weren’t game play instruction guides in ’87 and once you reached Tyson, you were overwhelmed by his upper-cut power. Considered a cult classic, the game went on to sell millions of copies.
1 Bo Jackson
Game: Tecmo Bowl
Think of all the highest rated athletes in video games, roll them into one, and maybe they’ll equal up to a quarter of what Jackson was in Tecmo Bowl. Hypothetically, if we lost our ability to use electronics today, Jackson would be talked about as if he was Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens. Haven’t seen the film? He would be a myth or an urban legend because in no way, shape, or form would you believe what Jackson could do in that video game. It was so unfair that when playing the game with friends, as a rule, no one could be the Los Angeles Raiders.