10: “Joe Montana Football” (Sega, 1991)
The Genesis was about to launch and Sega had a problem. They just spent $1.7 million to use Joe Montana’s name and likeness on their new Madden-killer, but two months before Christmas they found out Mediagenic, the developer in charge of finishing the game, never started it.
Sega went to Electronic Arts (EA), the creators of Madden, for help. The resulting “Joe Montana Football” missed Christmas by a month, but still became a huge success and solidified the Genesis as the sports console of choice during that period.
9: “NFL Street” (EA Sports, 2004)
Let’s face it, sometimes you’re just too blitz(ed) to play Madden. Precision modifiers, connected franchises? It’s getting a bit too cerebral.
Ten years ago, EA heard players’ laments and responded with “NFL Street,” the trash-talking, fun-loving cousin to the more intricate Madden series. Gamers ate it up, pitting Lawrence Taylor against Refrigerator Perry in some razzle-dazzle crate smashing street ball.
The seven on seven, take-no-prisoners, arcade-style game ranks ninth because of one crucial missing piece. No Bo Jackson. The greatest video game footballer ever (see #2: “Tecmo Super Bowl”) would’ve run circles around these guys.
8: “NFL Football” (Mattel, 1978)
Okay, so this Intellivision creation looks to have been programmed by just two dudes. Reason being, it was in fact programmed by two dudes – Ken Smith and Kevin Miller. Make no mistake though, they were serious about football. Why else would they make the game last a whole sixty minutes in real time. Talk about dedication.
“NFL Football” pushed the limits of the Intellivision console and blew Atari away by featuring more than 170 plays to choose from, and players with arms and legs that actually moved. Yes, this game was the bomb shizzy and remains accessible today on modern devices through the “Intellivision Lives!” compilation.
7: “NCAA Football 14” (EA Sports, 2013)
Recognizing today’s technology before this list gets too retro; “NCAA Football 14.” It comes close to a holodeck. Have you seen these graphics? Games are truly on the edge of conquering reality simulation.
In setback news, the NCAA recently made the era-ending announcement that it won’t renew its contract with EA Sports. Short of reverting to blank jerseys of yore, EA will still keep almost every team. They’ll just lose the symbols and trademarks of the NCAA – the Pac-12, the Big Ten, and the Southeastern Conference, among others – which account for the very essence of the game.
6: “Classic Football” (Mattel, 1977)
There isn’t much video in this video game, but consider it an ancestor, a necessary step toward the physics engines of today. Thirty-six years ago, Mattel’s handheld “Classic Football” was cutting-edge hardware, powered by a single 9-volt battery. You play as a dot, dodging vicious tacklers (other dots) to cross a ten-yard screen ten times to the end zone.
This proto-Game Boy made video games accessible to everyone. With just a little bit of imagination, that dot resembled Terry Bradshaw.
5: “Coleco Electronic Quarterback” (Coleco, 1978)
Another handheld predecessor to actual football video games, every American boy in 1978 owned “Electronic Quarterback.” This was the game. The red LEDs and stiff clicking buttons were part of the charm. It was amazingly addictive, and still is now, as a smartphone app.
4: “NFL 2K5” (2K Sports, 2004)
It was a showdown for the ages. In the summer of 2004, every football video game fan owned either a copy of “Madden 2005” or ESPN’s “NFL 2K5.” The lines were drawn, but just like in “Highlander” there could be only one. For a moment, it looked like “2K5” would prevail. Its cutting-edge AI, dynamic running system, slick graphics and
ESPN-style presentation gave players the ultimate NFL experience.
Despite all that, “2K5” would’ve been totally flattened by the Madden monolith if not for its ultimate weapon; that very special $19.99 price-point. This was an unheard-of price in the age of the $49.99 standard, but it was a necessary tactic to lure both hardcore Madden-heads and casual gamers who thought dishing fifty bones once a year was a bit of a scam.
EA wasn’t going out like some chump. They lowered the price of “Madden 2005” to $29.99 and then signed a deal making them the only company legally contracted to make NFL games. Once receiving those exclusive rights, EA bumped their price right back up to $49.99. What sweethearts.
3: “10 Yard Fight” (NES, 1985)
Rough waters plagued the A.B.M. (Age Before Madden) – football on the Atari 2600, for example, was a collection of dots and lines. Luckily when Nintendo hit and 8-bit gaming arrived, “10 Yard Fight” took a quantum leap forward in football action.
Players finally saw a realistic simulation of football. It wasn’t quite like the real thing. Only nine players fit onto the field and since it was a port of a Japanese arcade game, some lost-in-translation moments occurred. For instance, instead of turnovers and downs you simply got a message stating “Not Ten Yards.” But for all its outdated, clunky moments, it had playability and charm.
2: “Tecmo Super Bowl” (Tecmo, 1991)
If “10 Yard Fight” laid the foundation for what 8-bit football gaming could become, “Tecmo Bowl” built on that with its innovative play-calling system and official NFL license. This was all preparation for “Tecmo Super Bowl,” the Dom Perignon of football video games.
Like the missing link between ape and man, “Tecmo Super Bowl” held the DNA for all the features you take for granted today: deep stats, choosing between playing a 16 game season or a quickie exhibition game, button-mashing galore. This game started it all.
Above all, there was Bo. Bo Jackson was an unstoppable force in this game, literally running circles around his opponents. Watch the video above to see him at work.
1: “Madden NFL ’95” (EA Sports, 1994)
Madden. Period. If you’ve played a video game in the last three decades, you respect the name. Just when everyone had agreed the ’94 version was the pinnacle of gridiron gaming, the “Madden NFL ’95” bomb dropped. Equipped with a shiny new NFLPA (National Football League Players Association) license, characters like the Cowboys #8 and #22 turned into Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith. Finally, a game featured both NFL teams and NFL players. The future had arrived.
“Madden NFL ’95” also had every real stadium, realistic weather conditions, lifelike animation, variable injuries, TV-style presentation, the ability to save to a portable cartridge, in-game and season stats, and much, much more. 25 years of Madden domination has passed, but ’95 was the true game changer.