Story Tour: Part One
Gathering the Tecmo mercenaries, the Holzbauer dons grabbed the microphone in their Team NFL trench coats. The rules speech is somewhat of a blur, other than this very sensible plea:
"Before the game, you will flip the Jeff Hostetler commemorative coin. Do not steal the Jeff Hostetler commemorative coin."
With the rules laid out, it was time for a reading from Jeff Hostetler's autobiography. I've often wondered what possible market some things have been created for. Bottled water. The Nap Cap. Other products, like this brilliant memoir, create their own markets.
Even without factoring in his likeness to Dave Wannstedt, Jeff Hostetler is my favorite all prose All Pro. Having been whipped into a narrative frenzy in a way that only two Tecmo backups can accomplish, I was ready to enter pool play. Similar to the World Cup, the tournament was broken into four man pools. Not similar to the World Cup, the competitors refrained from headbutting the shit out of each other for no reason. The top two guys in each pool moved on to the bracket of 64, with a few play-in games sprinkled in. The beginning of each individual game featured a toss of the Hoss - win the toss of the Hoss and you picked the matchup. Lose the toss of the Hoss and you picked which team you wanted out of that matchup. No doubt trying to play off my Cincified attire, my opponent picked a Bengals versus Bills matchup. In a move that devastated the Esiason family but surprised nobody around our group, I picked the Bills.
I thought this would go swimmingly, until a fumble put me down 3-0. About to go down 6-0, I blocked a field goal, only to see the Toe of Cincinnati, Jim Breech of Contract, scoop it up and snake his way across the sticks for a first down. Quickly in a 10-0 hole, this is the point in home games where I usually start sending text messages or groaning about my controller not working. This was the big stage, however, and I needed to keep my cool.
As I started to mount my rally using a good mix of Thurman runs and QB Bills dump offs, I had an important drive stall deep in Bengals territory. Lining up to kick the field goal, it was unsurprisingly blocked by the Bengals. Experienced Tecmo players know that when the number above your kicker's head blinks before the cut scene, the kick is going to be blocked. Seeing the blink, I was a hot mess in preparation for the possible magic that was about to occur.
Buffalo kicker and legendary Super Bowl goat Scott Norwood is a jet engine in little cleats when he picks up a blocked field goal. Bo Jackson gets all of the claim for his rushing speed, but Norwood would beat him in a race around the world, even after stopping to shank a field goal on each continent.
As the ball skittered to the ground, I darted to it with Norwood and knew that Tecmo Wonka had just dropped a golden ticket into my lap. I immediately took off sprinting ten yards in the opposite direction. An inexplicable move to some, this only brought the Cincinnati defense out of position. With the dexterity of a Harrier jet and the masculinity of Harriet Tubman, Norwood stopped on a dime, sprinted straight the other way, and blew past all eleven Bengals. I immediately stood up, raised my arms in triumph, probably grabbed my crotch, and yelled "SCOTT NORWOOD TOUCHDOWN!" It was all over but the Scott Norwood jokes at that point. The Bills cruised to victory.
The following showdown was my toughest of the bunch. I controlled the Rams (You can't find me in St. Lou-ay) versus the Vikings against some guy who apparently had made a run in the previous year's tourney. Despite the intimidation provided by my opponent's friend, who was wearing a super sweet iron-on "Return of the [Kevin] Mack" t-shirt, I managed to gut one out 13-10. The field of 64 was in sight.
My final matchup in pool play was Redskins versus Chargers. I picked the matchup hoping my opponent would pick San Diego, because Tolliver throws lasers and I had nearly gotten hosed by Wade Wilson's meatball lobs and Steve Jordan's PF Flyer hops. The strategy worked, I buried the San Diego Superchargers, and stormed out of pool play 3-0.
Boomer's smile had widened into a big, fat, toothy grin on my chest. Surely moving on to the final tournament, I had the rest of the afternoon to swill beer, mess around with the live webcast on Woodson's computer, and watch Barry and Joey cannonball into their afternoon pools. The amount of people we had back home and elsewhere actually following us in this comical pursuit was flattering if not a little arousing. I am thankful to all who were able to tune in and converse with me via the webcam, from North Dakota, Oregon, and anywhere else. Extra thanks to the unknown internet Tecmo fan who called me out as the Leonardite and told the world I was a "war daddy." I've never used that term in my life, but subconsciously, that's what I've always considered myself.
Prior the afternoon pools tossing their Hosses, we had another reading, this time from Lawrence Taylor's book. The much-bigger throng gathered got a good charge out of the "I'm L.T. Don't fuck with me!" clincher as the ball kicked off on another spirited round of 8-bit mind games.
Joey and Barry were mired in some competitive pools, and in a cruel set of timing circumstances, played each game at the exact same time across the bar from one another. Surely the patrons of Logan's Madtown were wondering what mission faux Boomer was on that would require him to constantly tromp back-and-forth across the bar with Maryland-educated haste. But quite understandably, nobody questioned the Boom. Barry's and Joey's pools played out almost identically. They each won thrilling opening games, got pasted in the second round, and then took control to prevail in their third games. All the while I was cheering, drinking, and marveling at the peerless cheering section surrounding Tony Orenga, a.k.a. "averagetsbplayer."
With their 2-1 records, Joey and Barry each finished in a three-way tie atop their pools. Thus, entry into the final tournament came down to total points. Barry, who had admittedly taken it easy on his final opponent, missed out. Joey squeaked in, securing a spot in the play-in game. The lesson, as always, is that nice people finish last, unless your goal is to quit playing Nintendo games and get clown-shoes drunk, in which case they finish first.
THE ROUND OF 64
My opening round game ended up on one of the big projector televisions in the main corner of the bar. Sitting next to a Canton-like display of Starting Lineup figurines, I was equally focused on my contest and how Sterling Sharpe could possibly bend his little plastic leg in such a gymnastic fashion. Having lost the toss of Hoss, I picked Washington against what I think was the Rams but honestly don't remember. The important thing was that despite my 3-0 finish, I only drew an 8 seed. This meant my opponent was going to be more North Carolina State than North Carolina A&T.
I had a bad sense of how things were going to go when I was losing every thumb war. It is possible to win the game without thumb battles, but this typically requires flawless strategy and underhanded distraction ("Your Richard Dent is showing.") I also was turning the ball over a lot and doing a poor job of picking my opponent's plays. Despite this partially self-inflicted stacking of the deck, I still had a puncher's chance down 13-7 with time to throw three Hail Mary heaves.
Equal parts enraging and inspiring, you can score from any spot on the Tecmo field at any time. All it takes is one 70 yard pass, a bullshittingly awesome receiver jump, and you are in the end zone. With three legitimate Hail Mary-capable passes in my playbook, all I had to do was avoid getting my play picked to have a shot. My first two did not get picked, but were terrible Mark Rypien abortions that drew confusion and sympathy from the gathered audience.
But I had time for one more play.
Scrambling back, Rypien unleashed a deep heave just before a computer drone flattened him into a burnt red paste. I tossed my controller in the air, "knowing" that whatever may come was out of my hands. As the ball hurtled towards the end zone, and my controller helicoptered towards the table of plastic legends of the 1992 NFL, I realized that the pass wasn't going as deep as I expected. I hurriedly grabbed my controller in time to see Art Monk make a diving catch . . . at the three yard line. Whether I would have put up a better fight had I not flipped my controller is debatable, but I hadn't won a thumb war all game. I certainly didn't in this instance as my opponent downed Art and me at the three yard line. Like that, the dream was over. On my chest, Boomer pulled his headband over his eyes, but I could see the tears smearing his eye-black all over my Canadian cotton.
Barry consoled me as I went to order a beer. Satisfied with my effort, but dejected after a too-early exit, we settled in to watch Joey steamroll his play-in game opponent. This left him with a formidable matchup against "skunkerofbestinworld" who introduced Joey - and all of us - to the "I'll catch it covered by seven players and Buddy Ryan" stylings of Dolphins' backup tight end, Jim Jensen. Jim snagged every ball, stormed through every gang tackle, and tea-bagged Joey on the way to a sizeable victory and the demise of the last of the North Dakota contingent.
Final tally for the group: 8-4 total. Joey and I fell in the round of 64, but he did win a play-in game. Satisfactory? For this year. Next year? We arson Jim Jensen's house.
It was all over but the imbibing at this point. We were soon hooked up with Frank M., a.k.a "Black Mamba," a.k.a. "L. Ron Haddix," who was the engineer of the hard liquor shot train. We thought we were something for driving from North Dakota - L. Ron flew from Los Angeles by himself to go 1-2 and spend the rest of the day tearing through shots with other Tecmo nerds. It was a scene of festive Tecmo merriment, as all of us pounded our sobriety into a state of nearly-unsalvageable disrepair. By the end of the night a crowd of people was watching and cheering as the Final Four was going on. Slightly less people were interested in the game on the screen to the immediate right, which was Barry and me coaching the Pro Bowl.
Eventually the trophy was awarded, the revelry concluded, and I awoke from a nap under a table following my exhausting stint as Pro Bowl play-caller. We stumbled to the car with some of our Nintendo equipment, shuffled to Noodles & Company where I inhaled some Wisconsin Mac & Cheese, and crawled to throw darts at a dance bar. The night raged furiously into the sunset, like a carnival heading its next dusky location. I was still dressed like Boomer Esiason. I was still wearing eye black. And I was still wearing the shame of a feeble Art Monk.
For all of the high hopes I had for the Hoss Whisperer, it surpassed them all with the grace and organization of the Mighty Bombjacks. The tournament was supremely organized. The competitors were fun, friendly, and diverse. I met people from Colorado, California, Arkansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, Wisconsin, New York, and even North Dakota. Art Monk may have gotten tackled, but that's okay. He can correct that by pumping some iron. Barry might have drunkenly forgot all of his Nintendo stuff at Logan's, but that's okay. The Holzbauers have franking privileges. And sadly, the Hoss Whisper has come to a close. But that's okay, too. Tecmo VIII is almost here.
Leonardite.com © 2011
Dedicated to The Stick