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The Conference Room

Virtual Greatness, Real World Mediocrity

By on @richgrisham

One of the many reasons so many of us love sports games is their ability to transport us to alternate realities. In a different universe, the Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Cubs have built dynasties, Tim Tebow is an All-Pro quarterback, and the Quebec Nordiques won a couple of Stanley Cups without ever leaving Canada. All of us have one – or more – instances where a lesser-known player performed admirably even as their real-world likeness struggled or even faded into oblivion.

With that in mind, our question this week comes to us from our pal and contributor Gus Ramsey (@GusRamsey) who asks:

Which athlete do you expect to be better in real life because they perform so well in video games?

Bryan Wiedey

Jamal Crawford has had a very good career, but he’ll never reach the heights he did in NBA Live 03.

A buddy and I would play Live online, both choosing the Bulls, and go on to have epic contests where Seattle native Crawford would score 60+ for each of us, and knock down nearly every three he took. All the while we were talking trash to each other over the mic.

He was as close to unstoppable as you’ll find a player being in a video game, and that year’s Live was incredibly fun for us, due largely to our ability to play with the other-worldly Jamal Crawford.

Dr. Ken Parker

Josh Smith. In-game attribute systems reward great athletes but this doesn’t always translate to real life.

Josh Smith has all the tools to be an amazing forward in real life. Great defense, can jump out of the gym, and for his size is a good passer and ball handler. However, his shot selection and ‘intangibles’ hold him back.

Sports games struggle to replicate these nuances and are left with the convenient measurables. As a result J-Smooth is always a beast in NBA2K for me; throwing down massive dunks on the breakaway, blocking shots, picking the pocket of lazy bigs and going nowhere near the three-point line.

Ryan Lewis

Video games have made huge strides in the areas of graphics and physics, but in one regard, there is still something that hasn’t changed much: SPEED rules all.

Bo Jackson was by far the most dominant player in Tecmo Super Bowl. Michael Vick was the most dominant QB in Madden 2004. And when I fire up Madden 16 this fall, my inner-Al Davis will be released making me covet players that won’t be seeing any significant real-life NFL playing time like Jeff Demps, Dri Archer and Chris Rainey.

Kat Bailey

As I write this, a bunch of names immediately come to mind. Brian Robison broke the single season sack record for me in Madden 15. Mauro Zarate routinely won the Golden Boot for me with West Ham thanks to his speed and finishing ability, making me wonder why he couldn’t do anything for my team in real life (answer: a combination of attitude and Sam Allardyce). Even Sergio Kindle managed to have a 20 sack season for me before it came out that he was made out of glass.

My most successful player by far, though, has been Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, the journeyman cornerback who managed to get paid thanks to one successful season with the Denver Broncos. In real life, he’s managed to have a decent career. In Madden 11 and 12, he was the best cornerback this side of Nnamdi Asomugha, who was a god. The only knock against DRC was that he didn’t have great press stats, but otherwise he had 98 or 99 in pretty much every relevant category, including the coveted speed stat.

I managed to trade Donovan McNabb for DRC after the first season of the 4th String Madden 11 league, and he immediately became the cornerstone of what was a really good defense. He managed to pull down more than a dozen interceptions, locked down half the field, and even forced a couple fumbles, quickly becoming the face of my franchise. It was only three seasons later that I moved him in an epic three-way trade that brought Adrian Peterson to Washington. When Madden 12 came around, though, I traded for him again, and he once again had 99 in pretty much all the relevant stats. And once again, he was my team MVP.

DRC has fallen off a fair amount since then, prompting me to instead go after the likes of Antonio Cromartie instead. But given how great he was for me in Madden, I’ve always been kind of confused why he hasn’t been able to make it big in the NFL. I suspect I’m not the only one.

Corey Andress

Being a huge Manchester United fan and FIFA fan, the answer for me is easy – Nani. For a few years, Nani had 5 star skills in FIFA (something only few have), and his pace and skill could tear teams apart. He would routinely score 20+ goals for me in my seasons, and would dominate for me in online competitions. He would always have a spot on my Starting XI, regardless of who else was on my squad.

In real terms, it was a completely different matter. While Nani is/was (he was recently transferred away from England) extremely talented with the ball at his feet, he was nowhere near as dominating in real matches. Dani routinely found himself on the bench or underperforming on the pitch while at Manchester – so much so that he found himself loaned out last year, and ultimately transferred to Turkey this summer. So much potential, so much FIFA skill, but so heartbreaking as a life-long United fan.

Cicero Holmes

The answer to this one is easy: Tim Hardaway, Jr. of the New York Knicks. Simming my first season of the MyGM mode in NBA 2K15 saw Tim Hardaway continue to progress after a fairly successful rookie campaign during the 2013-2014 season despite, the Knicks finishing with only 23 wins that year.

The start of my fourth season as GM of the Knicks saw Tim elevated to a superstar-esque rating of 89, one of the best 3-point and jump shooters in the league, and (thanks to fortuitous signing of Blake Griffin) the second best player on the Knicks roster.

The reality is quite a bit different. Hardaway, Jr. regressed significantly during his second season in the league. The injuries, lack of leadership, and mounting demoralizing losses seemed to take its toll on him. He responded well to management’s wishes for him to work harder on all aspects of his game.

Unfortunately, the well intentioned Hardaway’s effort didn’t translate into tangible results on the court. As a result, Tim Hardaway, Jr. found himself traded on draft night to the Atlanta Hawks.

I really am rooting for real life Tim Hardaway because virtual Tim is an essential piece of my winning Knicks franchise. Maybe southern hospitality will help him to show the league that his Sophomore Swoon was just an aberration.

Gus Ramsey

Perception isn’t reality. We know this. But in the world of video game sports, it’s easy to blur the lines. From time to time we become so enamored with a video game performer, we expect to see that person perform that way in real life.

It’s like the ads you see for restaurants where the food looks SOOOOO good you just have to have it. (How could a bacon-wrapped fajita laced in chocolate be bad??). But then when you actually have it, it tastes like pretty much everything else you’ve ever eaten. Not bad, just not what you were hoping for.

Deltha O’Neal came out of Cal in 2000 and made an immediate impact on the Broncos… sidelines. He played in all 16 games as a rookie, but sparingly, recording 3 tackles. He did, however, prove to have a nose for the ball, snagging three fumble recoveries.

In 2001 he made a huge impact on the field. O’Neal grabbed 9 interceptions and defended 25 passes to go along with 62 tackles. He was the Broncos shut down corner before they got Champ Bailey. In an October game vs the Chiefs that season O’Neal became one of 18 players to record 4 picks in one game.

The sky was the limit for this guy and so were my expectations.

Here are O’Neal’s Madden ratings from his first 4 seasons:

2000 OVR 80 SPD 85
2001 OVR 80 SPD 85
2002 OVR 75 SPD 89
2003 OVR 85 SPD 94

Were Madden ratings on autopilot in 2002? How does a guy turn in the season O’Neal did in 2001 and have his OVR drop? Or did they know something before the rest of us did?

All I know is the 2001-2003 Deltha O’Neal was a Hall of Fame DB for my Madden franchise. He was a combination of Darrell Green and Champ Bailey. Here are O’Neal’s stats with the Broncos those years and his Madden stats for me.

2001 – 2003 Broncos: 15 int, 36 pd, 94 PR for 966 yards and 2 TD

2001- 2003 Madden*: 921 int, 922 pd, 60 PR for 31,286 yards and 42 TD

*all stats based off my fuzzy, nearing 50 years old memory

O’Neal was my version of Tecmo Lawrence Taylor. He was all over the field, covering anyone and anything. When I watched the real Broncos play, I expected the same. Between how he played for me in Madden, and how actually performed in 2001, I thought O’Neal was an all-timer-to-be.

It was kind of like watching the start of Adam Sandler’s career. It took Sandler 19 years to get from Happy Gilmore to Pixels. It took O’Neal from 2000 to 2003 to go from “Shutdown Corner of the Future” to the Cincinnati Bengals.

It wasn’t you, though, Deltha. It was me. I let the pixels on my PlayStation convince me that what I saw there was what I should see on Sundays. My bad. That was a long time ago, I’m older now and more experienced. I know better.

By the way, I can’t wait for football to start. Bradley Roby was amazing for me in Madden last year. I think he’s going to the Pro Bowl this season.

Some thoughts from the community on the subject