Every one of us has a story. Perhaps it was batting a sibling or a best friend as a youngster, or maybe it was in high school or college. No matter the setting, anyone who’s ever played a sports game has an in-person rivalry that defines a particular experience. There’s something unique about battling someone right next to you, feeling the emotion of an epic battle won or lost. This week, we asked our panelists and readers which sports game in-person rivalry topped their list. As usual, the answers span systems and genres – and make all of us smile.
What's your most memorable couch multiplayer/in-person rivalry sports game experience?
Back in the day my family lived in an apartment complex and my friend James lived upstairs and across from us. We would always play video games together, from Tecmo Super Bowl on the SNES to World Series Baseball on the Genesis.
In 1995 everything changed. James’ step-father got a PlayStation with NFL GameDay. From that day on, it was almost exclusively what we played.
The rivalry we had in that game was epic. We would battle as the 49ers and Cowboys almost every day, and if we were feeling lucky, we’d challenge his step-father. That would usually lead to a lopsided butt-whooping. That is, until one day – a day that I’ll never forget.
James’ step-father and I faced off, he the Cowboys, and I the 49ers. Let’s not forget this is 1995 and both teams are stacked. At the end of the day, and for the first time in James’ and my life, one of us had beat his step-dad. And just like any “true gamer”, his first statement after defeat was “Good game, but you were playing as my team.”
I’ll never forget the fun I had playing NFL GameDay – and the TE Z-Out in the 49ers playbook.
There have been many memorable experiences with couch co-op for me. I had endless battles in NBA Jam, and numerous head-to-head battles in Super Mario Kart on the SNES. But all of them pale in comparison to the rivalry I shared with my good friend John back when John Madden Football came out.
We both owned the first version, John Madden Football 92, for the SNES. While we both played it pretty regularly, we didn’t really play it together in any capacity. That all changed with the ’93 version, and I remember going to purchase it the day it came out and we had planned an entire weekend around its release. When Friday arrived, we cracked the box open and dove in. He was the Eagles, with a numbered, but nameless, Randall Cunningham. I ran with my beloved 49ers. For about 10 straight hours we played game after game. I remember touchdowns being scored because of the other person closing their eyes due to immense fatigue kicking in. I remember countless close victories and losses, and what seemed to be an endless stream of ambulances appearing on the field.
We played all weekend long – a bitter rivalry that continued for many weeks thereafter. We had friendly bets, fights, arguments and I look back at those moments with sheer joy, and remember them fondly. While we don’t play Madden together these days, John Madden Football ’93, and my rivalry with John, sparked my addiction to sports video games and the Madden franchise all those years ago.
RBI Baseball is the best answer that I have. While my brother and I used to play some Hardball!, 4th and Inches, and International Hockey on my Commodore 64 during the late 1980s (and I went undefeated), I played RBI Baseball pretty consistently against my good friend Chris, whom I stayed with out near Worcester, MA during several weeks every summer during the same period. I eventually got a job out near Worcester in 1991 and moved out there, so Chris and I played head-to-head even more for a couple of years while the job lasted.
I was awful at first. We often flip-flopped between playing each side of the Boston Red Sox v. New York Mets World Series matchup from 1986, but it didn’t matter which side I was on. I used to get pounded and not last the full 9 innings (thanks to the Mercy Rule). As I played more, though, I began to pick up on things. I learned how to change speeds effectively and nibble the corners. I got a better grasp on defense and the range for each fielder. At the plate, I struggled to learn patience and how to work the count. Since pitchers tired only after a few innings, waiting for the right pitch eventually began to make games closer.
After an 0-15 start against Chris in the summer of 1989, I finally broke through in dramatic fashion with a solo home run in the bottom of ninth off of Jesse Orosco. I guess Dwight Evans was due, or maybe guessing right on that fastball tipped the scales in my favor. The game ended 5-4, and it felt amazing to finally earn a victory. I didn’t earn many victories in the games that followed, but eliminating that goose egg was a pretty special feeling that still rings fresh in my mind some 16 years later.
The best group game play moments for me came when I was in college in the mid/late 1980s. We had Nintendo golf tournaments where guys would play their rounds and post their scores on a sheet in my dorm room. We would also have RBI Baseball round-robins that were highly competitive. But hands down the most fun I had in a group setting was playing NES Pro Wrestling.
First there was the strategy of picking your wrestler. Every guy in the room wanted to be the faux Hulk Hogan wrestler, Giant Panther, so coin flips were often required to determine who had first choice. The pseudo-Rick Flair, King Slender, was a suitable second choice.
With the synthetic Mario Brothers-sounding music pumping away and the words “Go Fight!” encouraging us from the side of the ring, the action would get hot quickly. Every running knee or spinning kick that landed would bring the group in the room to a fevered pitch. Two-count kick outs added to the drama and every claw that was applied suggested doom was moments away for the recipient.
The game itself was simple but action filled, which made it easy for a group of guys to enjoy.
The highlight for me was when my friend Bill Simmons came to visit me in college and he would take on my friend Eric Marshall in this game. It didn’t matter which wrestlers they chose, Eric always dominated Bill.
Well, that isn’t 100% accurate. Actually Eric tortured Bill. Eric would pound Bill’s wrestler into submission and then climb to the top rope and land a flying elbow. Then Eric would have his guy get up and do it again. And again. And again.
I swear on the Macho Man’s sunglasses and robe, Eric hit Bill with 100 consecutive elbows. It was epic before epic was a thing.
Nearly 30 years later the memories are still fresh for Eric: “That was the pinnacle of my 40 year video game career. Bill’s pleas to be pinned while I climbed the ropes over and over again was the highlight. I felt like Jimmy Snuka in his bad guy days.”
While there are more than a few games that could qualify – RBI Baseball, NHL ’94, and NBA Jam are prime examples – no game defines intense, taking-it-much-more-seriously-than-it-should-possibly-be-taken than Tecmo Super Bowl in college in the early nineties. A bunch of the guys who lived on my floor wound up spending more than a few long winter weekends completing entire seasons of Super Bowl thanks to the amazing stat tracking capabilities. We had at least eight user-controlled teams, and staged epic battles against each other.
The regular season games were intense, but the playoffs took it to another level. To this day I will never forget how I lost the NFC Championship. My Eagles were trailing late in the game to my buddy Max’s 49ers, and there were just a few ticks left on the clock. There were no “kneel down” plays, though, and I managed to call the exact play correctly; this allowed Reggie White to storm the backfield and cause a fumble. Jerome Brown scooped up the loose ball, and I desperately zigged and zagged down the field to try and score a game-winning TD as time expired. Sadly, I made it only to the 5, as a diving Roger Craig tackled Jerome and my season was over.
I still haven’t gotten over that game.
Growing up in the Super Nintendo era there was one game that dominated the multiplayer scene, Mario Kart. At the time I don’t think we realized that we were playing a sports game.
It’s strange what adding a little Mario to racing will do to a twelve year old’s perception. All the kids in my middle school were into Mario Kart – from the Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball Players to the Final Fantasy role players. I can’t recall a more universally accepted game at that time.
Saturdays for almost an entire school year were spent traveling around my hometown competing in four player split screen for bragging rights and the number one spot on our handwritten ranking sheets. There was simple pleasure in scribbling out a competitor above you on the official rankings and replacing it with your own. We played on a point system and raced each track ten times per season. This was the most serious I think I’ve ever taken playing a game.
I always enjoyed karting, but at a certain point I played more to improve my skills then I did for pure enjoyment. At the heights of this phenomenon we had a group of about 50-75 players actively participating in the circuit. There were usually at least two SNES’ running in whatever kids’ house we had secured to run our races. It was not uncommon to have 20 people watching the competition and reacting to every mistake and instance of success.
While this only lasted for about a year, 15 or so of us stuck with it on and off all the way through high school as new iterations came out over those years. We would always find time at least every few months to get together for an all-day tournament. When college came around we mostly stopped playing. People went their separate ways as tends to happen after high school. Right about this time online gaming was really starting to take off. For whatever reason we never started karting online. In a way, I am happy about that. I dont think that feeling can really ever be replicated, and I dont want to diminish the memory by trying.
Some thoughts from the community on the subject
@HitThePass Madden 02-05. High school years, I’d get the game at midnight and our OL met at our QB’s house to play all night.
— Shawn Green (@sgreenburrito) July 2, 2015
@HitThePass Madden without a doubt especially due to the one time I beat my buddy on the final play of Overtime with a pick 6 to avoid a tie
— Third World Champs (@TribeWarpath) July 2, 2015
@HitThePass NCAA. First in-person w/college roommates, then online w/my friends. Recruiting battles, crazy bowl games. So good.
— Paul Sporer (@sporer) July 2, 2015
@HitThePass NCAA Football 2005. Had a 6-8 person dynasty most of senior year of college. Still played ODs with some of them in 2013.
— KrilDog (@KrilDog) July 2, 2015
@HitThePass RBI Baseball.
— Will Kinsler (@raczilla) July 2, 2015
@HitThePass Live 96 friend and I created a starting 5, He’d be so bent that my 6’2 SG would get more rebounds than his 7″ 10 Center
— Jeremy Wright (@mastergerm) July 2, 2015
@HitThePass Had some epic battle with my friends in NHL 94 back in the day
— Greg Sewart (@sewart) July 2, 2015
@HitThePass NHL ’98 First game just about all my friends had on all our PlayStations. Or Madden 01 Great showpiece to friends for PS2 launch
— A Burnett (@KnightAttack09) July 2, 2015