The latest wave of college sports video games, including EA Sports' "NCAA Football" series, ripped off the likenesses of real (amateur) players to heinous degree. The company created nameless facsimiles of thousands of football and basketball players, down to skin tones, hair styles, heights, weights, jersey numbers, equipment, home states, physical abilities, and so on. EA and the NCAA recently settled for a total $60 million with athletes going back to the year 2003.
The legal shockwaves might change college sports forever.
Ha! That's nothing.
Now, granted, the decade-older "Bill Walsh College Football" stole the likenesses of athletes. Sure it did! That's the only way to make any money around here. The most dangerous player is a 100-rated stand-in for Florida State quarterback Charlie Ward, who won the Heisman Trophy the year of the game's release; Kansas' best player is its kicker. Can't get any realer than all that.
But it went several big steps further. Whereas the "NCAA Football" series and its contemporaries were actually licensed by the NCAA's member schools, "Walsh" cut the universities out as well, subbing in a blue-and-orange Florida for Florida, maroon-and-white College Station for Texas A&M, and powder-and-gold Los Angeles for Ed O'Bannon's UCLA. A purple-and-orange Clemson! That could be any Clemson.
There are also two-dozen historical teams, including Atlanta 90, Columbus 79, and Provo 84. See if you can guess which football programs in those cities had good seasons in those years.
Somehow, EA got away with naming teams after the states and cities and regions of schools, rather than the actual schools themselves, even when those states and cities and regions shared the same names as the schools. No logos, no problem!
And think about the other things you'd want to pay to use in order to make a college football video game. EA did not pay to use any of these things, as the custom of the time favored just making stuff up. There's no real broadcast network -- there's just Ron Barr, who also called every other sport and whose 2010 Twitter parody account lasted five hockey tweets.
He's actually a real person, but he never says anything out loud while forever looming by himself in diagonally placed press boxes over several identical college football stadiums in digital 1993's version of 1992.
There's no Heisman Trophy, but no one really cares about that. There are kind of referees, but they don't care about you doing all the late hits you want. There are three cheerleaders, who do the same routine forever for every team. There is an NC State-ish team, puzzlingly. There is no BCS, which didn't exist yet. There is no AP Poll or Coaches Trophy.
But there is a 16-team playoff for the prestigious 1993 Or So EA Sports Person Statue.
A playoff 20 years before the four-team College Football Playoff, all just (a.) to avoid having to pay for real bowl games and (b.) due to not having to answer to an NCAA or Jim Delany or Bill Hancock. Impressive.
On the cover, Walsh is seen talking to one of his quarterbacks at Stanford -- not Stanford University or the Stanford Cardinal, just Stanford -- but did EA even pay Walsh for the right to his name and image? We have no tax documents proving Bill Walsh isn't just a name EA made up as an alias for Gary Moeller. We have none. Actually, did EA Sports even make this game?
The 1994 sequel would enhance its bootleggedness by adding the Maple Bowl, Palm Bowl, Pecan Bowl, and Redwood Bowl as major destinations. There was a Division II Palm Bowl in the '80s, and part of the FCS playoffs is apparently nicknamed the Pecan Bowl after the minor '60s bowl of the same name, but the other two are just made up. To think nobody envisioned the Bitcoin Bowl.
Appropriately, you don't have to pay anyone any money at all to play "Walsh" right now.
Growing up, I played Pop Warner football. My neighborhood's kids played football in our yards and streets and one time down in the storm drains, where the possums prowl. My entire extended family watched football all weekend long, without ceasing, with criss-crossing SEC and ACC rivalries to sustain us during the offseason. "Crunch Course" 'til the tape popped. Barry Sanders Starting Lineup figures. That part in Joe Gibbs' autobiography about the symmetry of his wife's facial features. I don't know.
At all hours: football. I was chunky, white Deion Sanders in jean shorts and enormous, teal T-shirts.
But my first real understanding of what's actually happening during grown-up football came from video games. This goes for a lot of people, as these days you even hear college and pro athletes say they play "Madden" to work on their crafts. It wasn't until the last decade that we all realized this is the new normal.
The idea of a football video game as a decent football simulator is plausible when you're paging through the enormous playbooks in current "Madden" and "NCAA" games. But it also calls to mind "Tecmo Bowl" and four-play offenses, though of course Gus Malzahn is perfectly comfortable in either era.
That shows "Walsh" couldn't have been made any earlier than it was ... without sullying the name of the coach in its title. Walsh, one of football's greatest innovators, endorsed (or so we think) one of the first games to include multiple, coherent, real formations on both sides of the ball, meaning the ability to game plan as you see fit.
Plus it's authentically collegiate, with workable option offenses nearly two decades before the NFL would really figure those out. This gave "Walsh" a fuller playbook than even "Mutant League Football" itself. Every team has access to every play, but the conscientious fan focuses on, say, the wishbone when playing as Air Force and a downfield shotgun attack when using Florida. Florida used to do that, kids!
And yeah, "Walsh" had a lot of made-up shit in it. But a lot of the stuff it cut corners on was the stuff that didn't matter much. The Auburn logo isn't what defines the heart and spirit of early-'90s Auburn, y'all -- claiming a national title 21 years later despite being bowl-banned at the time defines the heart and spirit of early-'90s Auburn. The stuff it had that was real was the football itself.
I almost ran out the dang play clock scrolling through the playbook for you on the first play of the game, which would've landed Fake Miami in the Fake ACC a whole decade ahead of schedule.
There are more cannonball flips than in real football, as Not 1983 Auburn's Not Bo Jackson demonstrates here:
So of course this is a great game.
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