A History Of NFL Games: The Big Kick-Off - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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A History Of NFL Games: The Big Kick-Off

Christopher Morley tackles the history of American Football games...


With the NFL celebrating its centenary this year & the London games concluded for another season by the Houston Texans recording a commanding 26-3 win over Jacksonville Jaguars at Wembley, has there ever been a better time to at least metaphorically lace up our boots & get ready to toss the old pigskin - to coin a phrase? And all without breaking a sweat, unless even the effort of getting comfy & loading up a console leaves you out of breath! Steel yourselves, then, for the first quarter.....

You'd perhaps be forgiven for thinking EA Sports cornered the market in developing American football games - if that's you, a few laps & hit the showers.....though in truth it's highly unlikely that the first recorded such attempt & indeed the system it was created for are that well known.

For we must go back to 1965 to discover more of FTBALL for the DTSS operating system, developed by John G Kemeny of Dartmouth College.


It was also here that the BASIC programming language developed, Professor Kemeny assisted by Thomas Kurtz during the year of the final pre-Super Bowl NFL season as the Green Bay Packers won the championship game.

Fast forward to the beginning of the Eighties, though, & a bigger roster of developers emerges each offering its own take on the sport pre-the venerable old National Football League finally cottoning on that at least some of the people tuning in to the likes of Monday Night Football, which has been bringing live coverage since 1970 - its first broadcast seeing the Cleveland Browns taking on the New York Jets - might like even the merest taste of what its like to don their team's jersey & take the walk from the changing rooms to the field of play.


Arcades & the Nintendo Entertainment System were first to be able to offer players anything like that sensation through the handiwork of Japanese developer Irem, who released 10 Yard Fight in 1983. Anyone used to calling the plays in offence or defence on Madden games may well be disappointed!

The range of options given once you get the ball are comparatively limited in that you can either choose to give it to a running back, run with a quarterback or hand it off to a wide receiver - with each difficulty level mirroring the American system, which is to say high school, college & professional, leading to the playoffs & then its Super Bowl time...........

The glory that year went to the Washington Redskins, who beat the Miami Dolphins 27-17 to lift the Vince Lombardi Trophy - named in tribute to the man who coached the Green Bay Packers to wins in the first two Super Bowl games played in 1967 & '68.


Aptly enough Monday Night Football would soon get in on the act, its own game first released in 1989 for the Amiga, Commodore 64, PC & Super NES. But it seems they missed a trick in not obtaining an NFL licence & so had to use fictional team names. Something of an oversight for one of America's top football programmes! Nonetheless the likes of the Miami Sharks awaited if you wanted to dip a boot in.

On the other foot though, there were pre-Madden attempts to make actual licensed virtual product! The first of which was the simply titled NFL Football on the Intellivision, which somewhat bafflingly only used the authority granted to it by the league to use its logo on the front cover of the box!


While you still couldn't use real teams or indeed players, the rules are similar to the real world NFL in that four 15-minute quarters make up the game, with the added bonus that you could actually choose which plays to use even if your tactics could only stretch to a list of nine!

The year of the game's release was also momentous for the league itself, the 1979 season welcoming in the sixtieth such campaign & seeing the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Los Angeles Rams 31-19 in front of a record crowd of 103,985 spectators. In the process they became the first team to clinch back to back Super Bowl victories twice, no mean feat!

Within ten years the seed of the present-day EA Sports juggernaut would be sown on the field of football gaming, Electronic Arts releasing the first Madden Football game on MS-DOS & Commodore 64 among others.


The now 83 year old John Madden had only a brief playing career having been picked by the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFL draft of 1958, but while a knee injury curtailed that, he would move into coaching & make history as the NFL's youngest head coach in the process of taking over the Oakland Raiders at the age of 32 on February 4, 1969. By January of 1977 he'd taken them to a 32-14 Super Bowl victory over the Minnesota Vikings, but he would vacate his spot on the touchline the next year after they failed to even make the play-offs. To this day, though, nevertheless he remains their record holder in terms of wins as a coach - veritably a Raiders legend!

The first of the games he lent his name & indeed mugshot too didn't exactly hurt either. A greater degree of control over seemingly simple variables like weather conditions - rain, snow, cold & windy or hot - as well as playing matters like quarter length (8,10, 12 or 15 minutes your options there) & fatigue or injuries. As the name of the game may quite literally imply, yet again there was no licence to be able to use real NFL teams or players!


John Madden Football '92 for the Sega Genesis at least organised them by city, another two years passing before EA did the decent thing & actually got the NFL licence...


Why, then, were the players only identifiable by jersey number? The answer lies with the NFL Players Association, which would grant its own licence in time for the next edition.

As EA Sports seem so keen to tell us, it's in the game! And in our second quarter next time out we'll look at the state of play from then on........

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