*Originally published by former DSN writer Ryan Van Dusen in August of 2015.
Let’s get this clear right from the start: this is a list that, for the most part, set out to identify the most dominant Detroit-based video game athletes of all-time. But this rundown isn’t all about overall ratings. We made sure to leave at least a small bit of wiggle-room to celebrate some of the outsiders and underdogs who found their way onto our countdown in large part thanks to their unique video game-given talents.
With that said, if our countdown seems heavy on the old school, well, it is, and there’s a reason for that. With modern sports games pushing for more and more simulation and real life replication with each passing year, cartoonish athletic superpowers have become a thing of the past (with a few rare exceptions). As a result, more realistic portrayals = significant reduction in 400-yard rushing games and free throw line dunks on Shaquille O’Neal. With that in mind, forgive us if, say, our three hockey choices all came between 1993 and 1995.
Without further ado, let’s get down to business:
Bob Probert – NHLPA ’93 (Sega Genesis)
Right, so the first guy on our countdown isn’t even here for his on-ice skills, per se. In fact, NHLPA ’93 cut straight to the chase and didn’t even put a stick in Bob Probert‘s hands for his player profile picture. True to his real life self, video game Bob Probert was capably skilled with the puck (62 points in 1988) but his real calling was roughing folks up. His perfect 100 rating in Checking, Aggression, and Fighting accurately reflects his finest qualities.
Skating around with a harbinger of destruction like Sega Probert, it was just a matter of time before someone was maimed or pummeled, and it was glorious. In other words, EA Sports nailed his tendencies perfectly.
Mike Maroth – MVP Baseball 2005 (PS2/XBox)
Alright, I know it may be upsetting to see Mike Maroth pop up here, but don’t throw that laptop, desktop, and/or mobile device out that window in disgust just yet. I know it sounds ridiculous. Of all the pitchers throughout video Tigers history, I went with Mike Maroth? Not Jack Morris? Justin Verlander? Nate Cornejo?
Here’s the thing with the MVP Baseball 2005 iteration of Mike Maroth: he’s a lefty, he’s got five pitches, his wind-up is easy to perfect and he’s always under control. Not only that, but his stuff is so underwhelming that he naturally forces gamers to execute a sense of strategy that extends beyond just mowing down hitters with an unstoppable breaking ball.
Look, he’s not an imposing beast, I get that. But like clockwork, MVP Maroth is always good for a complete game featuring 6-8 strikeouts and an endless stream of weak groundouts and pop-ups. A few years of development in franchise mode only bolstered his abilities. Plus, he’s responsible for my first career perfect game, so there’s that.
Joe Dumars – Tecmo NBA Basketball (NES)
1992’s Tecmo NBA Basketball often gets lost among the NBA Jams, Double Dribbles and NBA Lives of the world. There’s a reason for that: the on-court product wasn’t incredible (which is about par for the course among basketball games in the early 90’s). Still, aside from Tecmo teaching my third grade self about backcourt violations and the startling effectiveness of a slashing Sean Elliott, it also offered up a secret weapon for us Detroit folk: the Joe Dumars mid-range jump shot.
Dumars, like every other Tecmo character, didn’t have many moves with the ball in his hands. Okay, Dumars had zero moves with the ball in his hands. A gamer’s best hope was to beat their defender in a beeline following a made basket. But Dumars’ offensive success had a caveat: if a gamer could slowly inch their way to either of the free throw elbows (careful not to commit a charge!), Dumars was capable of knocking down approximately 80% of his mid-range J’s. In my most recent endeavor, Dumars went for 39 on 19-30 shooting (at least five of those misses were point blank layups, don’t ask me how or why).
You might be asking, couldn’t any Tecmo player with a solid mid-range rating theoretically exploit the elbow game like Dumars did? To which I would answer: please stop asking ridiculous questions.
Steve Yzerman – NHL ’94 (Sega/SNES)
NHL ’94 is a cult classic among sports video game enthusiasts, and rightfully so. As EA Sports’ follow-up to NHLPA ’93, NHL ’94 was the first game to secure NHL team licenses (there’s a reason why the New York Islanders were simply known at “Long Island” in ’93). Perhaps more importantly, NHL ’94 introduced a game-changing tactic: the one-timer.
Holding down the center spot on the Wings’ top line (flanked by Sergei Fedorov and Dino Ciccarelli), a still-youthful Steve Yzerman proved to be a force to be reckoned with, particularly off a one-time opportunity in the slot. Quite honestly, anyone capable of casually netting 14 goals with five minute periods deserves a spot on our list.
Darrell Evans/Kirk Gibson – RBI Baseball (NES)
The oldest selection(s) on our countdown (1988), Kirk Gibson & Darrell Evans share the honors because they were virtually indistinguishable and equally as destructive, batting back-to-back in the Tigers order and wreaking havoc in the first iteration of RBI Baseball.
According to the web’s most trusted RBI Baseball fan site (yeah, that’s a thing), Gibson and Evans both find themselves ranked among the top five players in the game. A side-by-side look at each player’s strange & seemingly random Tengen attributes:
Of course, I have absolutely no frame of reference in terms of what those numbers actually mean, but it’s gotta be something good, because these guys can rake.
Calvin Johnson – Madden NFL 13 (PS3/XBox360)
What happens when you mix a wideout on the verge of a near 2,000 yard receiving year, cover status, and Madden’s penchant for rewarding those who air it out? You get the Madden NFL 13 version of Calvin Johnson, 99 overall rating included. Already almost unstoppable in real life, Johnson was so next level in Madden that it was a struggle finding a YouTube highlight of him in a Lions uniform, simply because no one could resist adding him to their own teams by any means possible.
Even in Niners red & gold, this is still just another day for Madden Megatron.
Chauncey Billups – ESPN NBA Basketball (PS2/XBox)
There a good chance Chauncey Billups’ historic run on ESPN NBA Basketball (2004) may have gone largely unnoticed by the video basketball game community. After all, NBA Live was still top dog at the time and the NBA Street series wasn’t too far behind. Perhaps in response to the And1 Streetball era (AYYOOOO!), the upstart 2K simulation series changed its colors for a year and tried to lighten up on the realism. The result: blocked shots with contrails and tomahawk dunks for everyone.
Billups held just a 60 dunk rating, but it was enough for him to run roughshod over the competition with great aplomb. Armed with extended range, Mr. Big Shot was virtually unguardable. I’d love to say the video above was some sort of anomaly but in truth, that’s just how Chauncey Billups was living that year. Even sticking Shaquille O’Neal in the middle of the paint did nothing more than offer up a prop for Chauncey to dunk over… from the free throw line.
Game. Set. Match. Point. Billups. Game Over. End of Game.
Sergei Fedorov – NHL ’95 (Sega/SNES)
Similar to Calvin Johnson in Madden NFL 13, NHL ’95 caught Sergei Fedorov near the peak of his powers. Coming off a 1994 campaign in which he scored 56 goals and won the Hart Memorial trophy as the league’s most valuable player, Fedorov earned a perfect 100 rating in EA Sports’ next hockey offering.
Fedorov plays exactly how one would expect someone with a perfect overall to play. One of the quickest skaters in the game, he’s deadly around the net (wrap-around cheese included). His wrister is sharp and capable of lighting the lamp at any given moment, he brings the heat on his slap shot, and he’s close to untouchable on one-timers. Those skills, alongside a perfect overall, were just enough to crack Fedorov into our top three (though, admittedly, watching that 14-goal Yzerman performance in NHL ’94 earlier has me second guessing, just a little).
C. Fieldman – Roger Clemens’ MVP Baseball (NES)
Roger Clemens’ MVP Baseball was my baseball game as a youth. Sure, my brother and I rented RBI Baseball, Bases Loaded, Bo Jackson Baseball, etc., but Roger Clemens was the only one we truly owned. As it turns out, it was lowkey underrated. An easy knock on the game may be the lack of a Major League license, but they weren’t fooling anyone. Take a look at the lineup for the Detroit, ah-hem, “Wheels”:
Anywho, let’s focus our attention on my man batting clean-up: Cecil Fielder… er, I mean, C.Fieldman. With the real life Big Daddy just a few seasons removed from his 51-homer campaign (back when 50 home runs used to mean something), his imitation cartoon counterpart was dealt a healthy dose of unstoppable power.
The trick to ensuring maximum Fieldman success was simple in its complexity. First, get Phipps, Lloydby, and/or Melltram on base at all costs. Next, with Fieldman at the dish, hug the plate, forcing the pitcher to position himself inside. Then, put your baserunners in motion while simultaneously sliding back in the box. Last step: feast on the ensuing meat ball. Automatic crank city.
Fieldman was rivaled in power only by the Bash Brothers out in Oakland, who were literally named Bash & Bash. There’s really nothing else to be said on the matter, I just remain endlessly amused with RCMB’s shameless and minimally creative wordplay.
Barry Sanders – Tecmo Super Bowl (NES)
As if there was any doubt.
To be clear, Tecmo Super Bowl’s Barry Sanders is likely one tier below Tecmo Bo Jackson. But all that means is I’m not sure Sanders could run around the field on a single play for the entire duration of the first quarter. He may be no Tecmo Bo, but he’s still the deadliest athlete in Detroit sports video game history.
Technically, Sanders only had three running plays at his disposal by default: sweep left, sweep right, and middle delay (a Rodney Peete naked bootleg took up the fourth slot). It was still more than enough. In addition to expert maneuverability, Sanders had a healthy dose of breakaway speed. The Tecmo Bowl Weave remained necessary in the open field, but not as necessary.
Surely, it’s a little unsettling watching Tecmo Super Sanders spike the ball every time he reached paydirt, as it stands as the antithesis of how he actually rolled in real life, but when an off-game means only rushing for 400 yards on the ground, we’ll excuse a little extra swagger.
Sanders’ Tecmo likeness remains the only Detroit video game figure to get the Down With Detroit apparel treatment, and there’s a reason for that: he was the best.
Alright folks, give us your thoughts. Who’d we miss? Who belongs? NHL 2001’s Brendan Shanahan? Ben Wallace from NBA Street Vol. 2? MLB: The Show’s Justin Verlander? Let us know, just don’t even try coming in here with that Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball stuff.
*Originally published by former DSN writer Ryan Van Dusen in August of 2015.