I was playing an early copy of the new "NFL Blitz" the other day, and Calvin Johnson went airborne for what looked like the game-winning touchdown. But then he ran into Patrick Willis. And when I say "ran into," I really mean Megatron flew facemask-first into P52's stone-like fist as the on-fire Willis literally punched the gravity-defying receiver backward before he reached the end zone. 49ers win.
That's what "NFL Blitz" is all about. It's that maddening intensity that only 7-on-7 football can bring. Throw in players igniting into flames and hurtling their virtual bodies throughout the field thanks to the kind of hops that would make even LeBron jealous, and you have a recipe for twitchy arcade action gamers have been addicted to since the title first debuted to tokens back in 1997.
While football fans have to wait until January for the game's digital release ($15; XBLA, PSN), EA Sports and Spike TV are launching a special "NFL Blitz" cover vote at VGA.Spike.com, where gamers can choose among Willis, Roddy White and Ray Rice to appear as the game's cover star and spokesperson. All voting will take place during the Spike Video Game Awards on Dec. 10, with the winning player being announced in style by football legends Joe Montana and Jerry Rice that night.
To All-Pro linebacker Willis, however, there's no denying he's the best choice for the game's cover.
"People should vote for me for the cover of 'NFL Blitz' because I'm the type of guy who likes to go after the ball carrier and just like in the game, I hit him pretty hard," Willis says. "I still remember when my dad bought us the old N64 copy of 'Blitz.' My dad was pretty good at that game, but we would all play together. I'd play, my brother would play, even my sister liked to play 'Blitz,' but my dad was tough to beat. He was always throwing the ball deep.
"But what I like about the game best is no flags. You can hit people when they're up in the air, blow them up before the ball even gets there, and no flags. I love that. 'Blitz' was one of my first loves when it comes to gaming. Before I was a 'Madden' fan, it was all about 'Blitz,' so to me, being on the cover would be a perfect fit since I used to play the game so much. This is the type of game I love. Big hits all day and no flags. Doesn't get better than that."
Jon Robinson: I know you're a big gamer. What have you been playing lately?
Willis: I'm on that new "Need for Speed" game hard. That's one of those games I've always been into playing. Can't wait for the new "Blitz" to come out. I used to love the old "NFL Blitz," then I still played it when Lawrence Taylor was on the cover and they didn't have the NFL license. I liked that concept with all the action they added. That was the game where you could break someone's ankle and they would show the X-ray of the bone snapping. That's what I want to see more of. That's the real deal.
When you're playing "Madden," people throw the ball over the middle too much. I want them to show people get a crushed collarbone or a crushed ankle or a crushed sternum or something. I wish when you put a Hit Stick on someone, you could put them out of the game. I was playing the other day, and I was in a Cover 2 Man, and my homeboy was completing passes over my defenders every time. I just want to Hit Stick him and put him out of the game.
Robinson: If they added all that, EA would have to bring the "Madden" ambulance back.
Willis: Exactly. [Laughs and makes ambulance noises.] Woo-woo-woo!
Robinson: The NFL actually made EA Sports take out all of the late hits in "Blitz" with this version. I take it you don't agree with that.
Willis: For real? That was fun. I used to love the sounds people would make when you hit them after the whistle.
Robinson: They still have players lighting on fire and smacking each other during the play, though. Are you looking forward to seeing what your character can do with unlimited turbo?
Willis: The way people caught on fire and went flying through the air and jumping over tacklers, that's what makes the game so fun. That's why "Blitz" was my favorite game before "Madden." I like how when you're on fire, you hit dive and you might fly 20 yards before you hit somebody.
Robinson: Switching things up to real life for a second, the 49ers have a pretty similar team to what you had last year, only now you guys are 9-2 and are one of the favorites in the NFC. Is this the greatest example of what a smart coach like Jim Harbaugh can do if given the chance?
Willis: Just like anything, sometimes all you need is a good head man in charge to take you to the next level. Not only is he a good coach, but he brought in a good coaching staff around him. I knew whoever was going to be our next coach was coming into a good situation, because we have a lot of guys who love to play the game, and these are guys who want to win. So not only did we get one heck of a coach, he brought in so many great coaches with him that it just made the entire team better. It's because of all these coaches, that's been the biggest difference.
Robinson: The defensive attitude and intensity you guys bring game in and game out has been impressive. Is that intimidation you guys bring also a big factor in winning?
Willis: I think it has a lot to do with it, but you can't overlook what our offense has been doing. Our defense is out there holding things down, but it's our offense that has been going out and putting points up on the board. Then when you add in our good special teams, I think everybody on the team has been playing their role.
Robinson: Do you think other teams are still underestimating the 49ers based on the past couple of years?
Willis: Yeah, I think a lot of people are underestimating us. I think people will respect our skills the more we win, and our main focus is to finish strong over these last five games. We want to win them all and just let it ride as we keep pushing forward.
Robinson: The 49ers are in first place, the Raiders are in first place, the Giants won their first World Series since moving to San Francisco. Are we finally seeing the resurgence of Bay Area sports?
Willis: Believe it or not, I'm not a Raider-hater or anything like that just because I'm in San Francisco. If we're not playing them, I'm rooting for them. I want them to do well, because the better all of our teams do, the more people will realize that the Bay Area is a great place to be. I'm happy to see Oakland doing what they're doing.
Robinson: How about in the new "Blitz"? Why are the 49ers the team to beat in this new video game?
Willis: We have the most complete team. In terms of skill positions, we have speed guys out there, then we have a quarterback who is mobile, and you need that in the game. We have a tight end who is big and fast, and then when you look at our defense, we have guys who can get after the quarterback and defensive backs that can go up and make a play on the ball. Did I mention the linebacker they have in there who can run and hit? [Laughs.] The 49ers are the most complete team in "NFL Blitz."
I can't wait until this game comes out. 49ers all day.