Editor's Note: This column appears in the Sept. 1 edition of ESPN The Magazine.
When Mike Vick broke his leg, real football fans had two immediate thoughts: "Should l still take him in my fantasy draft?" and "Uh-oh, the Madden cover jinx." Ah, yes, the dreaded curse: George, Culpepper, Faulk, now Vick. Just wait until next summer, when Clinton Portis makes the cover and then is disemboweled in an intrasquad scrimmage.
Happening two days after the release of Madden 2004, Vick's creepy injury overshadowed another stunner … something so unbelievable I hesitate to even write about it. For 15 years, the greatest force in video football history was Bo Jackson. No one has ever approached Bo's performance in the first two Tecmo Bowls: not Rice, Sanders, LT, Okoye, Cunningham, Desmond Howard, Randy Moss ... not even Cap Boso. Video Bo was the best. Sports fans will argue about anything, but this particular subject has never been up for debate.
I'm here to say that Mike Vick's video alter ego is the first direct challenge to Bo's legacy. When I got my hands on Madden 2004 last week, I quickly took Vick for a test drive. His player ratings include 95s for speed and acceleration and a 95 for agility. Yikes. In the shotgun offense, he's simply unstoppable. On the first play I called against the Panthers, Vick ran a QB sweep for a 75-yard score. Nobody touched him. He finished with 371 yards rushing and 322 yards passing, and accounted for all 8 TDs in a 56-28 victory. Just another day at the office for Video Mike.
So now you're thinking, "Move over, Bo -- there's a new sheriff in town!" Well, not exactly. Vick can actually be stopped: he gets tired if you keep running him, and you can contain him somewhat if you stack the line. Unlike Bo, defenders don't bounce off him like bad guys in a superhero movie. Nowadays, video games are too sophisticated. Nobody can bust 11 tackles on a single play; it wouldn't be realistic.
Back in Bo's day, video games were much more primitive. The original Tecmo Bowl featured only four plays per team, and on a loaded '89 Raiders team, Bo had only one run play to himself. It was like limiting Will Ferrell to one SNL skit per week. No matter. You couldn't come close to stopping him. When Tecmo Super Bowl was released in 1991, we could play whole seasons and keep stats, which pushed Bo's magic to the next level. I knew a guy in college who cracked 1,000 yards with him ... in one game.
When I mentioned Video Bo's brilliance last year on ESPN.com, the e-mails poured in, with everyone writing in reverential tones, as if he were a real person. One reader remembered his buddy ripping off an 85-yard game-winning run, saying he was "helpless as Bo shed about 874 tackles at once and strolled into the end zone ... it took me a long time to get over that one." Another reader wrote, "When I tell my kids about the greatest athletes of my generation, Bo Jackson will be on that list, in large part because of my memories of Tecmo Bo."
It's weird how it all turned out. In four seasons, Bo played just 38 games before that freak hip injury ended his career. He never broke 1,000 yards in a season. Other than a few outrageous runs and the time he pancaked Brian Bosworth on Monday Night Football, there wasn't much substance to Bo's time with the Raiders. Just as we wonder about the careers of Gabe Kaplan and the woman who played Lacey Underall, we'll always wonder why things didn't turn out differently. If anything, Video Bo was more memorable than the real thing, the most unstoppable virtual football force of all time.
Let's hope Vick's real career doesn't end up the same way. For now, the important thing is that somebody finally has made a run at Bo. I never thought I'd see the day.
Bill Simmons is a columnist for Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, and he's a writer for Jimmy Kimmel Live.