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Tecmo Super Bowl

by Justin Higgins about a year ago in nintendo · updated 7 months ago
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Why the Greatest Football Game Ever Still Has a Place in Society

Tecmo Super Bowl
Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash

The time is December 1991, and the video gaming sports world is about to be changed forever. Tecmo Super Bowl was released on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) in the United States, but nobody knew that it would become a cult classic that is still enjoyed today. Before Tecmo Super Bowl came out, sports games were unplayable. It was impossible to pass, run, maneuver around the field, or to even a complete a single play. Yet, the computer would effortlessly complete plays. The game was too difficult, thus making it unplayable.

Two years before in 1989, Tecmo Bowl on the NES was a big hit because of its simplicity and enjoyability. The game only had 12 teams equipped with four plays, and it was not licensed by the NFL. Meaning the gaming developers could not use official team names (e.g., Giants, Eagles). However, the NFLPA did give their consent for the game to have their players likeness be used. For example, Miami’s quarterback in the game was Dan Marino, while in real life, Dan Marino quarterbacked the Miami Dolphins.

It was an easy game to pick up and it was fun because one could play as their favorite player. On offense, only four plays were available – either two runs or two passes. Throwing to the open receiver was the only way to complete a pass, otherwise an automatic interception would occur by whoever was covering the receiver. On defense, the best option was picking the fastest player to tackle the ball carrier by repeatedly tapping the tackling button. To kick field goals or to punt the ball away, all one had to do was wait until the meter was at its fullest to pull off the best kick. Running was easy too. To avoid the defenders, it was as simple as moving the directional pad in the direction one wanted to go in hopes that your guy was faster. Those of any skill level could play. On top of that, the quarters were only two minutes long, so it was a short time commitment. Even so, it was Tecmo Super Bowl with its enhancements to Tecmo Bowl that take sports video games to another level.

When Tecmo Super Bowl was released in the United States gamers experienced euphoria. Gaming features that are now expected in any sports game were newly introduced. For the first time ever, a football game was licensed by both the NFL and NFLPA. All 28 NFL teams, as it was in 1991, were available to choose from. All correctly placed in their six divisional alignment – AFC East, AFC Central, AFC West, NFC East, NFC Central, and NFC West.

Understanding the divisional alignment of the NFL helped those who were only casual fans of the NFL to pick up on some of the league’s consistencies. For instance, how every team plays their divisional opponent twice a season. Or understanding why the Giants and Redskins are such bitter rivals. Furthermore, it also explains why divisional records are so important over the course of the season. If the Giants and Redskins both finish the regular season with identical 13-3 records, who wins the NFC East? Good question. Let’s say the Redskins finish divisional play with a 7-1 record, but the one loss was to the Giants. The Giants, in contrast, finish 6-2 in divisional play, also taking one loss to the Redskins. Despite splitting both regular season meetings, the Redskins would win the NFC East due to their superior divisional record.

Such accuracies were a big deal and there was more, including – stating tracking, season mode, clutchness, and team playbooks. Yet, what separated Tecmo Super Bowl was the inclusion of touchdown celebrations, cut scenes, and music. All these features made legends out of great players like of the time like, QB Eagles (Randall Cunningham), Bo Jackson, Jerry Rice, Lawrence Taylor, Derrick Thomas, Rod Woodson, and Deion Sanders to name a few.

Stat Tracking

The ability to keep track of stats was in an instant hit. One could go through a 16-game season to see how they stacked up against the NFLs best. Suddenly being able to lead the NFL in receiving with Green Bay’s Sterling Sharpe was a reality. Or attempting to break the NFLs single season receiving yardage record with San Francisco’s Jerry Rice was in reach. All that was possible and more making the game more fun. Regardless of what team was picked or what superstar was used, stat tracking was a must to see how good one was at playing the game. Whether the goal was to dominate with the best or take on a challenge going from worst to first, stats had something for everybody.

Team Playbooks

Being a fan of the NFL team specific playbooks made the game more realistic. That fan could mentally go through how each team played and easily figure out what team they wanted to play with before even starting. However, as a casual fan, or perhaps even being completely new to the NFL, this was a game changer. The concept of trial and error to figure out how to best use a team was something both advanced and novice players could do. Using the Los Angeles Raiders, one would figure out that running backs Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen were their best players. Therefore, using the passing with Quarterback Jay Schroder was only necessary when throwing deep to Wide Receivers Willie Gault and Mervyn Fernandez. The New York Giants were virtually the same team. The only difference was that the Giants depended on Ottis Anderson and Dave Meggett at running back. The biggest difference was in defense. The Giants had superstar Linebacker Lawrence Taylor, which made playing defense much easier because he could cover more ground. The Raiders had no such player, meaning you had to be more of an advanced player to play quality defense with them.

Celebrations, Cut Scenes, and Music

I do not know if it was just me or what, but this aspect of the game is what made it a cult classic for me. The makers of Tecmo Super Bowl did an excellent job of putting the gamer inside the world of NFL football, while keeping the game play simple and easy. To this day, I feel no other football game has done a better job. When scoring a running touchdown, the running back would always spike the ball and run into the arms of a teammate. Though, when throwing a touchdown pass, the recipient of the touchdown would celebrate with a spike, then the scene would cut to an elated quarterback, mimicking Joe Montana, swinging his arm in celebration. At the time, the game’s best, and most successful quarterback. To this day, that scene still gives me chills. When throwing passes, the game would sometimes, depending on the pass, cut to a receiver making a diving attempt, or show a receiver out jumping a defender to make an exceptional catch. These cut scenes became synonymous with the game adding flare and dramatics that have never been matched by football games to this day.

The feeling of being in an NFL game was never more apparent than with the musical element. When playing through a 16-game regular season the music consistently stays the same. However, the moment the playoff games begin the mood of the music changes. The music instantly becomes edgier, and opponents are not only faster, but smarter. When I first experienced this switch, I felt like I was playing in an NFL playoff game. I felt the pressure to perform at my absolute best. When a game can create that type of atmosphere, it has done its job.

Lastly, the most significant celebration was clinching a division title. As a causal fan, this helps to not only understand the importance of a divisional title, but much more accurately describes what needs to occur for a team to win a divisional title. Nothing was more significant than finishing the game that would lead to a divisional title. Usually, starting after the 12th week, the clinching game becomes more of a reality by the week. After winning the game and seeing the usual stats screen after the game, one would sit the controller down to enjoy the scene.

This scene still not only gives me a sense of accomplishment, but it still gives me goosebumps.

Clutch Ability

Game changing players, like in real life, were better than the rest of the team, but Tecmo Super Bowl enhanced it. If needing a sack, touchdown, clutch pass, turnover, tackle, or a big catch one always had those guys to go. The San Francisco 49ers had Joe Montana, Jerry Rice, and Ronnie Lott. The Buffalo Bills had the likes of Bruce Smith, Andre Reed, and Thurman Thomas. Even teams not as talented had these players. The Atlanta Falcons had Deion Sanders, while the Pittsburgh Steelers had Rod Woodson. Players of the game argue that those are the two best defenders, while the Steelers possess the best defense. Play the game enough and come to the realization that every team has at least one clutch player, whether it is offense or defense.

Reminiscing Tecmo Super Bowl through rose colored classes is common. However, the truth is even though this was an industry changing game, hindsight has a way of bringing it back down to earth. Because video games have gotten better and more intricate over the past 30 years, it is easier to spot the glaring flaws.


Even though Tecmo Super Bowl was provided the official rosters of the NFL they were not all accurately produced. For example, unless the team one used had control of a superstar (very few teams did), the player one selected on defense would not be fast enough to stop opponents. Or, unless one had a prominent offensive threat, it was impossible to move the ball down the field. The overall game play was so one dimensional and so one-on-one (think basketball) centered that it was difficult to run a regular offense.

For example, when playing with the Pittsburgh Steelers who depended on their running backs, Warren Williams and Merril Hoge, the player was in trouble because they were not fast enough to outrun defenses. As the season progressed, team defenses became more frantic as they were able to cover ground much quicker, making the run nonexistent. The only way to break through this issue was to either have Thurman Thomas (BUF), Bo Jackson (LA), Emmitt Smith (DAL), Neal Anderson (CHI), or Barry Sanders (DET). Every other running back was susceptible to extreme fatigue.

In this case, the main way to move the ball down the field consistently was to throw the ball and throw it often. Learning how to pass is crucial to success as it is the game’s best feature. Possessing one of the game’s best quarterbacks in Joe Montana (SF), QB Eagles (PHI), Warren Moon (HOU), or Dan Marino (MIA) made it significantly easier to pass. Mastering the pass easily resulted in completing a high percentage of passes, especially the deep ball.

Going through the season, one would simply have to play games to figure out the type of passes their quarterback could consistently make and keep making those passes. However, there were two quarterbacks that the game’s developers were extremely unkind to – Pittsburgh’s Bubby Brister, and New England’s Steve Grogan. The only chance of completing passes with them was to throw it deep.

The wide receivers functioned similarly to the quarterbacks, where the elite ones would basically come down with any ball if it was thrown their way. This was the group, however, that the developers were the kindest to. Every wide receiver or tight end could catch. The difference was the consistency in which they could catch and whether they could stop an interception in coverage.

The game’s greatest flaw was that it did not function like a football game. Let me explain. On defense, the player can only pick one player and could not switch during the play. If the fastest player was not selected, you were out of luck. Every defense played in a 3-4 alignment (meaning three down lineman and four linebackers) and it could not be changed. If playing with the San Francisco 49ers and picking the disruptive Charles Haley as the defender was their option, they would pick him at the outside linebacker position. This was in direct opposition to his usual defensive end position he played in real life.

Regardless, the player when playing defense, would select one of their opponents eight offensive plays in hopes of guessing correctly and committing an all-out blitz to completely snuff out their offensive efforts. Therefore, defense was mostly about self-diagnosing plays and hoping that picking a pass or run would lead your defense in the right direction.

One would choose a run, so that their defense would focus on the run. Likewise, to stop the pass one would pick a pass play to focus on the pass. Even so, the defense could do focus on anything play they deemed necessary. There was no way to 100% control how the defense would react. Corner backs (CB) could run up to the line to help stop the run, while allowing two wide receivers to run free up the sideline. Or the CBs could cover all the wide receivers but one, leaving that receiver wide open. The best solution was to have the best player on defense either slide into the ball carrier or wrestle them down by repeatedly tapping the tackling button before a touchdown could be given up to the offense.

Playing through a season, the competition not only became stiffer, but every play was capable of a touchdown no matter the play call. Therefore, being able to stop a play before it started was the key to success. Still, the best maneuver for success was the nose tackle slide

The nose tackle maneuver could not be used for everything, but it could finish off about half of the plays seen by the defense if not more.

The two biggest issues were a lack of football moves and the accuracy of all players and teams. Tecmo Super Bowl was fun because one could run and maneuver down the field without thinking leading to the game’s enormous success, but it also equally led to the game’s downfall. There was no way to spin, jump, tackle, hurdle, stiff arm, juke, dive, or jump to block a pass or knock down the ball from receiver.

The issues with ratings arise when exploring the middle of the road players, units, and teams. The Houston Oilers are arguably the best pass defensive team in the game. Their secondary intercepts the majority of passes thrown their way. Yet, during the 1990 regular season, Houston ranked 14th in pass defense. This clearly makes no sense as to why they are that good. The Miami Dolphins and Los Angeles Raiders were ranked 4th and 7th respectively in team defense in 1990, yet in the game, they are poor defensive teams. Because neither the Dolphins nor Raiders have one superstar defender their excellence in team defense is nullified. The developers made no way to play team defense. For instance, setting the edge to stop a runner from getting around the defense, or having a physical close guarding secondary that makes catching passes difficult, or having tough linebackers that were efficient run stoppers.

Rushing is the toughest aspect of the game to execute. In 1990, the Detroit Lions finished 11th in rushing hardly a dominant rushing team. That 11th place finish says more about Barry Sanders extraordinary ability as a playmaker more than it speaks about Detroit’s execution. Because of Barry Sanders being a top 5 running back, the Lions are a top 5 rushing team, and that is inaccurate. Meanwhile, the New York Jets were fifth in rushing, however, when Brad Baxter and Blair Thomas attempt to get their running game going, they fail.

Equally as frustrating is the imbalance in how teams are inaccurately portrayed. The Seattle Seahawks finished the second half of the 1990 NFL season with a 6-2 record and barely missed the playoffs. Yet, when selecting them they are clearly the worst team in the AFC West. They are talentless and lack depth on their roster. Even Steve Largent, one of the best wide receivers, is barely a playmaker. Meanwhile, outside of the 11-5 Chicago Bears, the NFC Central was horrendous. The Packers, Vikings, Buccaneers, and Lions finished with six wins. For some reason, when selecting either of those four teams, their ceiling is high. Each has capable quarterbacks, along with competent playmaking defenses.

Why Should Tecmo Super Bowl Make a Comeback?

The Madden football series, which has monopolized the football gaming market, is more for gamers who want to be immersed in the world of professional football. However, Tecmo Super Bowl is perfect for everyone else. A simple fun game to play with easy controls, which requires a low time commitment. With the 30th anniversary of the game’s release recently passing there is no better time to make the arcade sports game king again.

The greatest reason for Tecmo Super Bowl’s downfall was a lack of creativity by developers. They released multiple game for the Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo systems that lacked the true spirit of Tecmo Super Bowl, while introducing no meaningful upgrades. The only decent game after the original was Tecmo Super Bowl III. Even so, Tecmo Super Bowl lost its identity by concentrating on being a real-life game like Madden Football, instead of the arcade style that made it so successful. Despite their best upgrades by far in the series, Tecmo Super Bowl failed.

For the past twenty years, Tecmo Super Bowl quickly became irrelevant and quickly dissolved in popular culture. Now the game only lives online, where the rosters are manually updated every year.

The only way for Tecmo Super Bowl to be relevant again is to embrace the future and forget the past. Those of us who were children at the release of the game are now in our 30s and 40s. We are no longer the primary audience. The primary audience(s) are causal football fans, women, avid football fans, and those who embrace fantasy football. Those who can embrace change, and gamers who just want to have fun are those who will have the greatest impact on the game’s possible return. Below is a list of aspects that would need to be implemented for a successful comeback:

• Keep the spirit of Tecmo Super Bowl for NES (1991)

• Teams in the game need to be portrayed accurately

• Playbooks need to be simple. Have a selection of 8-10 plays

• Defenses need to be simple as well. 3-4, 4-3, Nickel, Dime, and Hail Mary defense are the only defenses that need to be available

• Audible system needs to be simple. Maybe choose from four routes (out, in, slant, and fly)

• With offenses as wide open as they are, Tecmo Super Bowl was made for how football is played now

• Realistic but simple graphics

• Easy to complete maneuvers

• Explanation of basic football notions and rules while playing the game (with the option to turn it off for more advanced or knowledgeable players)

• Comeback of cut-scenes and music

• Games must take no longer than 10 minutes


About the author

Justin Higgins

Hey everyone!!! I’m looking forward to being inspired. I have always enjoyed the creative aspect of writing but only recently over the past two years have a seriously started engaging in it. I write short stories & poetry.

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