Poets on Sports

Stromile Swift, Marquel Blackwell, & 10,000 Yard Seasons: On Video Games & Underrated Players

by Justin Carter


I like to play sports games. Ask anyone that knows me— I used to get home from college & ask my roommate to play Madden, I stay up late every night & play NBA Live 2003, I’m eagerly awaiting my trip home in December so I can fire up my Gamecube & load up Madden 06.

I’m also a big fan of using underrated players in these games.

Let’s take NBA Live 2003 as an example. I don’t know if anyone remembers 2003, but that was the year Amare was a rookie, Shane Battier was young & inconsistent, & Gerald Wallace was still an exciting unknown kid.

I recently started a franchise mode (because I think the graphics & gameplay are better on this game than they are on the new 2k games) with the Rockets.

Here is my starting lineup: Stromile Swift/Eddie Griffin/Shane Battier/Tracy McGrady/Rafer Alston. I have Cuttino Mobley, Ansu Sesay, & Gerald Wallace as my main bench players. A young & not very videogame-talented Joe Johnson is wasting away as my 11th man.

So, McGrady is a star, yes, but the rest of my lineup is, well, young. It’s full of players that either A) never reached their potential or B) are too young & haven’t become as good as they would later on in real life.

I’m not sure why, but I view construction a video game team the same way I view the construction of a real life team. Maybe it’s because I want to be a future GM? Anyway— I never want a team stacked with star players. I won’t play as the Kobe/Shaq Lakers. I trade better ranked players (i.e. Steve Francis) away to pick up a player whose game I like more (Rafer Alston). I build a bench based on potential, even though I’ll never play more than two seasons, will never see those players realize that potential.

Example: I don’t play Joe Johnson. I don’t play Amare. I don’t play Keyon Dooling. Why did I trade for them? I went into GM mode, thought about how I’d want them in real life 2003 if I had the opportunity.

I’m also attracted to players who failed at some point. My starting frontcourt contains a player in Stromile Swift who left the Grizzlies & became a disappointment, & Eddie Griffin, who died a 2007 car accident. They’re both rated in the low 80s in the game, but Swift can rebound, Griffin has a three-point shot & size, so I play them & I hope my video gaming can provide a different ending to their careers.

Let’s look at the other game I’ve been playing lately— Madden 2005. Like with the NBA 2k games, I’m not a big fan of the gameplay of the Madden Wii game I own, so I always go back to 2005.

When I play Madden, I have three goals: 1) Score lots of points 2) Win games 3) Keep the games close. To achieve this, I set my defense sliders WAY down. I play lots of 65-64 type games. I think it’s more fun this way.

I always like to run five receiver sets (usually with all the receivers the Saints have, because those motherfuckers are fast on this game), or pick Trung Candidate (97 speed??) up off the free agent market. I like speedy tight ends. I just…I like players whose only real attribute is speed. I’m a big fan of one-dimensional players, likely because the athletes of my formative years were pretty one-dimensional (Jeff Bagwell could hit & do not much else by the time I was an Astros fan, Brad Ausmus (CONGRATS ON THE TIGERS JOB) couldn’t do anything offensively, Steve Francis was…Steve Francis, & Kelvin Cato was paid millions of dollars to get a few rebounds).

I also like to use really, really bad quarterbacks. I blame this on David Carr— as a Texans fan playing an old Madden, I WILL NOT play as David Carr (i.e. He Who Shall Not Be Named). I want to prove to myself that ANYONE is better option than David Carr. So, I pick up Seneca Wallace (whose presence in this week’s Packers/Bears game prompted me to think about this post). So, I pick up Kliff Kingsbury. So, I pick up Marquel Blackwell.

Marquel_Blackwell_mediumMy favorite is Blackwell. A 5’11’’ undrafted player out of South Florida, Blackwell played one preseason game for the Jets, one AF2 game, then ended up coaching. On Madden? Blackwell is a fast player & one strong season can get his ratings up to the high 80s. While he lacks awareness at first, a few good games helps push that up. I’ve had a 10,000 yard season from Blackwell (because, again, I really like offense). He’s won an MVP award for me. (I’ve been able to imagine Blackwell laughing in David Carr’s face after this happened, though Blackwell doesn’t seem like the kind of guy that would do that (i.e. he is not Richie Incognito).) Blackwell, on Madden, was everything for me that the real 2005 Texans could never have been. He was exciting. He was young. He could win games. I could build a team around him without spending as much money on him as I would on Vick or Manning.

I often try to stay as far under the salary cap as possible when constructing a video game team. I treat video games as a playground for my future (READ THIS NEXT PART, MINOR LEAGUE SPORTS TEAM OWNERS) job as a general manager. A cheap, quality quarterback is a huge block to play with. Look at the real life teams that have cheap quarterbacks: Seattle, San Francisco, Indianapolis. Marquel Blackwell is my Russell Wilson, my Colin Kaepernick (though not my Andrew Luck, because Texans’ fans do not like Andrew Luck). In NBA Live 2003, I’ve built a quality team via cheap parts around a star player (McGrady).

So, to recap: I play sports video games because I want to build quality teams using players that are usually avoided in video games. I like players that are really good at one thing. I like cheap players who can give me more value than expensive players.

I’m the Billy Beane of Madden, essentially, which is better than being the James Dolan of Madden, right?

About juscart

Justin Carter is the co-editor of Banango Street & an MFA candidate in Poetry @ Bowling Green State University. He enjoys the Rockets & Texans. He sometimes enjoys the Astros. His poems appear in Hobart, Red Lightbulbs, & Revolution House.

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This entry was posted on November 6, 2013 by and tagged , , , , , .
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