Five years ago on Tuesday, the last of what had been an annual tradition among football video game fans took place.
It was on that day in 2013 that the final edition of the NCAA Football video game series by Electronic Arts was released. The still-very popular series was discontinued after that year for a number of reasons.
One of the main reasons was a set of lawsuits brought forth by several former collegiate athletes — most notably from former UCLA basketball standout Ed O'Bannon — which challenged the use of the likenesses of the athletes portrayed not only in the NCAA Football series but also the former college basketball titles put together by both EA Sports and 2K Sports.
Although EA could have continued to produce a college football game, it very likely would have featured generic teams without the authentic helmets, uniforms and stadiums. Which, ironically enough, is how that series began in the first place exactly 25 years ago, when the game was originally called Bill Walsh College Football (remember, for instance, when Notre Dame was known as South Bend?).
But in this day and age, when gamers became spoiled by getting to play on more advanced consoles with their favorite college teams, with real logos and real fight songs being played in the background, a generic game would not have gone over quite well and EA was smart enough to discontinue the series with that in mind.
The five years from the time the last NCAA Football video game was released also serves as a reminder that we had experienced the golden age of sports video games.
If you ask me, that began in the late 1980s with the release of Tecmo Bowl on the old Nintendo Entertainment System. But a couple of years later, the game's sequel, Tecmo Super Bowl, really revolutionized sports video gaming.
Tecmo Super Bowl had all the real NFL teams and the real NFL players, and you got to play an entire season (in this case, the actual '91 NFL season) and keep track of stats while leading a team to the Super Bowl.
To this day, people still enthusiastically talk about using players like Bo Jackson, Christian Okoye and Lawrence Taylor on Tecmo Super Bowl. You can also find several clips of those standouts and others in the game on YouTube.
I still fondly remember the day Tecmo Super Bowl came out on the Super Nintendo system, in the fall of '93. It was probably the first time I was anxiously awaiting to own a particular video game, and that version ultimately delivered. I also got the newer version of TSB a few years later, when you were able to create your own players.
Of course, the gold standard of football video games eventually became the Madden NFL series.
I remember the original Super Nintendo version that only used generic teams and no player names (couldn't imagine that going over too well these days, either), and the versions of Madden were also good when I eventually got the original PlayStation console.
But in the early 2000s, I quickly grew to love the NFL 2K series produced by Sega (which eventually became 2K Sports), especially NFL 2K5.
The game played differently than Madden, but it was more of a realistic feel whereas Madden eventually became too arcade-like and full of gimmicks. Also, even though they were actually actors hired by the company, the broadcast announcing team on NFL 2K was much more entertaining and fun to listen to than Madden or any other sports video game.
NFL 2K5 was also notable for the fact that it sold for $20 when it was originally released, less than half the price of Madden. The reviews on that game were much better than on that year's version of Madden. Insiders thought it was only a matter of time when NFL 2K would overtake Madden in football video game hierarchy.
Alas, in the fall of 2004, those plans were dashed when EA Sports colluded with the NFL to become the exclusive distributor of the league's games, putting an end to the NFL 2K series.
To this day, I haven't bought a copy of Madden, at least new. One year, I bought a very cheap Madden and was just appalled by how the game played and how the game looked and sounded. I took it back a few days later.
But I still supported EA Sports in buying the annual NCAA Football game. It was also the only game I would stand in line for at the store at the stroke of midnight the day of its actual release. That, sadly, is another thing I miss about those days.
While there are still some good sports video games out there, like MLB: The Show and the NBA 2K series, sports video gaming isn't like it was 15, 20 or even 25 years ago. The demise of games like NFL 2K and NCAA Football have proved that assessment.
Plus, truthfully I don't play quite as much video games as I used to. It's kind of hard to set aside a lot of time to play when you have marriage, a job and hobbies like running to occupy your time instead.
But what I wouldn't give to spend one more night waiting in line to get my hands on a new release of Tecmo Super Bowl, NFL 2K or NCAA Football. I'm sure a lot of others feel the same way.