September 8, 2005

Receiving a Virtual Beating From Football's Hardaway

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Senior tailback Andre Hardaway’s pristinely shaded house just off West Campus looked innocent enough. And indeed, inside his bedroom, along with Boston Red Sox hats, a Snoop Dogg poster and an old school Michael Jordan jersey neatly attached to his wall, was a simple crayon picture of a football drawn by his eight-year-old sister, Ashley.

But looks can be deceiving. See, there is this little black box sitting next to Andre’s large television, through which he terrorizes his visitors with post routes and blitzes and quarterback options. It’s his Playstation 2. And I was his latest victim.

Video games have been in my life for as long as I can remember, playing classics like Duck Hunt, Super Mario Brothers and Contra. Much to my parents’ dismay, I’d play video games growing up on a constant basis because they were fun and they fed my competitive drive. My interest in sports led me to games such as Madden and MVP Baseball, and in a way, it was cool to play as Rodney Hampton or Dave Meggett because you could actually imagine being them. Honestly, as a short, pudgy Asian kid, the only athlete I could legitimately be compared to in real life is Michael Chang. Oh, and to reinforce stereotypes, I did play varsity tennis in high school.

Video games have been a constant presence in Andre’s life as well. Like me, he also played the Nintendo and Sega classics back home in Plymouth, Mass. – with one stipulation.

“The rule was you couldn’t play video games if your homework was not done,” says Andre, who used to do his assignments on the bus before coming home.

Andre, who has two brothers and three sisters, told me that his fiercest rivalry in his family is with his younger brother, Andrell, who is 14. In college, Andre’s competitive streak in video games is evident when playing with his Cornell teammates. Trash talking, yelling, and thrown controllers were typical occurrences when he used to live with senior lineman Kevin Boothe and graduated quarterback D.J. Busch ’05. Andre and Boothe even had a “Gridiron Challenge,” where the two played first-to-50 wins – a competition they were never able to complete.

“[The competition] sometimes got really bad,” said Andre, who owns two X-Boxes to go along with his PS2.

Like Andre, I relish any competition and winning. Off a tip from quarterback Ryan Kuhn, I contacted Andre and on Tuesday morning, I went over to the running back’s own turf and played him in a game of NCAA Football 2006 – a challenge he was “more than willing to accept.”

I had never played the game on PS2 before, although I figured that my natural ability gained from years of playing other football games along with the pressure of having Andre represent the whole Cornell football team and their video game playing skills – a fact which I often reminded him – would give me a slight advantage. I was wrong.

Andre picked Texas A&M – he said he liked the team’s quarterback – while I chose my beloved Florida Gators, which I knew would be capable of ripping the Aggies’ defense apart.

Instead, my quarterback, Chris Leak, decided to play catch with his secondary. On the second play of the game, Leak (not me, of course) threw an interception. Andre’s running back, who broke seemingly 10 of my tackles, ran into score. 7-0, Andre.

On my next series, Leak was intercepted again and Andre made it 14-0. Leak threw a third interception on my next series and guess what – 21-0 – still in the first quarter! I finally earned my first first-down towards the end of the period, but Andre piled it on, making my defenders look like bozo clowns to make it 28-0.

Finally, in the middle of the second quarter, I broke through. After actually gaining positive yardage, I hit my receiver on a deep post route who found the end zone – giving me a minor hope of a miracle comeback.

Andre gave me a rueful smile – “No more shutout.” Thank God. A few moments later, it was halftime – 35-7.

During this whole time, Andre – a Patriots fan who picked the darkhorse Raiders to win the Super Bowl – and I talked about video games and their ever-growing presence in America. He says that actually playing football does help him read some of the opposing team’s plays in video games, but he just uses his PS2 as a break from the work on the field.

“It’s just another form of entertainment, another way to compete against people,” he said. “It’s definitely a thing you can kind of relax to and play and just have fun. Going out there and doing something in real life and then doing it in a video game, it’s a really cool thing.”

What wasn’t cool was the thrashing he was giving me. I finally forced him to punt in the third quarter before he intercepted another one of my passes and eventually added to his score. 42-7. Virtual commentator Lee Corso had the kindness to point out, “Everything is going wrong today.” No kidding.

Perhaps my moment of glory came after Andre sacked me out of the red zone and gave me a fourth and 27 situation. Going for it since I was down by five touchdowns, Leak bombed one into the end zone, which was somehow caught. I looked over at Andre and it looked like he just ate a lemon – a sour look on his face screaming, “How the hell did I let this punk kid score on a fourth and 27?” The look of a competitor.

Not that it mattered any. While I did score again, to Andre’s dismay, he racked up more points, punctuating the game with a safety which made the score 58-21. Getting back the ball with two seconds left and the chance to make one more play, Andre said he’d do the “gentlemanly thing.” His quarterback took the knee. Gee, thanks.

Andre said he plays at least a half-an-hour a day and let me in on a couple of little secrets – his weakness is that he always likes to blitz and his favorite play is the tight end cross. The Red running back doesn’t need to make any versions of himself in the game, because Cornell is one of the teams you can choose in NCAA Football 2006.

“I’m decent,” he says, referring to the virtual version of himself. “[But] the Ivy League guys are a little lacking in comparison to [players on] Florida or a Texas A&M.”

As I walked out his door, bruised ego, deficient thumbs, and a new-founded hatred for virtual Chris Leak, the ever-competitive Andre said to his ever-competitive visitor – video game fan to another video game fan, “Anytime you want a rematch, just let me know.”

Now, if you excuse me, I’m going to go figure out how to cover that damn tight end cross.

Brian Tsao is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. Life of Brain appears every other Thursday this semester.

Archived article by Brian Tsao