Box Score is a weekly column that offers a
look at sports games and the athletic side of the industry from the perspective
of veteran reviewer and sports fan Richard Grisham.
“Play a game?”
“Let’s do it.”
With that, the two of us burst off of the sofa and headed
up the stairs. My brother-in-law and I have long shared a passion for sports
and their videogame counterparts, but opportunities like this have become very
few and far between. Between the two of us are a combined three jobs, three
young children and two wives, all of which bring a mountain of
responsibilities. The ability to indulge in the frivolity of playing a videogame
against each other has taken a back seat for half a decade.
Years ago, the two of us would regularly stage epic
Madden battles whenever we got together. He won some and I won others, usually
by the slimmest of margins. More recently, though, these matches have faded
into memory as the realities of our newer lives took over. Wildly differing
schedules make online games impossible, and when we’re in the same place, it
typically involves making sure none of the little ones sit on the cat or burn
down the house.
On this gray, wintry day, though, things felt different.
For one, our oldest kids are four (my son) and three (his older daughter), and
for the first time in their lives are able to entertain themselves for brief
periods. The idea of the two of us sneaking off upstairs for an hour might just
As we walked up to my office, we were both probably
mulling half a dozen things – Is my
presentation ready for tomorrow morning? Do I have enough gas to get home? Did
I pay the preschool tuition this month? When am I going to finish my review? – but
by the time I leaned over the Xbox 360, there was only one question on our
Which game to play?
My brother-in-law is a baseball man and a proud owner of
a PS3; The Show is normally his go-to title. The prospects of getting in nine
innings were dim, though; in a best-case scenario, that’d take at least 75
minutes. I remain hooked on NBA 2K12, but he’s never played, and no one should
ever get introduced to that game in a trial by fire. The easy decision became
NHL 12. Quickly, we got down to it.
Or so we tried.
As soon as we started choosing teams, reality set in. My
son, who just the previous day had begun using a Mac mouse and keyboard to
build on-screen mazes, was having issues downstairs. Instead of hoping he’d
figure it out, I decided on a pre-emptive strike, and brought him and the
computer upstairs with us. Naturally, his three-year old cousin (my
brother-in-law’s daughter) wanted to know what was going on, and by face-off,
the four of us were spread out across the room.
The initial matchup was the traditional one – his Flyers
versus my Devils. While his daughter knew the “orange guys” were her Dad’s
favorite team, my son continues to worry me by announcing he doesn’t like the
“red guys.” I’ve been a New Jersey fan since the team arrived in the ‘80’s;
clearly, I’ve got some work to do on him when it comes to hockey affiliation.
The game itself was fairly entertaining; the Devils got
out to a 2-0 lead thanks to a lucky bounce and a slick goal by Zach Parise. It
was interrupted a few times by my son’s occasional wails when he’d accidentally
click on something wrong, while his cousin continually peppered her Dad with
“did you win?” and “what are you doing”? Somewhere during the third period,
though, she wandered back downstairs. By the time New Jersey had put the
finishing touches on a 4-1 win at The Rock, it was just the guys upstairs with
their games and the ladies downstairs.
Clearly, an opportunity for a second game was at hand.
We went for the Winter Classic with random teams. He drew
the Penguins, while I snared the Calgary Flames. We both donned some classic
old uniforms and pressed “A” as fast as we could; while it remained unsaid, we
both knew the bonus game was existing on borrowed time.
This one was much closer, and significantly more
physical. “I love how you can drop the gloves after the whistle,” he said at
one point, which within minutes was followed by an impossible-in-real-life
fight between my goaltender, Mikka Kiprusoff, and his forward, Kris Letang. It
was among the few words either of us uttered the whole time; we were cherishing
the relaxing moments.
“Is Crosby playing?” I asked, unaware if the tragically
concussed NHL superstar had been erased from the game thanks to online roster
updates. “He sure is,” he said; to my brother-in-law’s benefit, Sid The Kid
remains active and very skilled in the digital universe, even as the NHL
wonders if he’ll ever don the skates again.
The game seemed destined for overtime, but as luck would
have it, I was able to force a turnover at the blue line, pass the puck in
deep, and score a goal with just five seconds left to win 2-1. As the final
horn sounded, my brother-in-law sighed. “I can’t believe I have to go back to
As I turned off the 360, I gathered a few PS3 games I
knew he didn’t have and sent him home with an unexpected bounty. He left with
the original Uncharted, Tiger Woods 12 and NBA 2K12 (I play my 360 version
almost exclusively). The unstated expectation, of course, is that next time,
his Sixers take on my Nets.
The three of us headed back down the stairs, two
brothers-in-law with a world of thoughts spinning in our heads – jobs,
families, friends – and one four-year-old who just loves being around his Dad
and uncle. As luck would have it, we got to spend an hour together playing a
great sports game, just like we did in the old days. Nothing much was said;
nothing much needed to be. It was as good of a dreary winter afternoon as we
could have had, even if we barely uttered a word about it.
Richard Grisham has been
obsessed with sports and video games since childhood, when he'd routinely
create and track MicroLeague Baseball seasons on paper. He currently lives in
New Jersey with his wife and four-year old son, who he'll soon be training to
be an NFL placekicker. As a freelance journalist and writer, his work has
appeared in GamesRadar, NGamer, and 1UP.