Box Score: Finding the time to rekindle a sports-gaming rivalry

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 work.

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 minds.

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 work tomorrow.”

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.