It’s Not Gonna Write Itself: It’s Always Been You

I love video games. I’ve loved them since I was a wee child going to my cousins’ house and not wanting to be peeled away from their Nintendo. As time went on (and I matured), I eventually was able to get my own systems, including a Gameboy (that came up missing), a Game Gear (did anyone else have problems with the controls not working properly and then the GG somehow fixing itself?), and a Genesis 3 (it was about ¾ the size of an OG iPad). In 2000, a Dell PC came into the house and I began gaming in that capacity.

I spent a good amount of time on emulators, playing games like Chrono Trigger, Zombies Ate My Neighbors, and Super Mario World. I had the Sonic & Knuckles collection as well as a few of those CD-ROMS that had a bunch of crappy games on them. But what I really was at heart was a sports gamer, so once I had NBA Live 2000, there was nothing else.

Although the game was amazing, I was just okay at it. You couldn’t create a true superstar player so I had at best a B minus player trying to bang along with Allen Iverson and the 2000 Sixers. That didn’t stop me from using the already established players and having a great time though. Michael Jordan was in the game for the first time since 1994 so having MJ back a full year before he actually returned was an added bonus. The soundtrack was incredible as well but I would still slide my own small mp3 collection into the music files to enjoy on the menu screens.

And I could easily write an entire piece on the mod community for NBA Live alone. Thanks to the NBA Live Series Center and a bunch of no longer with us sites, I spent hours at a time updating rosters, cyberfaces, courts, and jerseys. If you want to get into the PC basketball gaming, I still highly recommend the modding community.

A few years later I added NBA Live 2003 to the repertoire along with Madden 2003. I lost countless hours when I was home from college winning the NBA Championship with the Bulls (I was able to create a superstar then) and the Raiders in Madden (with a team filled with superstar friends). I also spent some time with the original Freedom Force but lost interest after I beat the game.

I moved to Morgantown in 2003 and became roommates with my friend Steve. One of the perks of that situation was his PlayStation 2. I had played a healthy bit of PS2 in my first two years in college but I never had instant access whenever I wanted. I bought some Memory Cards and was soon playing Vice City all the time (best GTA ever; change my mind). But as the fall approached, I knew I wanted some football in my video game life. I stood in front of two games in FYE that fateful day: Madden 2004 and NCAA Football 2004. I think the agreement was that I would get NCAA and Steve would get Madden so purchase NCAA I did.

And life was never the same.

I have to give some credit to another friend of ours, Eddie. We ended up in his dorm room a few weeks before this and lo and behold, he was playing NCAA Football 2004. Without this exposure, there’s no way I wouldn’t have bought Madden instead.

And now we arrive at the point. Note to self: Cut down your introductions.

NCAA is my favorite video game I’ve ever owned. And I’m saying that having completed and restarted the masterpiece that is Spider-Man PS4. No other game has maintained its fun factor after such a long period of time other than this football simulator. As it approaches its 16th birthday this July, the itch to play it remains (and considering it’s been a few years, I’m overdue). I’m actually on my second copy as I got rid of my first disc in the great purge of 2011 (I’m not ready to talk about it) as well as my memory cards.

There is a ton for you to do with this game, even by today’s standards. You can challenge your friends (I haven’t lost a game against another player in at least a decade), create players and schools, do drills to learn the controls, and play the awesome College Classics mode. College Classics puts you in the middle of great college football games throughout history with your job being to either recreate the exact same result or alter the very fabric of sports time itself! Oh, and there’s even a mode where you can play as the college mascots.

Where NCAA shined for me (and as is the norm with most sports sims I love) was Dynasty Mode. This is what I saw Eddie playing in his dorm that day. I was always the kid who wanted to lead his team to championships, so when season modes gave birth to franchise modes, this is where I spent most of my gaming time.

As I was grandfathered into being a University of Miami fan from my brother (and WVU being 2 years away from the Pat White/Steve Slaton era), I took a Hurricanes team that had just lost the National Championship in real life just months before. I didn’t make the National Championship game in year 1, but that chip on my shoulder didn’t last long. I won the title in 2004… and never let go. Season after season, I would schedule top ranked opponents for my cupcake games, crush their dreams, and then dominate the Big East (except for Virginia Tech. Damn you Hokies) on my way to championship glory.

As players came and went, they would naturally be replaced by newer, younger talent. Instead of the game just generating freshmen, you could actually recruit. And let me tell you, it only took a few visits and calls from a 5 star, defending champion school before the best in the nation were coming to Miami. I cut more talent to trim the roster than some of the other schools had ever seen. A multitude of awards came with the winning and I think I even got an offer to leave the Big East, which I declined (Miami had left for the ACC a few years after the game came out and I loved the classic Big East).

I went on this way with NCAA 2004 for 8 years. Eight years of off and on Dynasty supremacy that only came to in an end when I got rid of my PS2 and all my games in 2011.

But I wasn’t done yet.

My brother-in-law gifted me several of his consoles in 2012 along with another Playstation 2! It didn’t take long for me to find another copy of NCAA 2004 and I began on a new journey: making WVU elite. I think I missed the NC game in my first season again but soon, I had scaled the mountaintop. WVU has won multiple national titles in my new Dynasty with plenty more on the horizon. I was actually playing this game the day Angel took her pregnancy tests that revealed she was pregnant with Aaliyah. I had just completed a furious comeback against Virginia Tech and she told me and I lost the game.

I didn’t save the result. I deserve a mulligan for that one.

Fast forward 9 months and some change, and Angel had to leave me alone with Aaliyah for a few nights for the very first time. Aaliyah did me a huge solid by sleeping a ton, only stirring to eat or be changed. The rest of the time, I was just playing my WVU dynasty.

The last time I recall playing was in our previous place before we bought our current house. I’ve bounced from WWE 2K13 to Lego Batman 3 to NBA 2K11 to NBA 2K13 all the way to Spider-Man PS4 currently. But I always have that itch to break out the old NCAA Football 2004 disc and get WVU back to winning (they definitely aren’t doing enough winning in reality). I actually picked up a more recent college football game for the PS3 not too long ago but it wasn’t the same; I’m too stuck in my ways.

It’s crazy that this game has been a part of my life for almost as long as I’ve been with my wife but a wise Hov once said, “Numbers don’t lie.” And despite all the countless hours of playing, I’m by no means an expert. I have one playbook I like and maybe 6 plays I’m expert level with on offense; someone who knows their way around a PS2 controller could probably destroy me. But it’s no longer about competition on NCAA; it’s about peace of mind. Rarely do I feel as at home as I do with 20 minutes of game and a squad of football players at my disposal. NCAA Football 2004 is a whole mood for me.

I’ll let you know when I start my Youngstown State Penguins dynasty. Those school colors just speak to me.

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