GAME DAY: ‘I play every day’

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GAME DAY: ‘I play every day’

www.tuscaloosanews.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20050903/NEWS/50902014&SearchID=73219746113349

GAME DAY: aEU~I play every dayaEU(tm)
Popular EA Sports video game at the fingertips of Crimson Tide players

By Christopher Walsh
Sports Writer
September 03. 2005 3:15AM

TUSCALOOSA | In the heart of training camp, when the University of Alabama team practiced in brutal heat, one would think that the beat up and sore players would have done anything to get away from football when they limped away from the practice fields.

Who knew that many of them were heading off to play a video game that included some of the same drills they had just performed on the field?

aEUoeDuring camp we were basically playing every break,aEU senior defensive end Mark Anderson said.

The game, of course, is Electronic ArtsaEU(tm) NCAA Football 2006, which currently may be getting more play in town than all the poker shows on cable television combined.

aEUoeI play every day,aEU senior defensive tackle Rudy Griffin said. aEUoeMe and [sophomore defensive end] Keith [Saunders], we did three seasons already.aEU

Some of the other gaming stalwarts on the Crimson Tide include wide receiver Tyrone Prothro, and defensive tackles Dominic Lee and J.P. Adams.

aEUoeJeffrey Dukes calls himself the proclaimed master of the game, but we all know heaEU(tm)s just loud-mouthing,aEU sophomore defensive end Wallace Gilberry said. aEUoeMark Anderson, heaEU(tm)s really the drill master; a beast.aEU

For those who have not seen or played the video game, which is on demonstration in stores throughout Tuscaloosa and sells for approximately $50, the attention to detail is nothing short of remarkable.

Even the lights and signs on the scoreboard mimic those at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Big Al is there, too, as is ESPNaEU(tm)s College Gameday crew of Kirk Herbstreit and Lee Corso along with ABCaEU(tm)s Brad Nessler, who all provided voiceovers.

And yes, the numbers on the uniforms do correspond to this yearaEU(tm)s rosters.

aEUoeItaEU(tm)s weird seeing yourself on a college football game,aEU sophomore wide receiver DJ Hall said.

aEUoeItaEU(tm)s a cool experience, thataEU(tm)s for sure,aEU sophomore defensive tackle Justin Britt said.

However, as senior safety Roman Harper made clear during SEC Media Days, the players in the game often donaEU(tm)t measure up to the real thing.

aEUoeYou rush out and get it and wonder, aEU~How am I going to be on the game,aEU(tm)aEU Harper said. aEUoeLast year and the year before, I wasnaEU(tm)t that good on it. It didnaEU(tm)t look anything like me, so of course I was mad. This year, the dude actually looks just like me. I was proud of that, and he was halfway decent. It was cool. I wasnaEU(tm)t that fast, but I could deal with it.

aEUoeCharlie PeprahaEU(tm)s mad this year because last year the guy looked just like him. This year, it looks nothing like him. Guys look at the little stuff.aEU

Harper, who had three interceptions last season, didnaEU(tm)t even seem to mind that No. 41 on Alabama couldnaEU(tm)t catch the ball (FYI, each playeraEU(tm)s skills can be adjusted).

aEUoeItaEU(tm)s crazy,aEU Gilberry said. aEUoeSometimes you have some of the walk-ons better than the starters. Some of the guys let it get to them. ItaEU(tm)s all a video game, itaEU(tm)s all for fun.aEU

On the flip side, NCAA Football 2006 has aEUoeimpact playersaEU who can make a bigger difference during games. For Alabama, itaEU(tm)s senior quarterback Brodie Croyle, junior running back Kenneth Darby, Prothro and senior linebacker DeMeco Ryans.

aEUoeSome of the other guys are like, aEU~Man, they have you overrated. You donaEU(tm)t run like that,aEU(tm)aEU Darby said.

That doesnaEU(tm)t keep Darby from making sure No. 34 gets enough handoffs when he holds a controller.

aEUoeI play Alabama all the time and give myself the ball about 50 times,aEU Darby said. aEUoeI like to see myself run the ball in the game.

aEUoeItaEU(tm)s tight, man, itaEU(tm)s awesome.aEU

Some of the improvements in this yearaEU(tm)s version are that quarterbacks are more accurate with their feet planted, wide receivers have fewer drops and the more you run a play the more the defense will catch on and adjust.

But the feature that players can be suspended for off-field problems or sustain serious injuries is now viewed a staple.

aEUoeThataEU(tm)s part of the game,aEU Harper said.

Though NCAA Football 2006 is considered the closest thing out there to the real sport aEU" in fact, The Tuscaloosa News will include a game simulation in each issue of Game Day this season aEU" itaEU(tm)s not like players can use it for actual scouting.

But they get a little advance warning of their upcoming opponents.

For example, Darby could check out a specific defense to see what formations it uses. Being able to anticipate where an opponent could be can only help him on the field.

aEUoeI see who are their best players, who their impact players are, see what theyaEU(tm)re rated,aEU(tm) Griffin said, aEUoeI know itaEU(tm)s not that accurate, but I look to get an idea.aEU

And just because they suit up for the Crimson Tide in real life, doesnaEU(tm)t automatically mean that most players do so in the game.

aEUoeI play as other teams because AlabamaaEU(tm)s too good,aEU Anderson said. aEUoeI try and play with a sorry team. WeaEU(tm)re too good. ItaEU(tm)s no competition.

aEUoeWe usually get the weakest squads so we can build up a program,aEU Griffin said. aEUoeMy first team I was working on was North Carolina. I left and I went to New Mexico.aEU

Similar to Texas hold aEU~em poker, the electronics industry has developed its own sub-culture among college students and, in this case, college football fans alike, who throw video-game parties and often spend hundreds, and sometimes thousands, of dollars a year.

Overall, retail sales of video games, which includes portable and console hardware, software and accessories, exceeded $9.9 billion last year.

Through July, software for video games totaled $2.68 billion, compared to $2.43 billion this time last year.

Sports games in general ranked second behind only action games, and in college football EA is unchallenged.

The updated version is the only officially sanctioned NCAA football game this year, and the Redwood City, Calif.-based company acquired the rights for the next six years as well.

NCAA Football 2005 alone sold 1.7 million units.

NCAA Football 2006 was the top-selling game in July, with more than 943,000 copies sold (610,803 PS2 and 332,478 Xbox), according to NPD Funworld, a division of the NPD Group, which provides industry sales and marketing information.

EA Sports also markets the NCAA game to help launch its more successful NFL game named after John Madden, which last year was outsold only by Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas and Halo 2.

That is in places other than Tuscaloosa.

aEUoeThis store always has a big turnover for that game,aEU said Cliff Miller of GameStop Inc. in Tuscaloosa. aEUoeWe have a couple of plaques in the back from it. We had No. 1 for the whole company last year. College football is much more popular than NFL, NBA, stuff like that.aEU

Miller estimated that his store alone had approximately 300 advance reservations for NCAA Football 2006. For the midnight release on July 11, he made a aEUoeconservativeaEU estimate that 250 people aEU" including several UA football players aEU" showed up.

Some were football players themselves, eager to try the aEUoeRace for the HeismanaEU feature, which lets gamers create a player and follow his career from recruitment to the pros.

aEUoeA whole bunch of guys are now good at the game,aEU Darby said. aEUoeLeaEU(tm)Ron [McClain] just got good at it. I used to beat him every time and now heaEU(tm)s at the point he beats me every time. EveryoneaEU(tm)s good.aEU

It leaves only one thing up for grabs among the players: Bragging rights.

aEUoeThe best trash-talker?aEU Anderson said. aEUoeThat would have to be me. ThataEU(tm)s because they all know IaEU(tm)m going to beat them.aEU

Reach Christopher Walsh at christopher.walsh@tuscaloosanews.com or at (205) 722-0196.

Liz Woolley