Zap to Daylight

BY TABARI DOUGLASS McCOY

Welcome to the world of video game football, where heroes are made and legends forgotten all within the single push of a button.

Venture into any NFL locker room and you are likely to find players talking about the game they just finished. Whether it's a touchdown pass, a crucial penalty, or a critical sack on third down, players are always discussing the play that determined the game.

But when you add a joystick into the mix, things become quite different. The football discussed here comes courtesy of Sega, Sony and Nintendo. This football is determined by quick reflexes to electronic signals, not live rushers or pass routes.

QuarterbackAkili Smith, running back Corey Dillon and linebacker Adrian Ross are just three of the many Bengals who share a love of video games and the competition.

There's a desire to prove who is the better man in the general competitive nature of NFL football within the world of virtual football. It's a world the three of them enter nearly daily.

Judging by the rapid sales of video game systems and the great anticipation for Sony's PlayStation 2, it's no secret video games are a phenomenon enjoyed by millions worldwide – athletes included. In fact, Ross is the first NFL player to have played EA Sports' upcoming football release for the new PlayStation 2.

Recently, bengals.com sat down with Dillon, Ross and Smith during a heated battle of Sega's NFL2K1 and discussed video football.

Choosing the Super Bowl champion St. Louis Rams, Smith battled the more than formidable Dillon and his Washington Redskins. A strong contest well into the second half, the game came to an abrupt 27-21 victory for Dillon after Smith cut the game short, much to Dillon's taunting satisfaction. The scene is familiar, with Dillon winning a variety of games on a variety of systems versus a variety of opponents. . . .

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Where did it all begin? From the players experience growing up.

"I've been playing video games since Atari first came out. I've been playing a little over a century now," Smith joked. "When (the original) Nintendo (home system) came out, I think everyone was pretty excited about that, so I would definitely say Nintendo (had a big influence on me)."

Dillon also credits growing up with video games for his passion.

"I've been playing games ever since I was five on Atari," Dillon said, "Pac-Man...ever since then I just got every game that came out and it just kept escalating until Dreamcast."

There are a lot of factors that go into Dillon's video game purchases, factors that help determine just how much he may or may not enjoy any particular product.

"I think that it just depends on the game (and) the graphics," Dillon said. "If a game comes out for PlayStation and the graphics are good, (I may buy it). I'm more into the realism and graphics of the game.

"It doesn't matter if it's the PlayStation or the Dreamcast, if it's a good game I can play it and try to learn it."

Dillon recalled a recent trip to a video game store to illustrate just how serious a gamer he is.

"I walked into a video game store back home and I saw (Sega's) Virtua Tennis," Dillon said. "I was looking at the screen and I thought it was an actual tennis match and I started thinking, 'Who's winning' until I saw the joystick in the little kid's hand. I didn't realize it was a video game."

Dillon says the best video games are both the Madden series and Sega's current hit NFL2K1. Smith backs Electronic Arts' (EA) John Madden series as the Super Bowl champion of the virtual football world.

"Madden always does a good job with coming out with games that are definitely up to our standards and we've been playing that for a long time now."

A gamer since age 8, Ross has a similar love of the company's Madden series, a love that has not gone unnoticed by EA Sports. Ross has represented the Bengals at the company's Super Bowl celebrity challenge for the past two years and is preparing to meet the challenge at this year's event. Ross' two previous trips haven't yielded much success.

"My first year, I didn't get to play anyone so I wasn't prepared," Ross said. "I went out in the first round to the defending champ who I think was (actor) Morris Chestnut. Last year, I came out real strong and made it to the second round and the guy threw up something against me for a last- second victory."

Ross looks forward to this year's competition after EA Sports bestowed another honor on him. The company made him the first NFL player to ever play the company's upcoming PlayStation 2 Madden release. Ross said he received the honor because, "I was the first one to play the Madden because they know I'm so good at it (and) they know I give good insight. I just can't wait for it to come out now and (to) see the finished product."

That finished product is often the big thrill for players because it allows them to do something very few people ever get the chance to do. To see themselves actually represented in a video game.

"It's definitely a blessing," Smith said. "I remember growing up as a kid always wanting to be on there and now I've been on the last few. It's definitely a blessing anytime you can be on a video game."

But for almost every player, the competitive nature that can be transferred from the field to locker room via the video game is the thing that hooks them most. One need look no further than the ever outspoken Dillon, the current Bengals' champion. A man with more than enough skill to back up his ever-present boasts, Dillon recently dethroned Smith to win the team's Madden 2001 PlayStation crown.

"It's funny. Back home, pals come over the house and I get the Bengals and just run them all day," Dillon said. "I just flat out beat them, but we have this rushing contest (to see) who can rush for the most yards and you know I gotta pick myself and go at it. I haven't been beat."

Smith offers a different take on the realism of today's games.

"Some of it is realistic, some of it isn't," Smith says, "I'll give you an example. C.D. uses the Washington Redskins and he puts (cornerbacks) Deion Sanders, Champ Bailey, Darrell Green, puts all those guys on offense and they go both ways the whole game. In real life, there's no way those guys could do that the whole game, so it's not really realistic."

Competition keeps players like Dillon coming back for more.

"Everybody wants to win and everybody can't win because I'm in here and it's hard to come in here and get a win on me and that's why I'm the champ in every game," Dillon said.

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