Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Super Tecmo Madness

We’ve all heard the dangers of too much screen time for children. TV, tablets, phones and game systems. How often do you see kids (or adults) zoning out with a phone in their hands.

At our house, we’re hyper-vigilant about this sort of thing. But then again, we’re not.

We don’t let our kid play on our phones. If you do that’s cool, we just don’t. In fact, I make a conscious effort not to be on the phone in front of my kid. I don’t even have it on me when we’re together. Why would I? What am I missing? A post, some terrible news? A witty comment on Twitter? Nah, I’m good.

Okay, so what do we allow? Well, glad you asked. The short answer?
Tecmo Bowl.

Yeah, that’s right. It’s actually Super Tecmo Bowl, released in 1991. When I took on my new job s a computer technician, I started tinkering with my old one in the basement. Simon and I would take out RAM, the harddrive, simple stuff he enjoyed doing. I taught him how to change and create passwords, profiles, set screen protectors and backgrounds. We’d pretend I was a new guy at the job and he’d help me get logged in. What can I say, we’re dorks.

Then one day he noticed an emulator on the desktop. “Dad, what’s that?”

“Oh, that’s,” I couldn’t control myself. I fired the thing up and began. “So look, this is how you play Super Tecmo Bowl on the computer. It's actually a rigged up 2013 version of the classic, and I had to teach him how to use the keyboard as a controller. I figured he’d play it for five minutes and that would be the end of it.

Not what happened.

As it happened, my son fell in love with one Ray Lewis. He's walking around in a 52 jersey, baffling kids and confusing adults, probably wondering why a six-year old is going on about a guy who retired five years ago.  

And not just that. The kid loves defense. We hang in the basement, on this old Windows Vista computer. He plays D and I play offense. He started asking football questions. I taught him about the downs, punting, special teams and reading a defense. And I have to say, I never realized just how complex the game of American Football actually is until I tried explaining the difference between a field goal, extra point, safety kick, punt, and a regular kick-off to a six-year old.

Believe it or not, it’s quality time. We go outside and play football, running pass routes and reenacting Super Tecmo Bowl. Imagine my neighbors, watching us act out a video game football contest, my son stating the physical conditions (excellent, good, average, bad) of each player before each play.

Now he’s learned football. Heck, he could coach football. He can read a zone defense and blitz schemes. He can count by sevens. He can read all sorts of variations of names.

He can play offense now. He can work a keyboard, because in the old edition you have to use a keyboard instead of the controllers.

The only probable is that all of his favorite players are retired.

And one last thing that’s come out of this. So, he really likes Ray Lewis. When I liked athletes back in the eighties, I had him write out a note, asking for his autograph. We’ve mailed it off with a self-addressed return envelope. I chuckle, thinking about Ray Lewis, opening my son’s letter, finding out he’s still someone’s favorite player.

Now we wait, and I really hope it works out because it will be cool for him to see the power of the pen.

Monday, April 1, 2019


I grew up playing basketball. We walked down to the park every day. Four or five of us, joking and laughing, chasing down the ball when someone dribbled off their foot. At the court, you had to wait your turn. First, watching the older guys play, waiting to get our chance. Once on the court it was time to prove you could play. You know the story.

There were no parents on those courts. No refs, nobody to make sure everything was fair. Some kids were nicer than others. It’s life.

Now six, my son has taken a sudden interest in basketball and football. Sports is something I’ve never pushed on him. In fact, I’ve always liked his engineer like mind. When he started playing soccer last year I laughed because the coach was telling the kids to be aggressive, to fight for the ball, when most of them only wanted to pick dandelions.

But right now, it’s all about ball. And the adjustable basketball goal that’s been sitting at the end of our street is getting some use. Rain? Let’s go play basketball. It doesn’t matter.

I love it, I teach him what I can, only what coaching he wants to take. I never push because again, it’s not important. I’m just happy to be spending some time outside with my kid.

So yesterday he invited the kids down the street to join. Brother and sister, eleven and eight. Two on two. We had ourselves a game. 

My first mistake was agreeing to be on teams with my kid. We usually play against each other. That way I can control—yes control—the situation. But this was different. It wasn't long before we found ourselves in a clash with this formidable brother/sister combo. And while it began fun, Simon playing defense and laughing, it soon became something else. Something too much for him.

The eleven-year-old boy, doing what eleven-year-old boys do I suppose, decided he wanted to come out and double team the little guy.

They pressed. They stole the ball. The eleven-year old blocked and blocked and blocked Simon’s shot. I directed things the best I could, set some picks and worked to get him open, but after a while it got old. I’d had enough.

So I did what all mature adults would do. I gave him a dose of his medicine.

I blocked the big kid's shot, twice. Maybe three times. Any time he decided he would take the ball from a six-year old, I did the same to him. Okay, not quite, but enough to get the point across. I mean, come on, the kid was double his size. And maybe I'd had a bit too much March Madness but it seemed like the right thing to do at the time.  

The game ended. I gave my kid a pat on the back. I was proud of him, but I could see how upset he was.

I tried to explain how it would help him, playing against bigger kids. He gathered up his bike and helmet and nodded. But he was upset. And again, I realize it’s okay to lose and be upset, trust me. I can't always be there to guard the rim. He'll have to learn on his own how to deal with jerks, adversity, failure. And I can’t come down and remove every obstacle in his path. 

But he's six. And we are teammates, after all. So while I’m not proud of what I did, I'm not exactly ashamed. Besides, in a few years, when he's eleven, he'd better do the same for me because I'm going to need some help down low. He'll be the one protecting the rim. 

I'm getting too old for this...