Article 21—Mike Ditka’s Big Play Football Documents (1990)

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When I started writing about video games professionally in 1989, I reviewed a lot of games without knowing anything about their origins. And I’m embarrassed by some of my early work, especially what I wrote about titles like Totally Rad, Revengers of Vengeance and other Japanese games that were noticeably changed when they were released in North America. If I had known more about the original designs and the alterations that were made, I might have had a better understanding of the nonsensical pizza-eating contests in Yo! Noid, or the Journey to the West influences in Whomp ’Em.
But I was just a freelance writer living in Chicago; my local public library didn’t have a collection of Weekly Famitsu back issues, and there was no GameFAQs or YouTube to show me what the original games looked like.

To compensate for this information vacuum, I usually tried to contact the publisher of each game by phone to ask questions and inquire about additional materials. It was also my standard operating procedure to request a draft of the game’s instruction manual. I wanted to make sure that I understood all of the game’s functions, and the manuals usually provided me with story details, character names and/or item descriptions that may not have been explicitly outlined on the screen during gameplay. When VideoGames & Computer Entertainment magazine sent me a review copy of Mike Ditka’s Big Play Football for the Nintendo Entertainment System, my inquiries netted the materials you see in the scans linked here. They should be of interest to NES collectors and historians because the game was never released.

For whatever reason, this documentation was not enough to satisfy my curiosity about the creative forces behind Mike Ditka’s Big Play Football. Attempting to go above and
beyond the normal requirements of reviews written for VG&CE, I decided that I would try to contact Mike Ditka and ask about his involvement with the game. He was then the head coach of the Chicago Bears, and I was a Bears fan who lived in Chicago, so why not? I made some calls to the Bears public relations office, and I was told that Ditka would not be available for media inquiries until the team returned from training camp. I had some time before my deadline, though, so I kept checking in and leaving my number. I didn’t really expect to hear from him, so I nearly fell out of my chair one afternoon when I answered my phone and heard “Da Coach” on the line. He was generous with his time, but sounded a little bewildered by my questions. He explained that he had talked to the game’s publisher, Accolade (he pronounced it “Ack-you-lade”) about
certain plays and formations, but that his involvement was more of a general contract to license his name and likeness rather than an agreement to co-design a video game. I asked him if he had ever played video games, and he admitted that while his children played them, he was personally more interested in playing golf.

So I wrote my review, feeling proud of my fledgling investigative reporting abilities. I liked the game’s options and depth, but criticized the mushy graphics, flickering sprites and passing controls, which paused the game while you scanned the field for an open receiver. I had played Accolade’s HardBall! and found it to be a realistic simulation of the sport of baseball, so I didn’t understand why the company’s new football game included a cheerleader in fishnet stockings, a super-deformed mutant referee and “a passing game that’s straight out of The Twilight Zone,” as my review described it. It wasn’t until several years had passed that I finally discovered the truth about Mike Ditka’s Big Play Football. It was originally a Famicom game called American Football Game: Quarter Back Scramble, created by Japanese developer Natsume and published in Japan by FCI. Among other minor changes, Accolade had simply replaced the title screen, erased the FCI “eye” logos from the field and modified the cheerleader graphic (she was originally a Playboy Bunny, complete with bow tie, cuffs and bunny ears). If I had known that when I was playing the game, some of its more unusual features might have been easier for me to explain!

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