Well, that was a game worth staying up for, wasn't it? And as hard as I was rooting for the Ravens, I can't deny that the Patriots earned the win. For every close call that went against Baltimore (Gaffney's winning TD, Ryan's illegal timeout, turnover on downs nullified by false start), they still had plenty of opportunities to win the game. If Ed Reed didn't fumble after a great interception return, if any of the Ravens' defenders picked off the ball that Ray Lewis tipped 20 feet in the air, if Baltimore got just one first down in the fourth quarter .... still, it's hard for me to remember beign so satisfied that my team played so well and came away with a loss. The defense pressured Brady ferociously, Willis McGahee had his best day as a Raven behind an offensive line that gave up no sacks (my personal favorite was the play where McGahee took a short pass and juked the NE defender so badly he was able to use him as a blocker), Kyle Boller outplayed Tom Brady for 3 quarters and even Yamon Figurs chipped in a nice punt return late in the game. Eventually, though, the Ravens succumbed to one of the great cliches of football. For three quarters, they kept Brady, Moss, & Co. off the field; the Pats had only six possessions in the first three periods, but they had four in the fourth. And so again, a one team irrationally uplifts the hearts and spirits of its fans while the other crushes those of its own in the brutal mortar and pestle of bitter defeat.
It was a doubly entertaining evening for me because I also watched the first half of the Denver-Green Bay game. You missed this one? Denver played Oakland on Sunday and Green Bay lost to Dallas last Thursday, you say? Duh, this was the 1996 Broncos against the Packers. Favre vs. Elway, Holmgen matching wits with Reeves, Lambeau Leap against Mile High Magic. Nope, not on ESPN Classic. Not Madden retro either. This epic battle, which ended in a 10-0 halftime score in favor of Denver was a Stratomatic battle between my sons.
Not familiar with Stratomatic Football? That's because you are a normal human being, with a healthy diversity of cultural interests, but if you are an 8 or 10-year old boy who feverishly collects sports jerseys and posters, fills entire notebooks with statistics of Hall of Fame inductees, and/or has already projected the entire 2008 NCAA Basketball Tournament (not just the field either, the complete results as well), Stratomatic is a gift directly from the Mount Olympus of sports gaming.
Part Madden, part Fantasy, Stratomatic is a board game that allows players to simulate games, calling offensive and defensive plays with results derived from percentages based on actual statistics from the previous season. Players can run, pass, score touchdowns, be penalized and even get injured. If it still sounds a bit dry for your tastes, you should see how feisty my sons get while playing. Then again, in our house, most board games are contact sports.
Last night was only the second time they played Stratomatic Football, but I foresee many hours spent rolling dice and gleefully checking cards and charts for results. How can I be so sure? Because I watched them play Stratomatic Baseball all summer, including a marathon week at the beach where nearly every waking minute in the house was spent at the gaming table, trying to determine whether or not the 2006 season was a statistical anomaly.
Wait a minute, I hear you saying, there's Stratomatic Baseball as well? Yep, and Hockey and Basketball and College Football, too.
So how did we acquire this blessing/curse? Well, it just so happens that about 22 years ago, I myself sat down with a college roommate and rolled the dice to see if the Redskins of John Riggins and Joe Washington could beat the Raiders in Super Bowl XVIII with me calling the plays this time (obviously, Rocket Screen was not in my playbook). Many epic battles ensued, but I have to say, I have not played (and rarely discussed in public) Stratomatic since graduating from college.
Fast forward to March, 2007, and this same college roommate bestowed a gift of the 1992 Stratomatic Baseball game on my boys. Note that the box had never been opened; he just happened to have it lying around, untouched, for 15 years. Never mind that many of the players in this game had retired before my sons were born, they took to it right away. Well, almost right away. There was that nasty incident where the Mike Mussina card was crumpled and nearly destroyed after a disastrous two innnings (my younger son has a pretty quick hook).
Naturally, I informed my friend how immensely the boys were enjoying his gift; he was so pleased to find some new converts that the 2006 baseball cards arrived in the mail the next week. Last weekend, we had another visit with my buddy, ostensibly to meet his new son, but my guys had a different agenda.
"Do you have any other Stratomatic games?"
"It just so happens I have a 1996 football game right here."
(Me) "We wouldn't want to take your game."
"Oh, don't worry. I've got at least three others in storage."
It seems appropriate to close this entry by noting that that this is a family of three living in a two-bedroom apartment in New York City. Space comes at quite a premium in the Big Apple, so it's not surprising that he might have a storage locker somewhere. Yes, he could store the games at his brother's house in New Jersey, but he doesn't trust his sister-in-law not to throw them away.