6. Mutant Football League
There is no shortage of football video games, of course, most notably the endless iterations of Madden NFL, in which the game is simulated more or less realistically. This insanely popular series has led to a "Madden Bowl," an elimination tournament played annually since 1995 in the same city as the Super Bowl.
There are more nerd-friendly variations, too, like Atari's Cyberball, in which the game is played by robots and the ball is in danger of exploding, or Blood Bowl, a video version of the board game in which Tolkien-esque teams of orcs and goblins play a football-like blood sport. But it's doubtful that even these can claim to being quite as nerdy as Mutant Football League, a 1993 game set in a future in which aliens, trolls, skeletons and the like face each other on a crater-pocked field littered with hazards such as landmines. What a Harryhausen movie it could have made.
5. The GFL
There are some human creations which stand the test of centuries: the pyramids, the Taj Mahal, the Great Wall of China. With his GFL novels, author Scott Sigler asserts that American Football will be similarly durable. GFL stands for Galactic Football League, in which, some 700 years from now, "Aliens and humans alike play positions based on physiology, creating receivers that jump 25 feet into the air, linemen that bench-press 1,200 pounds, and linebackers that literally want to eat you."
Sigler has followed his youthful hero, quarterback Quentin Barnes (note the initials?) from The Rookie (2009) through three sequels, The Starter, The All-Pro and The MVP. More adventures are promised.
4. The Texas Terror
Out of the odd, scrappy world of Arena Football comes the obscure story of the Texas Terror (1996-1997). The Houston-based club used the Frankenstein Monster in the team logo...
...so what else do you really need to know to be a fan? Who cares that they recorded only one win in their first season, against - no kidding - the Minnesota Fighting Pike? The team boringly redubbed itself the Houston Thunderbears starting in 1998, so who cares that they went out of business in 2001?
The Terror's past-tense status makes them, I suppose, a rather feeble alternative to the Super Bowl. But there is, at least, some game footage available; though not, alas, of their triumph over the Pike.
3. Charlie Brown and Lucy Wacky Wobblers
While most of Charlie Brown's sports-related agonies centered on the baseball field, he had a peculiarly fatalistic career on Special Teams as well. Again and again, in annual Peanuts Sunday strips, Lucy would invite him to kick the football she was holding, and again and again he would resist, knowing full well that she meant to yank the ball away at the last second so that he would sail through the air and land on his back. Again and again she would offer some elaborate reason why this year would be different. She would always persuade him to make the attempt, and every last time he would go flying.
"She's always going to do that, you know," Charles Schultz is reported to have said. "He's never going to get to kick that football." Elsewhere, he wisely observed, "Winning is great, but it isn't funny."
This classic recurring gag is enshrined in this Funko Wacky Wobbler tableau. Your own sensibility will determine if it's a monument to eternal optimism or to the power of rhetoric over the gullible. The dirty-minded among us may wonder if it suggests some kinky, fetishistic bond between the two as adults, should that long-arrested growth-spurt ever kick in.
2. Bullwinkle's Glory Days at Wossamotta U.
One of the most memorable adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle, from 1963, involves the drafting of the latter as a star passer at that august institute of higher learning. It's a frank and gritty tale of how colleges prioritize sports programs over academics, and enrich themselves at the expense of student athletes. In Bullwinkle and Rocky's case, at one point this actually means ducking under gunfire, just like in The Last Boy Scout. Wossamotta's opponent in the climactic big game, you see, is the Mud City Manglers, coached by Boris and Natasha's boss Fearless Leader.
This saga, which includes everything from gambling fixes to football in drag to Civil War strategy, is an essential part of the American cartoon canon. But it wasn't all bad for Bullwinkle - he managed, at least, to parlay his football stardom into an endorsement deal, plugging Cheerios.
1. Marvel's NFL SuperPro
It was probably inevitable that a football player would, sooner or later, be used as a superhero. Marvel made the attempt in 1991 with this title, created in official partnership with the NFL, about star Notre Dame linebacker and NFL hopeful Phil Grayfield, whose pro career is scuttled before it begins by an heroically-sustained injury.
Poor Phil switches to TV sports journalism instead, then acquires a super-advanced protective football suit, and has one of those chemical accidents which, in comics, don't kill or disfigure you so much as give you superpowers. All this puts him in good field position, so to speak - Phil uses football metaphors of this sort constantly - to root out the crime and evil which threatens the purity of his beloved sport, sometimes in the form of supervillains like Quick Kick or Instant Replay.
NFL SuperPro was launched with a thick collector's edition "Super Bowl Special" origin story, scripted by Fabian Nicieza, in 1991. The title proper launched later that same year - Spider-Man had a guest shot in the first issue - and ran for twelve issues. This is a painfully dorky comic, no question, with hokey cameos by real NFL notables and cringe-worthy bantering dialogue: "I've been on the trail of an illegal steroid production ring...but this little play from scrimmage didn't gain me much yardage, so...Arrivederci!"
But it's sort of nicely drawn, by the likes of Jose Delbo and Mike DeCarlo, and on the whole it's an amusing read. It probably could make an enjoyably campy movie - maybe a good vehicle for Tim Tebow, with a blond dye-job? If he turns out to be a bad actor, no harm no foul - Marlon Brando couldn't improve this dialogue. Even Joe Namath couldn't.
Previously by M.V. Moorhead: