Once upon a time... NFL
By David Lee
“He... could... go... all... the... way.”
Such was one of the many indelible vocal impressions left by NFL
Football ’94 for the Sega Genesis. NF94 was one of the first
games to use Sega’s revolutionary SportsTalk system, an idea
that seemed solid but whose execution left something to be desired.
The computerized voice sounded like a Stephen Hawking/Forrest Gump
hybrid and often lagged behind the play, especially when a player
broke free for the end zone. There were many instances when you’d
have already scored and the voice would be saying “He’s
at the 20... the 10... .”
Nevertheless, NF94 was better than its SNES contemporaries and
was part of Sega Sports’ entry into the sports video game
market; NF94 was designed to compete with Electronic Arts’ Madden
series. Before eventually losing ground to EA in the late ’90s,
Sega was able to make — and more to the point, effectively
market — a comparable video game experience.
NF94 stood out due to several new features at the time, such as
play-calling and on-field jukes and jives. Sometimes, the two went
hand-in-hand, as was the case with the fake punt or fake field
goal attempt. The ability to call plays was still a new concept,
and one that came with its share of bugs. In a two-player game,
you could see your opponent’s play selection, and vice versa.
After choosing a play, the set of three plays you’d chosen
from remained on-screen, giving your opponent a 33 per cent chance
to guess what you’d picked.
However, you could really throw a human opponent off by calling
one of three audibles at the line of scrimmage. There was an unspectacular
run option, a quick out and a long bomb. The second option — a “212
shoot” — was nearly unstoppable and let a player nickel
and dime his opponent to death.
In fact, defense was such a mystery that the best way to effectively
stop another team was to rely solely on kick defenses. What supposed
blitzes such as “Red Dog” or “Monster Storm” should
have done, “Punt Block” achieved instead. Of course,
continually choosing a kick defense meant only one man stayed back
to stop anyone should he make it through. As a result, NF94 games
often turned into high scoring shoot-outs.
As for player control, Sega ushered in a new generation of options.
The A button let you unleash a mighty stiff-arm, which on the easiest
difficulty setting lets you stop an entire special teams unit.
B let you pull off the vaunted spin move, and while constant spinning
could get you out trouble, it also exposed you to fumbling. Finally,
C gave you a speed burst and let you dive forward.
Since the Genesis had only three buttons to make use of, the mapping
of two functions to one button led to problems. There were many
times that instead of gaining speed like a senior citizen who forgot
his Depends, you’d dive to the ground and be pounced on by
the defender. Thus, an easy TD was turned into misery.
Clearly, there were still improvements to be made to the series.
The following year was one of the first games that let players
be traded from team to team. On a side note, does anyone remember
the old Sega ad lauding this feature? It had Joe Montana spotting
an obese fan in the bleachers, jumping and yelling “Go Chiefs
go!”, to which Montana responded “Oh my god... ” before
As with all the other items showcased in this feature, NF94 is
still a good deal of fun to play today. Though you might be frustrated
by control or play-calling issues, it doesn’t get much sweeter
than the feeling of a 60-yard Barry Sanders spin-laden run with
no time left on the clock to lift the Detroit Lions to victory
over the 49ers.