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COPING WITH THE OFFSEASON: STRATEGY #392, THE REVENGE GAME

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The offseason is indeed a dry, rocky place where the college football fan's seed of obsession can find no purchase. But do not abandon hope; though you may be streaking one day closer to death with every tedious rotation of the earth, you do get one day closer to the next college football season, with only the pesky dangling ash of the rest of the year between you and the next tasty cigarette of meaning.

So how to kill it, exactly? Besides going Robo for the next five months until the preview season? (A classic high school term for chugging Robitussin and spending the next five hours in a drunken, horrifying netherworld blending paranoia and apathy without the giddy edge of pot-smoking. High one might find Widespread Panic enjoyable; gone Robo, you may be convinced the Devil's violinstrings were playing your funeral dirge in the kitchen. To simulate the sensation, just stay up for 36 hours, drink an espresso, and wrap head in purple Saran wrap until you pass out.)

One terrible way to pass the time.

We've got help to pass the time, and we're here to share. We present Offseason Coping Strategy #392: The Revenge Game. Our test case will be Alabama v. Florida, and it will not be pretty. The faint of heart need to look away, because getting to a final of "Florida 56, Alabama 3" is uglier and harder than it looks.

Needs: One television, one XBox, one copy of NCAA 2006. Should be cheap as balls thanks to superior technology coming along, except for the television, of course. Unless you live with your parents, which considering the fact that you're reading this blog is a very, very likely scenario. In that case, make sure you're not taking up their valuable television watching time and preventing them from catching "King Of Queens." I love that fat, blundering guy and his disproportionately attractive wife! Haven't seen that before!

Methods: Choose the "Play Now" option at the start menu unless you care to take an entire season's worth of revenge games to the bank (and once you've hit a hundred points in the early fourth quarter against Louisiana Tech, you've crossed the line from "revenge" to "abject cruelty.") Pick a game your team lost in humiliating or otherwise painful fashion during the prior season and make sure you're playing a home game, even if the real game took place on the road. You'll need this advantage to put the proper stank on the upcoming carnage, since you not only want to behead the virtual opponent, but run tittering up to the gushing stump of their neck with a full spray can of Bactine at the ready.

Being at home will give you all the sting you need. Otherwise competent qbs throw Testaverdian picks; running back start dribbling the ball like it's Aussie rules; offensive lineman hold and false start the offense into the shadows of their own goal posts (setting you up for the ultimate football facial moment, the full ten point safety/immediate long play-action passing TD with two point conversion combo.) The effect's not just a negative one, though, since the home team feels it, too; alligator armed receivers become pigskin magnets, ladyboy qbs bust tackles like Earl Campbell, and fourth down conversions break at a better than sixty percent rate with even just adequate playcalling.

Finally, make sure you're looking at a rigged match, but not too rigged.

We choose the All-American setting for the revenge game: just weak enough to ensure a nasty victory, but just enough realism for the game to be in doubt for, oh, say about a quarter or so. If you run the ball enough, there will be one quarter when a hell-rain of points puts the game out of reach completely. (NCAA 2006 rewards the player handsomely for a commitment to the run, as our case study will show.

Case Study: Alabama versus UF.

We've got a 31-3 pummeling in Tuscaloosa to avenge here, so it's time to get crack-a-lackin'. The weather's perfect in the Swamp: 73 degrees and clear, with the badass sunshine reflection animation looking particularly lovely on the screen. We hit A to skip the Nessler blather we've heard too many times not to be embarassed by. And just like that, a little home magic to start:

We win the toss, which means receive, receive, receive. A kick to the 20 or so, and a few quick slants and options (programming note: Chris Leak can run the option in the game. EA Sports, consider this a trouble ticket submitted.) And yet our inevitable stormtrooping to success nearly hits a snag as DeShawn Wynn meets Demeco Ryans on a speed option play coming around the corner and distracts Wynn by tossing a few slices of country ham to the sideline, causing Wynn to fumble. Florida's only saved by the ever-alert Bubba Caldwell, who comes from nowhere to fall on the ball and maintain possession.

How pets get kicked: Wynn nearly ruins our first drive by fumbling like a clumsy fatty.

Even with the good luck, the difficulty level rears its ugly head, forcing us to roll out and pass for two nail-biting fourth down conversions, one to Caldwell again, and then one to a manned-up Dallas Baker for the capping TD. Since we're not up by thirty, we go for one and make it 7-0, Florida.

We call the whole first drive pretty much in accordance with the Urban Meyer vibe: option runs, short passing, and going for it on the other side of the field on 4th. The computer repays us as Alabama runs a pitch perfect Dave Rader sequence: run, run, dropped pass, punt. We've got the ball on our thirty-five , which can mean only one thing: the tried and true first down longball, a staple of any gamer's football playbook following a big defensive series. Again, the All-American realism monster rears his ugly head as Leak (umm, us, actually) underthrows the ball into single coverage for a pick. We're so angry we're bleeding from our ears and cursing gods we didn't even know existed.

Rammer Jam-him! Leak gets picked, and our revenge game is tight in the 1st.

Remember, though, this isn't Heisman level, though: the other team still sucks balls. Bama proves it on the very next play as Croyle gets bitchmade by Earl Everett...

...and throws a snail-mail wobbler directly to a giddy Jarvis Herring, who returns it to around the Bama 30.

He looks giddy to us, at least.

The first quarter ends with our widely anticipated stompdown hovering at a meager 7-0 lead. The second quarter, though, will be that quantum burst of points that happens in every video game beatdown to put things hilariously, indubitably into bukkake territory. Two runs get us to 3rd and 9 before Dallas Baker--who appears to be three feet taller than the man guarding him--gets loose on a slot streak for a 29 yard TD.

Dallas Baker, seen here flat embarrassing the member of the Lollilpop Guild defending him.

Bama gives another three and out before punting us to our own forty or so. We dink and dunk to about midfield before seeing if play action--remember, you have to run just to set it up, even if it means knocking years off Leak and Wynn's virtual lives by having them run directly into Demeco Ryans--can get the penned-up Chad Jackson loose behind the secondary.

Umm, yeah. Two minutes and two TDs, both of them laughers, have us up 21-0. We'd be content to ride this into the half with a long, run-heavy drive...if the whole point of the exercise wasn't to have Oddjob strangle your opponent, put him in a car, put the car in a compactor, and reduce him to goo encased in a Ford Spirit. Bama makes that a little easier by showing the dangers of calling play action in a video game in a horrifying, majestic three panel sequence:

Part one: the fake no one buys, including the lineman already in the backfield...

Part two: the bone-snapping sack as an Alabama lineman watches...

A familar sight for Bama fans.

Part three: the rattled Croyle throwing a lob on the following play directly into the hands of a linebacker waiting in the zone.

Gimme!

Three plays later, Chad Jackson catches a pass in the flat for a TD with 1:25 on the clock. Somehow, three time-outs and some hurry-up gets us another TD before the half, with Wynn putting down his sandwich long enough to catch a TD in the barren, uncovered expanses of the flats. A 28-point flood in the second quarter, and Chris Leak's ludicrous line tells the story:

10 for 16. 5 TDs. In a half.

The second half features many of the quirks that have kicked in during video game football blowouts since time immemorial: a quixotic drive that nets Alabama a field goal (one long fluky pass and solid running from the suddenly untackleable Kenneth Darby,) murderous run-heavy drives reducing the Alabama defense to matador status (ole!), and the curious inability of the Florida defense to injure Brodie Croyle despite pulling everything but a shiv out on him, punishment wise.

Brodie Croyle, losing his head.

For revenge games and regular matchups, the running in the second half can't be beat, especially since it literally breaks teams' will to live and can reduce a real life opponent into a controller-tossing, teary-eyed wreck of frustration. It's hard to properly describe just how whipped a defense can get under even a mediocre but steady run attack, so we'll just show you by typing words man was never meant to punch out on even the devil's keyboard:

Chris Leak breaking a Demeco Ryans tackle...

...and then another to run in for a TD.

It gets so bad by the middle of the fourth that a slot screen to Caldwell gets out four men to block only two Bama defenders, who die shrieking beneath the feet of Dallas Baker and Jim Tartt as Caldwell strolls in for a TD. The Bama offense gets desperate enough to have Croyle run an option play, practically begging for God to smite him halfway through the fourth quarter.

By the time we go for it on 4th and 4 with 0:06 left on the clock, the computer's had enough, deflecting away what would be Chris Leak's seventh TD pass on the game with a smurf-sized Bama defender. The final? 56-3, Florida, a Spurrier-esque vengeance romp that leaves a now mentally handicapped and bruised Brodie Croyle an inconsolable mess:

You say: waste of precious time. We say: one hour down, 4,128 to go.