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Week 11 Big Ten Power Poll: Tecmo Bowl Running Backs

With half the B1G at 3-4 in conference play, it was a tough week to vote.

Chicago Bears Walter Payton...
Did Walter Payton’s dominance cause 50 years of Big Ten West obsessions with running the ball?
Set Number: X30594 TK1 R14 F23

Tecmo Bowl is one of the greatest sports video games ever created. For its time, probably #1 with due respect to NBA Jam in terms of how revolutionary, yet simple and fun it was to play. It was originally released as an arcade game in 1987 before getting even more burn on the Nintendo Entertainment system (NES) as well as Game Boy. Sega Genesis skipped straight to Tecmo Super Bowl (which I played on SNES) from what I understand.

If you watch football or read OTE without watching the games (understandable in some cases) and you have never played Tecmo Bowl, you have saved hours of your life hopefully doing more productive things. The game featured 12 teams, with nine (not 11) players on the field for each team, and the first to use actual NIL of real NFL players. On offense you had a chance to select from only four plays (can’t wait for the comments on this). The defense would guess which was selected, and if correct, get a jailhouse blitz with every offensive linemen being smoked. The simplicity and ability to learn to play in one sitting made it addicting.

You may be asking, how can there be 14 running backs for this Weekly Big Ten Football power poll when there are only 12 teams in Tecmo Bowl? Excellent question, but we are as prepared as a shockingly, surprisingly decent Brain Ferentz game plan in the context of our weekly power poll.

As a voter, outside of Week 1, this was the hardest to sort out with half the conference at 5-5 overall and 3-4 in conference play. It also made preparing the list difficult because as the votes trickled in, teams were up and down all over the place. 12 teams got votes as high as 8th place and only the top five avoided any votes in the double digits.

1 - Ohio State - Walter Payton, Chicago Bears

FPV: 6 High: 1 Low: 2 LW: 1

Los Angeles Rams v Chicago Bears Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Walter Payton got no interest from local SEC schools, so he played his college ball at Jackson State. He dazzled enough to be selected by the Chicago Bears in the first round of the 1975 draft. From there he was THE Bears offense for a decade running, receiving, blocking, and even passing. Eventually the greatest single season defense of all-time was built to complement him, culminating in a Super Bowl title. Payton finished his career the NFL’s all-time leading rusher and member of the NFL’s 75th anniversary team.

In Tecmo Bowl, the Bears are one of the three best teams, with their only real Kryptonite being the Raiders or maybe the Giants. Even in the twilight of his career, Payton is super fast, tough, consistent as a receiver and great to fight defenders to gain extra yards or kill clock. On the defensive side, Richard Dent and Mike Singletary are monsters of the midway.

Admittedly, this is a little bit of a homer pick since Payton is in my eyes a top five player ever in the National Football League. The Buckeyes earned the right to be represented by him because they have reverted to a run based offense more than recent years with Treveyon Henderson. OSU has soundly beaten everyone they have played so far other than a close game with Notre Dame. In tandem with ball control on offense, the Buckeye defense as stepped up to the best level they’ve been at in years. Coincidence? Will their season end up with a title like Payton received in 1985?

2 - Michigan - Bo Jackson, LA Raiders

FPV: 5 High: 1 Low: 2 Last week: 3

Only way to stop this man is if he gets sidelined.

Bo Jackson as a mythical figure is only rivaled by Babe Ruth and Wilt Chamberlain in the last century of American sports. He exploded on the scene at Auburn which he attended to fulfill a promise to his mother he would be the first in the family to go to a major collegiate institution rather than just play professional baseball. Bo started his football career out strong in limited action, even though he was always a little distracted by that professional baseball career (Drew Henson blames the same I’m sure). Unfortunately he hurt his hip and was forced to hang it up despite earning pro bowl honors, being an MLB All-Star, and even being on the animated series, ProStars.

In Tecmo bowl it’s really just a two-horse race for the top spot, just like the Big Ten at this point. Michigan got Jackson because of the flair and their head coach will not have a full season on the sidelines. There was a temptation to align Payton with Michigan because JJ McCarthy reminds me so much of Jim McMahon, but this is a running backs list and the seemingly unstoppable Jackson is how Michigan looks in conference play for a third straight year unless they succumb to self-inflicted wounds.

There are many, but the most ridiculous story about Bo Jackson is that he was so strong that he couldn’t lift weights or he would get too bulky seemingly overnight. So he had a gym in his house which he never used and the only weights he did were for his neck muscles. And on that pure natural strength, the later Tecmo Super Bowl game was rigged for Bo to be the fastest player, according to this video.

3 - Penn State - Curt Warner, Seattle Seahawks

High: 3 Low: 3 LW: 2

Curt Warner
Under appreciated steadiness.

Curt Warner, not Kurt Warner. Curt Warner did play at Penn State after a decorated high school career in West Virginia. He quickly starred for the Nittany Lions, powering them to a 1982 National Championship with a win over Georgia in the Sugar Bowl (oh so close to doing that again). He was selected as the 3rd overall pick in the famous 1983 draft behind John Elway and Eric Dickerson, two all-time greats. Warner then led the AFC in rushing and shocked the world by bringing the Seahawks to the conference championship game for the first time as a rookie.

This might be a little unfair to the guys with resumes lower on this list, but within Tecmo Bowl the Seahawks are actually pretty fun, even if fullback John L. Williams (no relation to John L. Smith) is at tight end with boom or bust quarterback play from Dave Krieg. Warner forms a tremendous 1-2 punch with wideout Steve Largent who ended his career as the NFL’s all-time leading receiver. Their defense is led by Brian Bosworth ... so just know you will be involved in a shootout.

The Nittany Lions like those late 80s Seahawk teams take care of business in a ho-hum manner against everybody below them in the standings (except the bludgeoning of Iowa). They even had a shootout with ... Indiana?!?!?! But Penn State has never really have shown a pulse against the elites. Super fun, especially early in the season for their fans who are cut from the same cloth as those in Pacific Northwest, we’ll see if Happy Valley stays so over the next few weeks. (I’m hoping not)

4 - Iowa - Herschel Walker, Dallas Cowboys

High: 4 Low: 4 LW: 4

Dallas Cowboys Herschel Walker... Set Number: X33782 TK1 R15 F24

Though now more famous for his somewhat bizarre political campaign and being the man who was traded for half of the Cowboys early 1990s dynasty, Walker exploded on the scene as a college running back at Georgia. He carried the Bulldogs to the National title as a freshman and earned a Heisman trophy before dominating the old USFL. Once the league folded he accepted the role of fullback for Tony Dorsett in Dallas, then played for Minnesota, Philadelphia, and even the Giants. At his best, he was awesome.

Walker is good, not great in Tecmo Bowl (as I can tell you from my brother rooting for Dallas when we were kids). The Cowboys as a team are far from what they were before or after and the color scheme in the limited bit video game is somewhat blinding. If he struggles, their offense struggles despite the best efforts of the aging defense.

This is why Iowa is a good match for Walker. They rely on the run game and their backs in the pass game to a fault alongside superior coaching. (Wait did I just compare Kirk Ferentz to Tom Landry?) Before I get in any more trouble, nothing else to see here, let’s move on ...

5 - Rutgers - Joe Morris, New York Giants

High: 5 Low: 8 LW: 5

Kansas City Chiefs v New York Giants Photo by Ali A. Jorge/Getty Images

Joe Morris played his college ball at the former Rutgers rival Syracuse before arriving in New Jersey for his first season with the New York Football Giants as a second round draft pick. He quickly passed the first round pick, Michigan Wolverine and New Jersey native Butch Woolfolk on the depth chart, and was the starting running back for the G-men in their 1986 Super Bowl winning season. He had one bounce back season in 1988 before missing two full seasons and then spending a disappointing final year in Cleveland.

So Morris is basically the Kyle Monangai of the 1980s NFL. His team is built on defense (especially versatile linebackers) and special teams, but their heartbeat comes from an undersized running back whose best skill is being small and therefore difficult for the defense to see until he squeaks out with one burst of acceleration. Now if Rutgers only had an accurate passer like Phil Simms at quarterback ...

Instead, 2023 Rutgers is a poor man’s Penn State (which is a significant improvement over prior years). They have beaten who they were supposed to and suffered emotional let downs after losses (all to teams in the top four at the time). But the Knights have since been replaced as the feel good story by .. Northwestern!?!?!?

Wait, did I miss the Giants drafted running backs in the first two rounds of the 1982 draft?!?!?!?!? Yes, they did. Like Rutgers, they should probably be in the Big Ten West, especially when the same franchise played the entire second half against the Jets this season without attempting a single forward pass.

6 - Illinois - Kevin Mack, Cleveland Browns

High: 5 Low: 10 LW: 6

Cleveland Browns Kevin Mack Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

Kevin Mack hails from North Carolina and played his college ball at Clemson, helping them to a 1981 National Title game appearance. He began his pro career in the USFL like many others here, but when he finally started in the NFL in 1985, won Rookie of the Year. Splitting tailback and fullback duties with Ernest Byner, Mack didn’t pile up stats but was a valuable well rounded player on offense.

The Browns were a lot stronger in real life (reaching back to back AFC title games) than Tecmo Bowl because of their roster construction. It even seemed that they had to make Bernie Kosar somewhat fast as a runner to try and not have the offense completely suck outside of Ozzie Newsome and Mack’s power running for three yards and a cloud of virtual dust. Perhaps you could have had Byner and Mack in the backfield, but that would not nearly be as formidable as the Allen/Jackson tandem. That style of football is not fun for anyone outside the Big Ten West. The Browns have a solid set of defensive backs.

Admittedly, the Orange helmets were my first inkling to align Mack with the Illini, but the more I thought about it, this makes a lot of sense. Illinois has a coach who always often comes through at the least surprising moments, but also struggles when success is there for the taking. In 2023, Illinois has looked awful in games like against Nebraska but then totally redeemed themselves by virtue of a backup QB throwing for 500 yards last week. Would they be a good Tecmo Bowl team if the Big Ten had a modern edition? Probably not, and yet they are right in the thick of the bizarre final Big Ten West race.

7 - Maryland - Eric Dickerson, Indianapolis Colts

High: 5 Low: 12 LW: 11

Indianapolis Colts v Miami Dolphins Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Speed, speed, speed. Eric Dickerson was well ahead of his time in NIL money (wink wink), that ultimately led to the death penalty for his SMU Mustangs. Dickerson himself carried the load to the share of two national championships and was drafted second overall in 1983. He exploded on the scene with the LA Rams as an All-Pro, establishing rookie records in basically every category for his position. He ended his career in second place among running backs behind Payton in rushing yards, but a lot of that was front loaded.

In Tecmo Bowl, Dickerson plays for the Colts in one of the two editions after his trade from the Rams. He’s fast, but not prime ED fast, and the team is somewhat of a mixed bag despite having some of the coolest Killer B names ever with Beach, Bouza, Brooks, Bickett, Biasucci, and Bentley (more on him later). Though Taulia Tagovailoa is probably a better quarterback right now than Jack Trudeau ever was, you never know what you will get in November from the Terrapins after a dynamite September and awful October.

8 - Northwestern - Marcus Allen, LA Raiders

High: 6 Low: 11 LW: 12

Los Angeles Raiders Bo Jackson and Marcus Allen SetNumber: X35883 TK2 R13 F16

Marcus Allen went to USC where he wanted to be a safety if not a quarterback, but was forced to play running back because they needed him there. It worked out well for both parties as he earned a National Title as a freshman before eventually settling in and running for over 2,000 yards as a senior. Drafted 10th overall by his local LA Raiders, Allen would only rush for 1,000 yards three times, but finished his NFL career with over 12,000 yards. He also set the Super Bowl record for longest run.

The Raiders as mentioned with Bo are one of the strongest teams in Tecmo Bowl, relying on their backs to carry the load on the ground (each has only one designed run) and in the pass game. Their boom or bust pass game leads to some losses, but still incredibly fun to play with. Defensively, their defensive line with Howie Long and former Rutgers Scarlet Knight Bill Pickel is as stout as they come outside of the Windy City.

Marcus Allen is not even the #1 RB on his own team in Tecmo Bowl, and yet he still ends up becoming the all-time leader in rushing touchdowns in NFL history at his retirement. Better late than never I guess? Al Davis reportedly would tell his coaches to start the season with Allen as #4 on the depth chart to try and get him to quit, but inevitably more often than not, Allen would be there at season’s end, just like Northwestern has done so many times before. Like Ben Bryant, when he actually plays, his team is pretty good!

9 - Nebraska - Roger Craig, San Francisco 49ers

High: 7 Low: 12 LW: 9

Penn State University vs University of Nebraska

Roger Craig spurned his hometown Hawkeyes to play in an option Nebraska offense. Despite 2,446 yards and 26 touchdowns for the Huskers, it was only once he reached the NFL that he was unleashed as the greatest skill position weapon in the Bill Walsh offense. Those who know the site are aware I am not from Nebraska, neither root for Nebraska, and have only been to Lincoln once. So this might be an unfair when Craig became the first player to rush and receive for 1,000 yards in a season. The Nebraska offense hasn’t sniffed production like that since .... ever? That said, Craig had some runs that looked straight out of the mid 90s Nebraska highlights I grew up watching seemingly every bowl season.

In Tecmo Bowl the San Francisco 49ers only have one designed run to Craig, but leverage him well in the pass game. They are the strongest team overall which makes sense as they go on to win back to back championships following the release of the game. Their defense is a little hit and miss, but does have Ronnie Lott to clean up any concerns on the back end.

The Huskers I had thought with our heavy Big Red staff would have been voted higher this week to make this pick seem a little more appropriate. You can understand that Matt Rhule is a good college coach, but no Bill Walsh. The team has a mess at Quarterback just like the 49ers did when Walsh arrived before eventually righting the ship and being able to produce a system so good that it churned out backups who ended up starting for other teams like Steve Bono and Elvis Grbac. Will Nebraska finish the season strong or have to wait another year or two to ascend the ranks of college football?

10 - Minnesota - Darrin Nelson, Minnesota Vikings

High: 8 Low: 13 LW: 7

1987 NFC Divisional Playoff Game - Minnesota Vikings vs San Francisco 49ers - January 9, 1988

The name Darrin Nelson sounds like a mix of “Bewitched” and “I Dream of Jeannie” characters. In real life, this Nelson was ahead of his time as a scatback for Bill Walsh at Stanford, the first college player with 1,000 rushing yards and 50 receptions in one season. He was selected 7th overall by the Vikings in 1982. His career was notable for three reasons, 1. An ugly contract holdout that failed, 2. Dropping a pass that would have tied the 1987 NFC Championship game against Walsh and the subsequent 3. inclusion in the aforementioned Herschel Walker trade.

In Tecmo Bowl, the Vikings have a dangerous 1-2 punch defensively with Chris Doleman and Joey Browner. On offense, Nelson can be trusted so little as a pure grinder, he only has one designed run. (The other Vikings rushing play is a reverse to Anthony Carter.) The Fighting Peejs can’t be trusted either and are a little all over the place when they can’t just pound the ball a million times. Though they knocked off likely division champion Iowa, they also imploded against then cellar-dwelling Northwestern. After failing to get the Arnold character from their own city, they just had to get the hometown connection this week. Will it end as ugly for the 2023 Gophers as it did for Nelson during his first stint OR will the Gophers get another chance like Nelson did in 1991 with the Vikes?

11 - Wisconsin - Tony Dorsett, Denver Broncos

LPV: 1 High: 8 Low: 14 LW: 8

Super Bowl XII - Dallas Cowboys v Denver Broncos
After beating the Broncos in the Super Bowl, he became Craig Morton 2.0, sorta.

Dorsett was deemed too small to be a running back by some college scouts before starring at Pittsburgh. He was an All-American as a freshman and carried the program to their first winning season in a decade before ultimately a national championship. After trading a bunch of their draft choices for the opportunity to get Dorsett, the Dallas Cowboys selected him 2nd overall in 1977 and he carried the load to Dallas’s Super Bowl title as a rookie. He would be 2nd on the all-time rushing list behind Payton briefly before being replaced by Dickerson in that spot.

Denver is an intriguing team in Tecmo Bowl. In the midst of three AFC titles in four years, the team has a gunslinger at QB in John Elway. Dorsett is not the speedster of old though, he is neither a home run hitter, nor Power guy. He’s not terrible, but can be stopped by strong defenses or a human opponent with a fast defensive player like Lott, Lawrence Taylor, or Joey Browner. The Broncos have only two good defensive players like the Badgers (Wohler and .... Wohler?).

Like Dorsett, Wisconsin is trying to do it in 2023 with a modern Air Raid scheme but players recruited for a run heavy system. Didn’t work for Dorsett, hasn’t worked for Wisconsin after Mordecai got injured. Can they do enough to right the ship and at least finish .500 like the 1988 Broncos?

12 - Purdue - Lorenzo Hampton, Miami Dolphins

High: 8 Low: 13 LW: 14

Buffalo Bills v Miami Dolphins Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images

Within three years, he wouldn’t even be the most famous Hampton within the NFL running back ranks. Lorenzo played at Florida. He had one career 100 yard rushing game (of course it was against the New York Jets) and failed to even rush for 2,000 yards in his career. In Tecmo Bowl, he is just there to keep defenses off balance before Dan Marino goes back to chucking the ball around the field, as Miami is the other team that only has one run play in their playbook. Miami isn’t the best team in Tecmo Bowl, but if you don’t know how to defend deep passes, you might be in deep trouble when playing them. And don’t forget they have Iowa legend Reggie Roby at punter, because punting is winning.

Though Ryan Walters is no Don Shula (outside Champaign anyway), Purdue, like the Dolphins, runs an “explosive” pass offense. It’s enough to occasionally surprise block-headed opponents (patting myself on the back for picking them over Minnesota). Unfortunately like Hampton, they will be long forgotten as a “western” Big Ten passing offense once the Pac-10 defectors arrive. And do they have more than one running play?

13 - Indiana - Albert Bentley, Indianapolis Colts

LPV: 1 High: 10 Low: 14 LW: 10

Indianapolis Colts v Cleveland Browns Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images

There are actually two editions of Tecmo Bowl with only one personnel modification. That being, Albert Bentley is the running back for the Colts in the other edition of Tecmo Bowl that does not feature Dickerson. A walk-on at Miami (FL), Bentley only had one season on scholarship before becoming the starter in 1983 for a Hurricanes team that won the National Championship. He was a second round pick of the Colts in 1984, but Bentley started his first two seasons in the USFL, not the NFL. As you can tell by virtue of the Dickerson trade, Bentley was not an elite NFL running back.

In Tecmo Bowl I think the Colts are the worst team, especially when they don’t have Dickerson. They went from 3-13 in 1986 to a surprising 9-6 during the ‘87 strike season, remember last place NFL schedules and replacement players? Jack Trudeau was not as successful as he was at Illinois. Pretty soon, the Colts would position themselves to draft another former Illini star QB in Jeff George.

With only some strong defensive backs and Duane Bickett basically Aaron Casey, it’s incredible they can even win the games they did. The local connection is strong here, as the Indiana Hoosiers imported a good amount of its “talent” from the Sunshine State including Micheal Penix (too soon?). They were only briefly relevant under Tom Allen, while also being forgotten for much of the 2023 season. All that trash talk though and Indiana almost won in overtime last week before games with their fellow bottom three compatriots in Michigan State and Purdue remaining. Had they beaten Illinois, they might have squeaked into a bowl game!

14 - Michigan State - Timmy Smith, Washington Redskins

LPV: 9 High: 12 Low: 14 LW: 13

Super Bowl XXII - Denver Broncos v Washington Redskins
Sometimes timing is everything.

Timmy Smith dominated high school football in New Mexico before an injury plagued career at Texas Tech. Despite the injuries Joe Gibbs and the Washington Redskins saw the size/speed/athleticism combo as a lottery ticket and selected Timmy in the 5th round of the 1987 draft. He only ran for 602 yards in his career during the regular season, but shocked the world with a Super Bowl record 204 yards in a 42-10 victory as a rookie. Injuries and off the field problems derailed a once promising career.

Tecmo Bowl probably had some tough calls to make about who should be the running back for the Washington Redskins since four guys carried the ball more than Smith in the 1987 regular season. Like the Vikings, one of their run plays is a reverse, this one to Ricky Sanders. The team is solid on both lines (best pass rush at defensive line with Dexter Manley and Charles Mann) and boasts the NFL’s fastest man for like 20 years in Darrell Green with the inconsistent Doug Williams at QB. They are pretty good outside of their weak links at running back and linebacker plus passing playbook routes.

Like the Washington Football team, the Spartans have been the center of controversy for mostly the wrong reasons all season. Timmy Smith had one good game (albeit a Super Bowl), just like Mel Tucker parlayed one good season into a massive contract.

******* Joe Gibbs, please do not take this that I equate your amazing coaching jobs to Mel Tucker outside of 2021 *******


Who is the best team in Tecmo Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 43%
    da Bears
    (54 votes)
  • 15%
    Niners pre Samcro
    (19 votes)
  • 27%
    pre Las Vegas Raiders
    (34 votes)
  • 9%
    not so Little Giants
    (12 votes)
  • 4%
    Other, see comments.
    (6 votes)
125 votes total Vote Now


Who is the best player in Tecmo Bowl?

This poll is closed

  • 17%
    (28 votes)
  • 52%
    Bo knows Football
    (83 votes)
  • 3%
    LT in the Dare Program
    (6 votes)
  • 4%
    Laces out Dan Marino
    (7 votes)
  • 13%
    I’ve never played Tecmo Bowl, somehow.
    (21 votes)
  • 8%
    Reggie Roby, whether I have played it or not.
    (13 votes)
158 votes total Vote Now

Who was your team in Tecmo Bowl? Could the Big Three in the Big Ten East beat Jack Trudeau’s Illinois Colts? Let us know in the comments section below.