For the most part, the sports genre of video games tries to deviate from the real world as little as possible.
That's why you see so many different ratings, so many different attributes, and so many different customization options for players in the NFL, NBA, MLB, and beyond.
Yet, no simulation is perfect. We all have our opinions on who are the best athletes of all time.
But which virtual athletes are the best of all time?
To some extent, the players in the game are only as good as the players holding the controller. Yet everything else being equal, certain players are, to reference NFL Blitz, "so good they ought to be illegal."
So, here are the top 20 virtual athletes of all time. Most sports are covered: football, basketball, baseball, hockey, golf, tennis, and extreme sports.
Who is Shawn Chambers?
He has the honor of holding the worst player ranking in the history of video games: one.
Granted, this was in NHL '93, when game developers were still messing around with game design. His teammate Jeff Bloemberg had a ranking of four.
Still, it has to sting for Chambers, who won two Stanley Cups during his 13 years in the NHL.
Unfortunately for him, it doesn't look like he'll ever have company at the bottom. Current video games typically rank players from 55 to 99.
Now on to some real stars.
I just have to give a shout out to the game "Mike Piazza's Strike Zone" for the Nintendo 64.
Looking back it was a terrible game. That should have been obvious considering Mike Piazza's name was on it.
Yet, over a span of several years when Piazza was in his prime, no virtual catcher was better. He had a good arm, and more importantly, a fantastic bat.
Particularly in the early years of baseball video games, a player like Piazza certainly had pizzaz.
J.J. Redick is the best three-point shooter in the history of college basketball.
So to reflect that in a video game, developers naturally make his three-point shooting rating off the charts.
Well, that makes for quite the simple offensive gameplan: get Redick open and fire a trey.
For someone like me, who does not get particularly fancy with play calling in basketball simulations, Redick is my ideal player. I call a simple pick-and-roll, then jack up a three or pass it off to the rolling player as Redick is in mid-air.
I suppose it's a fair representation, considering Redick was the greatest scorer in ACC history for a time, and seemingly scored at will.
Ichiro Suzuki: The perfect leadoff man.
In a genre seemingly defined by power hitters (which, as we soon learned, was due to real-life steroid use), Ichiro defied the trend. Just as he brought added intrigue to the MLB, he also brought a new dimension to the video game world.
Suddenly, you had a player who could bunt for a hit. A player who could be counted on for two hits a game. A player who could wreak havoc on the basepaths.
Stealing bases is always fun in video games, but it became particularly fun with Ichiro because it always seemed like he would be safe (at least in his initial years in the pros).
I'm talking circa 2001, when the Mariners won 116 games and Ichiro was surrounded by players like Mike Cameron, Bret Boone, John Olerud, and Edgar Martinez.
Yet even with all those All-Stars in the batting order, there was always something exciting about stepping up to the plate with Ichiro and slapping the ball to the opposite field for a hit.
Speaking of speed, how about the first player ever to receive a perfect 100 speed rating.
That would be Devin Hester, in Madden 2008.
On special teams, Hester was just as much a nightmare in the game as he was during the actual NFL season. Most of the times I played as the Bears, my opponents would squib kick in hopes of avoiding a game-changing return from Hester.
Sure, Hester did not have many other redeeming qualities other than his quicks, but in the return game, does that really matter?
He not only had 100 speed, but as a part of that particular Madden game, he also had the "Speed" weapon, which made him even faster.
That's right. Faster than the fastest a player can be.
First off, congratulations to Scottie Pippen for making the NBA Hall of Fame. Looking back on some of his performances, he was clearly one of the best defenders ever to play the game, and could also do everything on the offensive end.
The reason Pippen is on this list, fittingly, is in part because of Michael Jordan.
Or more accurately, the lack of Jordan in NBA Jam.
MJ has always been weird about video games and use of his likeness. He had a random game for the Super Nintendo that had little to do with basketball, called "Michael Jordan: Chaos In The Windy City."
Yet he would not be a part of an NBA game?
Either way, the Bulls had to be great in NBA Jam, considering they were the NBA champs. So Pippen and Horace Grant had to suffice.
Of course, if you're one of the NBA's 50 Greatest Players, you don't just suffice. You dominate. At 6'7'', with the ability to dribble and defend the way Pippen did, you could tell the developers made him great.
Even if basketballs were literally on fire.
The Minnesota Timberwolves were never anyone's first choice when selecting a team in the NBA Live or NBA 2K games of the early to mid-2000s.
If the T-Wolves were selected, it was no secret why: Kevin Garnett.
Just as Garnett was a freak athlete in the NBA, so was his virtual counterpart. He could post up smaller players, or take bigger players outside of the paint.
As I previously mentioned, I have no set plays except for the pick-and-roll in basketball video games. Of course, that's where Garnett shines. Get a smaller man on him, and it's over.
If that weren't enough, the developers seemingly inflated Garnett's ball-handling abilities, which allowed him for several years to crossover defenders and drive to the hoop for a dunk.
Just like in the actual NBA, when it comes to NBA simulations, wing players are the key to success.
As the Spurs, it's always Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili stealing the show, not Tim Duncan, even though he's the best player. At least that's how it is for me.
Well, who has been the ultimate wing player in the past decade? Kobe Bryant of course.
He can take an outlet pass and start the fast break. He can come off screens and shoot a quick jumper from anywhere on the floor. He can drive relentlessly until he maneuvers his way to the rim.
That's just on the offensive end. Obviously his continuous selection to the All-NBA Defensive First Team is reflected in his virtual self, as he can steal and block with the best of them.
Point being, don't mess with the Black Mamba. In real life or in the virtual world.
This slide is dedicated to NFL 2K5: The best football video game of all time to this day.
Who would have thought that the best football game would have Terrell Owens, of all people, gracing its cover.
Yet it made sense. The Eagles were coming off a great season, and not surprisingly, the team was dominant in the game too. Lito Sheppard and Brian Dawkins on defense? Forget about it.
Particularly on offense, the Donovan McNabb-Owens connection was nearly unstoppable. This, of course, was back when McNabb was a truly mobile quarterback.
Then you have Owens in his prime, blowing by cornerbacks and leaping over safeties to make catches.
Unfortunately, the duo never won a Super Bowl and had an infamous falling out.
But on the bright side, my crib in the game was amazing!
Forget about Adrian Peterson, the Viking.
Let's talk about Adrian Peterson, the Sooner.
In NCAA Football 07, Peterson garnered a 98 overall rating, which consisted in part of 93 speed, 96 acceleration, 96 stamina, and 98 break tackle.
In other words, he gets up to speed extremely quick, is fast once he starts moving, and can shake off defenders better than anyone in the game.
Oh, and he doesn't get tired.
That's the definition of a workhorse. Any player who does not run the ball at least two-thirds of the time with Oklahoma does not deserve to have a controller in his or her hand.
More to come on professional running backs who showed similar dominance later.
LaDainian Tomlinson might not be as good right now as he once was, but a few years ago, he was the Marshall Faulk of the half-decade.
Similar to Faulk and Eddie George, it seemed like as recently as Madden 09 that you could hand the ball off to LT and he would get you five yards.
That logic has forever changed since EA developed gang tackling, but still, Tomlinson was a force to be reckoned with.
Forget Shaun Alexander. He was too slow. Tomlinson was quick and could still shed tacklers.
He also had outstanding receiving abilities, which made him the total package in the backfield. If Antonio Gates was covered over the middle, reliable LT would be waiting in the flats.
One of my friends who I played with all the time constantly said LT was unfairly difficult to take down.
Of course, I couldn't take his complaints seriously because he had the following player on his team.
I read an interesting debate recently on a gaming forum about which player is better: Eddie George circa 2001 (when he was on the Madden cover), or Marshall Faulk circa 2003 (when he was on the Madden cover).
Well, for now let's just say Eddie George was great. And I bought his jersey. And I adopted the Tennessee Titans as my playoff team while the Chicago Bears were playing terrible football.
In other words, I might be a little biased.
But not biased enough to choose him over Faulk.
Look, Faulk was a player who you could run your entire offense through, similar to Brian Westbrook recently. Call a run play, then a pass to Faulk in the flat, then either another run or a longer pass play with Faulk running an option to counter a possible zone.
Get the first down. And then repeat.
Without the new additions of chain tackling and more realistic tackling, Faulk could fall forward for five or more yards at will. George could do the same.
Either way, these two cover athletes commanded eight men in the box. At least.
What Roger Federer is to tennis, and what Kobe Bryant is to basketball, Albert Pujols is to baseball.
Simply put, the guy is a machine (which was made fun of in an ESPN commercial). No area of the strike zone is safe when pitching to him. It's like facing Vlad Gurrero, except Pujols doesn't swing at garbage.
Look back to MVP Baseball 2004, of which Pujols graced the cover. Simply put, his contact rating was off the charts. I remember feeling like I could get a base hit with him every single time I stepped to the plate.
Of course, he also packs a lot of power. Granted, it is much harder in baseball sims to easily hit a home run than knocking down a few treys in basketball.
But with a player like Pujols, it's not that hard.
Does this even need explaining?
Tony Hawk's Pro Skater. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 2. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3. Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 4. Tony Hawk's Underground. Tony Hawk's Underground 2. Then I lose track.
Anyway, Tony Hawk made out like a bandit with these games. And not only did he rake in the cash and take advantage of the peak of X Games' popularity, but he was also always the best skater in his games, even as he neared the age of 40.
Who would choose Bob Burnquist or Geoff Rowley over Hawk? Maybe once you beat the game with Hawk, but his initial stats were so good you had no choice but to choose him.
Kind of like Tiger Woods and Federer.
Plus, he was the only skater who had the 900 as his secret trick. Come on, that's cooler than any other special move (outside of Spider-Man, of course).
This one is obvious. Let's start with a quote from Gamespot with regards to Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10.
"Tiger Woods. Custom characters aside, there's no reason to play as anyone else."
Even in previous games, he's the best player in the game by far. That's because he's the best player by far in real life as well.
Will that change after his recent personal issues and poor performances at recent tournaments? Possibly.
But as long as he's the cover athlete and ranked among the world's best, he's going to be the player everyone chooses.
Like Woods, Roger Federer has dominated his sport for several years, and his likeness represents that.
Seriously, unless you have a very specific play style in tennis video games, you'd be a fool to not choose an all-around player whose stats are sky-high across all categories.
Maybe you choose Rafael Nadal. Maybe.
But only if you prefer lefties, hate Federer, or want an aggressive baseliner.
Otherwise, Federer is the perfect blend of power, speed, and accuracy.
Just like he has been in real life for so long. His dominance has been questionable as of late, but all past tennis games from recent memory feature him as the elite player.
Ken Griffey Jr.'s Slugfest.
Ken Griffey Jr.'s Winning Run.
Major League Baseball Featuring Ken Griffey Jr.
Needless to say, every video game company wanted Griffey to endorse its product. And for most of the 1990s, his name was the gold standard of baseball simulations (sorry Piazza).
Naturally, when you are considered one of the greatest young baseball players ever and get your name attached to numerous games, your virtual self is going to be quite talented.
Unfortunately, as video game graphics got better, Griffey got worse, and so his talents were primarily confined to inferior systems. But since games now include more all-time teams, Griffey will never be gone for good.
Madden 06 rating: 99
Madden 07 rating: 99
Madden 08 rating: 99
Madden 09 rating: 99
Madden 10 rating: 99
Yes, the man is one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time. He's also one of the greatest video game quarterbacks of all time.
Sure, he has limited mobility. But when just about every pass you throw, no matter how contorted or how far, ends up right in the receiver's lap, it doesn't really matter.
Manning has certainly been surrounded by great talent in the past five Madden games at wide receiver, tight end, running back, and offensive line.
Yet Madden is so quarterback-driven that controlling Manning makes the game so much easier.
That is, if you are a pocket passer. If not, then...
Michael Vick is your guy.
Vick was the Madden cover athlete in 2004, and was literally the runaway best player.
You play against Peyton Manning, and you can run a traditional game plan. Mix up zone and man coverage, blitz occasionally, and don't give up the big play. Wait for the other player to make a silly mistake.
With Vick, it was not that easy.
Sure, he was only rated a 95. But he was so ridiculously fast that most players could run for a first down with Vick on every play, provided they were patient enough and could read the defense moderately well.
In other words, Vick was largely a "broken" player. He was too good and too unstoppable. It would be like putting Devin Hester at quarterback, only he could legitimately throw as well.
Of course, Madden developers quickly fixed this by reducing the quarterback's ability to leave the pocket and fixing defensive deficiencies.
Still, Vick of all players is the best quarterback (and football player) in the history of video games.
So, who tops him?
The Greatest of All Time, Michael Jordan.
NBA 2K11 decided to feature His Airness on its cover this season, which came as shock to some people, but thus far has generated a lot of excitement and hype around the game.
The latest installment in the series will feature a mode called "MJ: Creating a Legend," which will take players from Jordan's rookie season to the end of his career.
Apparently, he will only be rated a 79 as a rookie, but you can bet that will change as he enters the 1990s. Reviews have said he loses some leaping, but gains significantly in other areas.
The 10 Jordan Challenges will allow players to relive some of the defining moments of MJ's career.
I joked with a friend that Jordan should be programmed to make 99 percent of his shots with less than 10 seconds in the game. I wouldn't be surprised if that were actually the case.
Regardless, NBA 2K11 will be Jordan's time to shine in a basketball simulation for the first time in a long time, and with all the work put into the development, he's sure to come off as the greatest video game athlete of all time, just as he's the greatest actual athlete of all time.