The 50 Greatest Video Game Athletes of All Time (with Video)

Scott AltmanCorrespondent IOctober 13, 2010

The 50 Greatest Video Game Athletes of All Time (with Video)

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    You have lost friends, punched siblings, broken televisions, smashed controllers, destroyed game consoles, snapped discs, kicked holes in the wall, and you might have even broken a bone.

    Video games bring out the worst in us. Especially because of the following 50 virtual athletes.

    They can run circles around your defenses, hit three pointers at will, score goals from behind the blue line, and hit 900-foot home runs. You love to play with them, but you cringe at the thought of playing against them.

50. Shaq: NBA Jam

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    Shaq was built for NBA Jam.

    His mammoth size, dunking power, and blocking abilities made him one of the game's elite.  The Big Diesel and teammate Penny Hardaway made for a lethal duo. Hardaway's athleticism allowed for Shaq to draw one on one matchups, which were a cake walk for the Shaqtus.

    And if you were playing against, you were better off trying to chuck up three pointers, because Shaq would not allow you to dunk on him.

49. Larry Bird: NBA 2k3

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    In 2003, NBA 2k decided to pay homage to the game's greats by including them in NBA 2K3. There was a whole lineup of legends and legendary teams to choose from, but one stood about above the rest.

    Larry Bird was unstoppable on the virtual hardwood. He could hit threes at will, pull up and drain and jumper regardless of who was guarding him, and he could force his way into the paint and lay in a finger roll with ease.

    Larry Legend had a short stint in the video game world, but he made it count.

48. Devin Hester: Madden 2008/2009

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    Devin Hester burst into NFL stardom after a return-touchdown-studded 2007 rookie season.  Hester's prowess was so electrifying, that the folks at Madden did the previously unthinkable. They gave Hester a 100 speed rating.

    This marked the first time in Madden history that any player was given a 100 rating in any category. Needless to say, the effects were friendly on Bears fans, and very annoying to everybody playing against them.

47. Brian Moorman: Madden

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    Who says punters can't be awesome in video games?

    OK, so Brian Moorman might not classify as "awesome," but considering he has speed ratings in the 80s, he makes for a deadly weapon. Fake punts become an option every time he trots out for a kick, and his speed allows for effective fake field goals as well.

46. Sammy Sosa: Triple Play Baseball 2000

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    962 foot home runs.

    Isn't this all of the proof we need that Slammin' Sammy was juicing?

45. Shawn Kemp: NBA Jam

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    In his prime, Seattle Supersonics star Shawn Kemp was one of the NBA's most devastating dunkers. Kemp had godly power above the rim and he was not afraid to throw down on anybody who dared step in his way.

    So, naturally, Kemp was a superstar in NBA Jam, a game centered almost entirely on slam dunks.

    Kemp was virtually impossible to stop once he went up for a dunk. His defensive mastery was on par as well. Kemp, as this video shows, was a lock down defender and a ball hawk. He could easily snatch the ball from anybody.

44. Tim Tebow: NCAA Football 2010

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    Although Tebow spent his entire college tenure as a total media darling, his NCAA Football characters never reached the status many Gator fans hoped they would.

    Still, Tebow's size, speed, and throw power combination allowed him to serve as the games best quarterback, and arguably its best player in NCAA Football 2010. Tebow could truck any defender, and Florida's playbook created some unstoppable plays for the QB.

43. Tom Chambers: Lakers Versus Celtics and The NBA Playoffs

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    Tom Chambers had a very underrated and undervalued career. He was an integral player on several contenders, a four-time All-Star, and even a one-time All-Star Game MVP.

    Most importantly, though, Chambers is the best white dunker of all time. His skill has, for one reason or another, fallen largely by the wayside, but mastery is well documented in Lakers versus Celtics and the NBA Playoffs.

42. Wayne Gretzky: Wayne Gretzky's 3D Hockey

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    Easily one of the most underrated sports games of all time, Wayne Gretzky 3D Hockey allowed you to pants your opponent, literally turn your goaltender into a brick wall, and ignite the opposing team's goal into flames.

    Not surprisingly, the greatest player in hockey history was incredible in his own video game. He had arguably the greatest speed and the hardest shot in the game.

41. Tom Brady: Madden 2009

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    Although football's golden boy is yet to surpass Peyton Manning's mastery of the Madden ranks, he has had some wicked awesome virtual characters.

    Tom Brady made arguably his most dominant appearance in Madden 2009. The Patriots spread offense scheme made them almost impossible to stop, and the constant threat of Randy Moss breaking free on a fly route forced you to play conservative.

    Brady could make pinpoint accurate throws across his body, on the run, and in the pocket. He never missed his receivers.

40. Nolan Ryan: Nolan Ryan's Baseball

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    Anytime a video game is named after an athlete, he is guaranteed to be virtually unbeatable. But when that athlete is the greatest pitcher in baseball pitcher, he is really unbeatable.

    Ryan consistently tossed heat in the upper 90s, making defeating the computer a cakewalk.

39. David Ortiz: MLB 06 The Show

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    Big Papi might have been juicing around the time he graced the cover of MLB '06 The Show, but there's no denying how incredibly dominant he was on the virtual diamond.

    Ortiz had insane power, and he could smack home runs off of nearly any pitch. Low and away, high and in, or right down the middle, you were better off just putting him on base.

38. Vince Young: NCAA Football 2006

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    Vince Young's virtual character in NCAA Football 06 represents a whole breed of unstoppable players. For the entirety of its existence, NCAA Football has failed to address the problem of the dual threat quarterback.

    Basically, if you have a scrambling quarterback in any NCAA game, you become almost impossible to stop. So, naturally, the best scrambling quarterback of the past decade, Vince Young, was a superstar in the game. His size, speed, and rocket arm proved overwhelming for anybody playing against him. If you were unfortunate enough to play against him, you're only hope was to keep up on the scoreboard, because you were not going to stop him.

37. Reggie Bush: Madden 2007

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    The Reggie Bush hype reached ridiculous levels as his illustrious collegiate career drew to a close. Once Bush landed with the Saints, not even the folks at Madden could resist the hype.

    Bush was granted an 87 overall rating, making him almost as deadly as his NCAA Football 2006 character. He could not quite pull off the superhuman jukes in Madden, but he could still outrun most defenders in the game.

    Even though Bush-hysteria has died down a little bit, he will enjoy a fruitful career of great video game characters due to his elusive traits.

36. Dominik Hasek: NHL 2K4

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    It's only fitting that "The Dominator" is the only goaltender to make this list.

    In NHL 2K4, Hasek was a truly unique player that hockey video games have failed to replicate. Hockey games are generally geared toward scoring goals to keep players excited and intrigued. Today, regardless of how good the opposing goaltender may be, you can generally score cliche goals.

    Against Hasek, however, nothing worked. He could try all of the one timer, cross ice, slap shot, wrist shot, or double deke moves. He was a brick wall.

35. Didier Drogba: 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa

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    As video games enhance and advance, it becomes increasingly difficult for virtual players to stand out as commanding and dominant.

    However, last summer, Didier Drogba broke the trend. Drogba's power was unparalleled in 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa. If he had the ball on a breakaway, there was no way your defender could either catch up to him or out-power him for possession of the ball.

    Not to mention, Drogba had an absolute rocket-shot, allowing him to score from ridiculous distances and spots on the pitch.

34. Donovan McNabb: Madden 2006 / NFL 2K5

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    If you failed to trade for or draft Michael Vick in a Madden fantasy draft, Donovan McNabb was probably your second choice. McNabb did not possess Vick-like speed, but he was not too far behind.

    Donovan still had a lethal combination of speed and arm strength and accuracy, which made him one of the deadliest and most valuable players in both Madden 2006 and NFL 2K5. Philadelphia's trio of McNabb, Terrell Owens, and Brian Westbrook made the Eagles a small-scale juggernaut in 2005.

33. Ichiro: MLB 09: The Show

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    Despite almost a decade of unparalleled consistency, Ichiro has become one of sport's most under-appreciated athletes.

    The same does not necessarily ring true for virtual Ichiro, however.

    Ichiro can make contact on almost anything thrown at him, he can easily lay down perfect bunt singles, or he can smack a ball into the gap. Similarly, Ichiro's speed makes him a lock to grab a stolen base, and his rocket arm forces you to play your base runners conservatively. When you're playing Ichiro, he's in your head.

32. Brett Favre: NFL QB Club '99

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    If you thought John Madden was the only person who has intimate feelings for Favre, you were wrong.

    Apparently the producers of the N64 football game, NFL QB Club did as well.

    Not only did Favre grace the cover of the game for five straight years, but he was a force to be reckoned with. Understandably, Favre could toss the pigskin around with great accuracy and velocity, but things got a little bit out of hand once he stepped out of the pocket and looked like Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson.

31. LeBron James: NBA Live 08

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    LeBron James has yet to hit his stride in the video game world. That is not to say he has not been great, but he is yet to find his signature game. Teamed up with Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh, LeBron's character in NBA 2K11 might achieve greatness, but we'll have let time decide his fate.

    Anyway, LBJ has still been represented very well in video games over the years. His overpowering size and speed makes him unstoppable to most defenders, and his ability to step back and hit a shot makes him the best player in most basketball games.

    In NBA Live 08, things got a little bit ridiculous for Bron Bron. With the ball in his hands, he was almost a mortal lock to score. James could dunk over anybody, and he could do it in style.

30. Terrell Owens: NFL 2k5

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    The only thing that is truly unrealistic about NFL 2K5 Terrell Owens is the postgame interview he gives in this video. "We really performed well offensively, ran our plays cleanly, and everybody did their part." Doesn't sound like T.O. to me. This is more like it, "I played great today, did my part and scored a touchdown. Everybody else needs to step their games up though."

    Beyond that, however, Owens was a commanding figure in the game, especially when paired up with quarterback Donovan McNabb. Owens could outrun most any defensive back and haul in a deep pass, or he could take a short pass, shed a tackle or two, and sprint into the end zone.

    T.O. was the best receiver in the NFL circa 2005, and fittingly, was the best receiver in this game.

29. Marshall Faulk: Madden 2003

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    Marshall Faulk may have fallen victim to the Madden curse after landing the cover spot in 2003, but he made his days as the game's best running back count.

    Faulk had blazing speed and ankle-breaking jukes. Most vital to his success, though, was his reliability on swing and screen passes. Getting Faulk into space usually equated to touchdowns or massive gains.

    And it didn't exactly hurt that the Rams offense featured Kurt Warner, Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt.

28. Kobe Bryant: NBA 2k10

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    Considering Kobe Bryant dominates the NBA ranks at will, it's no surprise that his video game character is dominant on the virtual hardwood. Basketball video games still seem to allow for uber-dominant players, and Kobe fits that pedigree.

    Kobe was deadly from basically everywhere on the court, particularly once he had the ball on a fastbreak. He could also hit almost any shot from behind the arc, making him a force to the reckoned with.

27. Pavel Bure: NHL '94 / '95

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    Time passes, but one video game law remains the same: Speed kills.

    In NHL 95, Pavel Bure possessed god-like speed and was therefore god-like in his play. With the puck on his stick, Bure could weave through or around defenders, creating breakaways and easy goal scoring opportunities.

26. Walter Payton: Tecmo Bowl

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    It only makes sense that the best running back in NFL history dominate the virtual ranks as well.

    Sweetness was not quite on par with Bo Jackson or Christian Okoye, but the man was still nearly impossible to stop.

25. Reggie Bush: NCAA Football 2006

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    Reggie Bush's dominance at USC translated believably into NCAA Football 2006. Bush flashed spin moves and juke moves that few others players could, and was equally as threatening offensively as he was returning kicks.

    Unfortunately, because of the recent sanctions involving Bush, the NCAA has essentially erased all records and remnants of his collegiate career. So, it looks like virtual Reggie Bush is now the last remaining evidence of the running back's glory days at USC.

24. Shaq: NBA Live 2005

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    He could stuff the crap out of anybody, and he could throw down emotionally scarring dunks on anybody.

    If Shaq was on any of your video game basketball teams since 1996, there's a good chance you crushed your opponent. O' Neal has been so dominant throughout the duration of his virtual career that he essentially forced your opponents to rely on perimeter shots.

    Kobe and Dwayne Wade only further accentuated his stature. He could easily set them up for wide open three pointers, or feed them wide open alley oops.

23. Allen Iverson: NBA 2k3

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    Allen Iverson had the perfect video game athlete DNA.

    He played point guard, a position often relied on for a majority of scoring in NBA video games. He had lightning quickness, smooth ball handling skills, a deadly jumper, and a knack for getting to the hoop and drawing fouls.

    Iverson landed on the cover of NBA 2K3, and made his presence felt. His speed was too much for defenders to handle. He could easily go coast to coast by just running around or crossing over defenders, and then finish the play with a signature finger roll.

22. Barry Sanders: Madden 1998

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    Short, shifty, preposterous speed, and inconceivable juke moves summarizes Barry Sanders' running style. It also summarizes the perfect blend of attributes for a great video game football player.

    Oddly, virtual Barry Sanders never quite found a niche or signature game like so many other video game athletes of his time did. Madden 98 stands out to most as the game Sanders stood out in, but he hardly reached legendary status there.

    It looks like he just fell through the cracks in the video game world, but that should not diminish the greatness he still displayed. There's no evidence of Sanders' in Madden 98 on the Internet, but this video does him a little bit of justice.

21. Adrian Peterson: NCAA Football 2007

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    If you'll notice this photo, Adrian Peterson is starting his touchdown celebration at the 50 yard line. This is because he knows damn well that he's going to score. And if you were playing against Peterson in NCAA Football 2007, you knew he was too.

    Peterson was an absolute workhorse in NCAA '07. He could steamroll any defenders, or he could just run by them. Check out his ratings:

    Overall: 98
    Speed: 93
    Strength: 80
    Awareness: 87
    Agility: 92
    Acceleration: 96
    Catch: 62
    Carry: 97
    Jump: 84
    Break Tackle: 98

20. Michael Jordan: NBA 2K11

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    Michael Jordan is coming out of retirement again! Sort of.

    M.J. is gracing the cover of NBA 2K11, a game which is already being hailed as legendary. Because of its recent release, we must allow time for folk tales of Jordan's dominance to start spreading. If his video game character matches M.J.'s real life greatness, he could catapult into elite video game athlete company.

19. Allejo: International Superstar Soccer

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    Brazil's fictional soccer stud Allejo slipped through the cracks in the annals of video game athlete history, but his dominance must be recognized.

    Allejo's anonymity still hurts his stance on this list, but based on stories and video evidence, he might actually be worthy of a top ten spot. He broke free on breakaways almost every single time he had the ball, and goaltenders had little to no chance of stopping him.

18. Christian Okoye: Tecmo Bowl

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    Unlike some of the other Tecmo Bowl superstars on this list, Christian Okoye was a different breed. Rather than run around in circles, evading diving defenders, Okoye chose the straight ahead, bulldozer route.

    Okoye was nicknamed the Nigerian Nightmare not because he was guaranteed to shed four or five tackles on any given play, unless Lawrence Taylor was lining up against him. How many concussions did Tecmo Bowl Christian Okoye suffer? Enough to cut his career disappointingly short.

17. Mario Lemieux: NHL 94

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    Mario Lemieux is considered by many as the best pound for pound hockey player of all time. Lemieux towered over Wayne Gretzky with his 6-foot-4, 235 pound frame. His size allowed him to wreak havoc in all aspects of the game, and provide a more dominating presence than the Great One.

    That real life dominance transferred directly into NHL '94 where Lemieux was a lock for multiple goals every game. He could fly down the ice, coast to coast, untouched, making opposing goaltenders his prey.

16. Thomas Johansson: Virtua Tennis

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    In order for a tennis player to make this list, he had to be pretty darn special.

    An overbearing serve, powerful forehand, and insane court coverage allowed Thomas Johansson to do so. Whether controlled by human or computer, Johansson's agility made him incredibly difficult to defeat.

    Once he had you running from side to side on the court, you were doomed.

15. Ricky Henderson: RBI Baseball 4

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    As we touched on earlier, there's one thing that remains true in sports video games: speed kills.

    In RBI Baseball 4, Rickey Henderson had speed, and power, and amazing contact skills. So long as Rickey put the ball in play, he was probably going to reach base. And once he was on base, he was probably going to steal second. And once he was on second he was probably going to steal third.

    Henderson's power made him the game's most valuable asset, and one of the best virtual baseball players of all time.

14. Peyton Manning: Madden... Ever Year

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    We can all appreciate EA Sports and Madden's attempts to authenticate every facet of the NFL game experience, but if there's one thing that they could just ignore, it's the obnoxious pre-snap jabber of Peyton Manning.

    Everybody has played against Manning at some point or another, and cringed as he runs around the backfield, wearing the play clock down to one second, and then proceeding to toss a touchdown to Reggie Wayne behind your stingy cover 3 defense.

    Manning has been the NFL's most consistent player over the past decade, and that consistency has carried over into the video game world. He has a 99 overall rating virtually every year, and always makes for a great first round pick in Madden fantasy drafts.

13. Jon Dowd: MVP Baseball 2005

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    Because Barry Bonds is a grumpy human being, he refused to join the MLBPA, therefore preventing his likeness from being used in any MLB licensed video games. In order to compensate for the home run king's absence, alter-egos were created.

    MLB 2K7 used "Joe Young" as a pseudonym for Bonds, and MLB 07 created "Reggie Stocker" in place of the slugger. However, both paled in comparison to the prowess of EA MVP Baseball's Jon Down.

    Dowd was constructed as a complete contrast to Bonds. He was white, right handed, and didn't use any of the military-issued armor that Bonds used to pack onto his right arm. When it came to baseball, though, Dowd was, like his alter-ego, flat out scary to pitch to. Few video game athletes actually threatened human pitchers like Dowd did in his day, and few video game baseball players took humans deep as many times as he did.

12. Charles Barkley: Barkley Shut Up and Jam!

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    Sir Charles might not have been the type of player to just "shut up" considering his big-mouth reputation, but his virtual athlete could jam.

    Barkley was a monster in his own game. He could roll over and steal the ball from anybody, deny any player going up for a dunk, and drive his way to the basket at will.

11. Reggie Jackson: RBI Baseball

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    Reggie Jackson spent the majority of his professional baseball career crushing home runs in baseball parks across the nation. That power followed him into the world of RBI Baseball.

    Mr. October was actually in the fading years of his career when RBI Baseball came out, but the then California Angel was the best player in the game. He could smash homers at will, and his batting skills are rivaled only by Jon Dowd and Ken Griffey, Jr.

10. Randall Cunningham: Tecmo Bowl

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    Randall Cunningham, also known as "QB Eagles" was Michael Vick before there was Michael Vick.

    Cunningham could seamlessly weave through the pocket and scramble for huge gains, and possess an equally impressive arm.

9. Scottie Pippen: NBA Jam

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    While Michael Jordan was hitting fly balls instead of three pointers in 1993, Scottie Pippen was given the chance to ascend to "His Airness'" throne, and show that he did not need M.J. to win a title. Pippen failed to do so, but he secured a title of other sorts: the best player in NBA Jam.

    Considering NBA Jam is arguably the best basketball game of all time, it is no petty title. Pippen was unstoppable with the ball in his hands. He was deadly from behind the arc, and was one of few players who rarely lost the ball.

    Had Jordan been in the game, he and Pippen would have teamed up to create the best video game basketball team of all time. Instead, that honor might soon go to the Miami Heat in NBA 2K11.

8. Randy Moss: NFL 2k3

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    It's tough to distinguish who was more dominant: real life Randy Moss or NFL 2K Randy Moss.

    Both were virtual locks to reel in any deep pass, but considering virtual Randy Moss was capable of hauling in about six per game, he gets the edge.

    Moss received some of the ole "Cover Boy Treatment," and he was literally unstoppable.

7. Ken Griffey Jr.: Any of the Ken Griffey Jr. Games

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    Ken Griffey Jr. set countless records during the duration of his storied 19 year career. But which one is the most impressive? How about earning starring roles in four video games?

    Griffey not only graced the cover of two Super Nintendo, and two N64 baseball games, but all four were named after Junior. In Ken Griffey Jr. Presents Major League Baseball, Ken Griffey, Jr.'s Winning Run, Major League Baseball featuring Ken Griffey, Jr., and Ken Griffey, Jr.'s Slugfest, Griffey was a juggernaut. He could blast a home run every single time he came up to bat, especially if he was being controlled by a human.

    He had amazing speed, and could easily swat 70 home runs in a season.

6. Sunday Tiger Woods: Tiger Woods PGA Tour

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    Before his life imploded, Tiger Woods was virtually unbeatable on the golf course. He was equally dangerous on the virtual golf course. Not only was Tiger on the cover EA Sports' annual golf game, but the game is actually named after the golfer.

    So, naturally, he is nothing short of a juggernaut. If you were lucky enough to make the cut and stay in contention on Sunday, good luck fending off "Sunday" Tiger Woods. "Sunday" Tiger is essentially Tiger Woods 2.0, and if you wanted to beat him, you better play the best round of virtual golf of your life.

5. Lawrence Taylor: Tecmo Bowl

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    If you have noticed any trends on this list, one might be the absence of defenders. The reasoning behind this is, quite simply, defenders rarely steal the spotlight in video games. Great video game linebackers, defensemen, and shortstops are vital to creating a successful video game dynasty, but rarely do they create highlight reels.

    That is why Lawrence Taylor's Tecmo Bowl character is so special. He caused chaos and wreaked havoc on offenses, and he was the only player capable of putting a lid on Walter Payton, Christian Okoye, and Bo Jackson.

    He flew around the field, sideline to sideline, chasing down any player regardless of their speed. One could make a compelling case that L.T. deserves the top spot on this list, and it would be tough to argue.

4. Jeremy Roenick: NHL 94

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    The legend of Jeremy Roenick's NHL '94 character was built largely in thanks to a scene in the 1996 comedy "Swingers" where Vince Vaughn dominates Patrick Van Horn in a game of NHL '94. Roenick is spotted skating circles around Van Horn's team, burying every shot he takes into the back of the net.

    Roenick's '94 video game character can only be compared to some of these Tecmo Bowl football players. He could skate around the ice without losing the puck, and then easily whip a no look backhander behind the opposing goaltender.

    Hence, Jeremy Roenick takes the honor of most dominant video game hockey player of all time.

3. Michael Vick: Madden 2004

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    You could drop back 50 yards and still scramble your way into the end zone, or you could drop back 50 yards and sling a rocket-pass 80 yards down field to an open receiver. Basically, if you were playing with Michael Vick in Madden '04 (or '07), anything was possible.

    Vick's Madden character has reached legend status, and if he finishes his career without a Super Bowl ring, it's plausible to believe that his video game character career will carry as much notoriety as his actual career.

    The Atlanta Falcons teams featuring Vick led to countless arguments between you and your friends before you finally just outlawed the team all together. That being said, it was possible to stop Vick. If you played a strict QB Contain defense and forced him to throw, you could at least limit the damage.

    By the way, Falcons receiver Brian Finneran never enjoyed so much success on the NFL stage as he did in Madden alongside Vick. For one reason or another, Finneran was just always open.

2. Mike Tyson: Mike Tyson's Punch Out

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    You could not beat him.

    Few saw Tyson actually witnessed Tyson fall to the mat, and those who claim they knocked out the champ were always hammered with doubt and skepticism. There was probably one kid on your street who claims to have defeated Tyson, but his words became that of folklore.

    However, it was possible to beat Iron Mike. All the evidence you need is right here in this video. So, for those of you who don't believe it was possible, or want to pull out the Nintendo for another go around, have a watch.

1. Bo Jackson: Tecmo Super Bowl

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    Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson is everything we love and everything we hate about video games.

    He was untouchable and unbeatable. He was a juggernaut, and his video game character has reached epic and godly status.

    Few other video game athletes dominated their games like Bo did. He could literally run circles around defenders, turn a 100 yard run into a 400 yard run, and bulldoze any defender who dared stand in his path.

    As much as you loved playing with him and despised playing against him, the days of Bo Jackson video game characters have come to a close. Thankfully, video evidence of his legendary prowess will never perish.