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Thursday, August 6, 2009
Adieu, pixilated legend: Jeremy Roenick was a video game god


Twenty years. Nine NHL All-Star Game appearances. Two Olympics. A staggering 1,216 points. Brutal checks and even more brutal honesty. Taken in total, a heck of a hockey career. But none of that is the real reason I'll mourn the retirement of Jeremy Roenick.

No, I'll miss Roenick marauding through "NHL '94" like an Abrams battle tank.

The pantheon of greatest video-game athletes generally consists of Bo Jackson from "Tecmo Super Bowl" and everybody else. This is a grave oversight. It should be Bo Jackson, Roenick and everybody else. Because while Roenick's digital doppelganger is best misremembered for making Wayne Gretzky's head bleed in "Swingers" -- actually, it was Steve Larmer -- the truth is that he was so much more: stealer of pucks, scorer of goals, fast and agile and uncheckable, a fight- and faceoff-winning Terminator sent from the future to destroy professional hockey -- before it could lock out an entire season and move half its franchises to puck-loving markets such as Phoenix -- one bleeding, twitching opponent at a time.

In an era of virtual legends -- preceded by Vince Coleman from "RBI Baseball" and Philadelphia QB #12 from "Madden '92;" succeeded by Pavel Bure from "NHL '95" and Michael Vick from "Madden 2005" -- Roenick reigned supreme. No pixilated player -- not even Bo -- has been responsible for more dorm-room and frat-house money changing hands. He was, in short, the 16-bit answer to suspense writer Peter Benchley's Architeuthis. The beast. Roenick could not be stopped, couldn't be contained; the only real way to slow him down was to turn offsides and penalties "ON." But who wants to play like that?

Unlike many of his on-screen peers, Roenick came by his success honestly. He wasn't godlike because of a programming glitch, à la dunk-from-the-3-point-line Tom Chambers in "Lakers vs. Celtics." He didn't thrive because of high ratings in a couple of categories that were overvalued by his particular game (Bure's speed, Vick's speed and arm strength). He lacked the ginned-up, CPU-controlled, can't-press-a-button-that-fast abilities of Mike Tyson in "Punch-Out!" Roenick wasn't even the highest-rated player in his game. He was simply an all-around stud without a weakness. Without peer. He could flatten an opposing winger with a head-on open-ice crosscheck, seize the puck in the same motion, outskate defenders the other way and blast a fake-middle, shoot-post wrister past the goalie with the same ease with which he won fights. What more could a gamer ask for?

Oh, and the great Tecmo Bo? Only played one way.

Double-Down Trent from "Swingers" was right. It was never about us, always about Roenick. He really was that good. And so, I bid him adieu. As long as there are Sega Genesis emulators -- note: these might be illegal; I'm speaking in a purely theoretical sense -- he will never be forgotten.