Fans of the Tecmo Super Bowl videogame compete yearly in Madison.
Josh Holzbauer is a Nintendo nerd in an Xbox One world.
As co-founder of the Madison Tecmo Super Bowl, the largest and longest-running public tournament in the United States dedicated to an ancient videogame for the original Nintendo Entertainment System, Josh and his older brother, Chet, will welcome more than 250 players from at least 27 states at the Badger Bowl this weekend.
"There's certainly nothing else quite like it," he says.
The Tecmo Super Bowl videogame cartridge was introduced in 1991 and has amassed a cult following. It was the first sports videogame with licensing privileges from both the National Football League and the NFL Players Association, and though it predated the popular Madden NFL franchise, it used both the names and primitive likenesses of real teams and players. Because the game was not released annually, all rosters are based on the 1990-91 NFL season -- a quirk acknowledged by the Holzbauers in the movie-based themes of all 11 Madison Tecmo Super Bowls held since 2006.
This year's event is dubbed "Apocalipps Now," a play on the name of wide receiver Louis Lipps, who played for the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1990. Previous tournaments have been called "The Gannonball Run" (after Minnesota Vikings quarterback Rich Gannon) and "Marino Royale" (referencing Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino).
"Looking at the game cartridge, holding the controller and playing on the original console brings back a lot of great memories," says Josh, 33, who stopped playing Madden years ago. "The graphics are poor, but a lot of thought goes into strategy. The game is deceptively complex, and it continues to surprise us. We learn new things every year."
A total of 32 NES consoles -- 16 of them from the Holzbauers' personal collection -- will be in action Saturday. Play-in rounds will be held Friday night if more than 256 players sign up. Onsite registrations are welcome; entry fee is $40. (Advance registration is at Tecmomadison.com.)
NFL Films produced a 30-minute documentary about 2012's event, held at Logan's Madtown on West Johnson Street (now the Red Rock Saloon), and it's still rebroadcast at obscure times on the NFL Network and ESPN2.
The Holzbauers each have families and hectic real jobs. Chet, 35, is a lawyer, and Josh works for a software company. This has forced the brothers to ponder the Madison Tecmo Super Bowl's future. "This year is the first time we considered not doing it," Josh says. "This could be the last year. We don't really know."