NFL players get their gamer faces on
Monday, October 8, 2007
USA Today


LEESBURG, Va. — Halo 3 is just a game. But the Washington Redskins weren't playing around when they joined the Cincinnati Bengals and San Francisco 49ers for some multiplayer, video game action on Microsoft's newest version of its science fiction blockbuster starring legendary gaming hero Master Chief.
Several players recently converged on the home of Redskins receiver Brandon Lloyd to get a sneak peek at the game before it hit stores Sept. 25. To spice up the competition, Microsoft brought several flat-panel displays and connected the Redskins with some of the NFL's other Halo fanatics — a Bengals squad led by quarterback Carson Palmer and a 49ers crew headlined by quarterback Alex Smith.

Had the Halo competition been scored like an NFL game, the Redskins would have cruised in a runaway. Washington repeatedly shellacked their opponents, even when the 49ers and Bengals joined forces against them.

"You guys are the laughingstock of the online gaming community," Lloyd trash-talked into his headset. "How about I play with my eyes closed?"

Later, Lloyd conceded that he and his teammates, fullbacks Mike Sellers and Nehemiah Broughton, regularly scrimmage in online games. "We have a rapport with each other online," Lloyd says.

Lloyd, Palmer and many other NFL players had been waiting eagerly for the arrival of Halo 3."I just think everything about it is so cool — the graphics, the new weapons, the way you can compete with everyone online," Palmer says.

Adds Lloyd: "NFL players are just like everyone else who loves video games. We just have different jobs. We are still very much attached to the gaming community."

For many pro athletes, video games offer a form of entertainment that they delve into at home and on the road. "It's something to compete on that's different from what we do every day as a job," Palmer says. "You're always looking for another game to play. And if you don't have people there with you, you can play at home against somebody anywhere (online)."

Many players initially gravitate to sports video games, especially Madden NFL, a video game powerhouse that sells millions each year — and more than 60 million copies since its initial version in 1989.

Madden matches are a daily ritual for teams such as the San Diego Chargers and Baltimore Ravens. "Those matches get intense," says Chargers cornerback Quentin Jammer.

"For guys like us, there's so much pressure in our jobs that the biggest thing we get out of playing games is it's kind of a release," says Ravens tight end Todd Heap. "You can really take your mind off of everything and relax."

As a student-athlete at Nebraska, running back Ahman Green was introduced to games such as Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto. "Those games are just as fun as sports games. It expanded my horizons," he says.

At his home in Green Bay, Wis., Green installed a 100-inch, high-definition projection TV to play video games on when he was with the Packers. These days he has to make due with his 70-inch plasma display in Houston after he signed with the Texans in the offseason. "I can just play for hours and be comfortable," he says. "It takes me to a different place and gets me out of the real world for a little bit.

"It's like reading a book. You can go to that place in the book and forget the world. That's why guys play games."

Player profiles

Ahman Green

Running back, Houston Texans

•Experience: First system was ColecoVision, then owned by Nintendo Entertainment System; also played on Sega Genesis, Sony PlayStation, PlayStation 2, Microsoft's Xbox and Xbox 360.

•Favorite games:Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six series, NCAA Football, Gears of War, Madden NFL, Halo

•Now playing: Halo 2. "In Green Bay, Madden was the game of choice. Here (in Houston) it's Halo. It brings on the camaraderie. We get in there sometimes for two hours, laughing and having a good time, getting connected and bonding. … I have nephews that play online in Nebraska and a friend in Milwaukee. If we don't talk on the phone, we're talking online."

Todd Heap

Tight end, Baltimore Ravens

•Experience: A gamer since the arrival of the Nintendo Entertainment System

•Favorite games:Call of Duty, Halo, Madden NFL

•Now playing: "Old arcade games on Xbox Live. I have my daughter playing Ms. Pac-man, and I have a competition with brother-in-laws to see who can get the top score on Championship Pac-Man. … In the locker room, it's always Madden."

Quentin Jammer

Cornerback, San Diego Chargers

•Experience: Began playing Nintendo. Now owns Xbox 360, Sony PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii.

•Favorite games:Gears of War and Halo.

•Now playing:Wii Sports. "It's pretty awesome. You have to actually use the controller as a bat, golf club or tennis racquet and use it to simulate a bowling motion or throwing punches. It's kind of childish, but it's very fun and addictive."

Brandon Lloyd

Wide receiver, Washington Redskins

•Experience: Longtime gamer who got hooked on Halo 2

•Favorite Games: Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six: Las Vegas, NBA 2K7 and Halo 2.

•Now playing: "I play Rainbow Six: Las Vegas religiously. I like the realism and the real guns and the human aspect of Rainbow Six and the (tactical) strategy."

Carson Palmer

Quarterback, Cincinnati Bengals

•Experience: First games played were Super Mario Bros., and Tecmo Bowl for the Nintendo Entertainment System. Now has Xbox 360.

•Favorite games:Halo and Madden NFL

•Now playing:Halo 2. "It's the game I play most because of online. (The Bengals) have a game room and Halo is the game played because we can have eight guys playing at a time."

Mark Setterstrom

Guard, St. Louis Rams

•Experience: Played as a kid and then bought the original Sony PlayStation. Now owns a PlayStation 3.

•Favorite games: Tiger Woods PGA Tour•Now playing: Tiger Woods 08. "I prefer to play games where others are playing because that leads to some good competition. I like most any sports games or anything where you can compete against another player such as racing games. When playing with others it allows for social time and some good ribbing."

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