What if you had the chance to play one of your favorite athletes in a video game? For any kid, that would be the opportunity of a lifetime. For me, that chance came in the early 1980’s right in the middle of the Islanders’ Stanley Cup dynasty. The actual date of the special day is just about the only thing that’s a little foggy to me about one of the great thrills that I experienced as a sports fan growing up.
What I do remember vividly is New seeing an advertisement in Newsday for an incredible event at Macy’s in the Roosevelt Field Mall on Long Island. That day, some lucky fans would have the chance to play Islanders star Bryan Trottier in a game of Activision Ice Hockey, a video game for the old Atari 2600.
Are you freaking kidding me?
At the time, “Ice Hockey” was my favorite video game and Bryan Trottier was one of my favorite players on my favorite sports team and just the chance of playing him in a game was intriguing and exciting. It would be like telling my kids today that they could play a video game on Xbox with Islanders captain Anders Lee or Mets first baseman Pete Alonso. Over the past couple of years, they had the chance to play Madden with a couple of Jets players at the “Jets House” event so they have a bit of an idea of what my special day was like.
But…selfishly….my day was better!
I couldn’t contain my excitement when I saw that newspaper ad so I called my friend Robert and asked him if he wanted to go with me. While Rob admittedly stunk at the game, everybody who participated in the event received an autographed photo of Trottier so he was all-in. If I remember correctly, my father drove us to Roosevelt Field and we made our way to the electronics department at Macy’s.
The way the event worked was that five people went up at a time and played the “computer” in a game. Whoever won and scored the most goals advanced to meet Trottier in a game. That lucky person from each group also received a special puck. Rob and I made sure we were in the same group so that he could let me know how I was doing compared to the rest of the people in the group.
Not to pat myself on the back, but I will, I was really good at the game. I played the game at home so often that I was able to figure out a pattern against the computer. I never lost and rarely ever scored any less than 30 goals in a game. That day at Macy’s, I was on fire. About a minute into the game, Rob told me I had nothing to worry about. I was 10 goals ahead of the next closest person and I cruised to victory. I think I hit 40 goals against the computer, but that wasn’t important.
What was important was that I had won my group and advanced to play No. 19 of my Islanders in a video game of ice hockey.
Needless to say, I was thrilled and Rob was equally thrilled for me. I was also a nervous wreck as I was led over to the area with Trots. He shook my hand and the game was underway. Trottier jumped out to a quick lead on me and it was just tough to get into a rhythm. With about a minute left in the game, Trots was beating me 7-2 before I was finally able to get things going. 7-3. 7-4. 7-5. And then I cut the lead to 7-6 with a few seconds left. I won the face-off and was heading down the screen for a shot but before I could get it off, time ran out.
I lost to Bryan Trottier 7-6, but I really wasn’t upset about it. In fact, I felt great. I had won my group and had the opportunity to spend a few minutes with one of my favorite athletes playing a video game. We shook hands after the game and I wished him best of luck the rest of the season and of course, it was capped off with another Stanley Cup for the Islanders.
I was also given that puck that read “Activision Ice Hockey…The Puck Stops Here” on it.
For almost four decades, I have had that puck in my sports memorabilia collection. I just never had the chance to get him to sign it. I’d either be at a game or an event that he would be at and I would not have the puck with me or I would bring the puck to a game or event I knew he would be at and just couldn’t get near him to get it signed.
But a couple of years ago, Trottier made an appearance at the Islanders draft party at Nassau Coliseum. Knowing he would be there, I brought the puck with me hoping to meet him and get it signed. As he was getting ready to go on stage for a Jumbotron interview, I was able to make my way over to that area and he signed the puck for me. He was looking at it and I reminded him of when I got it and he responded, “Wow … that was a long time ago!”
When you’re a kid, it’s always cool to meet a professional athlete, especially if he’s a star player on your favorite team. I think my experience that day with Bryan Trottier was way ahead of it’s time. Today, video games are such a big phenomenon with the way the games look to the on-line capabilities to all the tournaments and now there’s even professional players.
My kids have been lucky enough to experience what it’s like to play a professional athlete in a video game but they were able to do something that I wasn’t able to do with Trottier the day of the event or years later when he signed the puck…I still need to get that selfie with Trots and the puck and now that’s the final piece of the puzzle!
Now all I need to do is get my hands on an original Atari 2600 and the Ice Hockey game so that I could really go back in time and relive my youth. A vintage video game store recently opened up not far from my home on Long Island. When this craziness in the world is over, I might just…well you know. Hey Bryan Trottier…you up for a rematch?