- Matt Wong, NBA
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The rumble was on. It was 7-on-7. Just fists and elbows. It was a clean fight, until Shannon Sharpe threw some trash in my direction.
"This is what I'm gonna do to you right here," he said with a wry smile.
Not knowing what he meant by that, I let out a nervous laugh.
And that's when the 6'2", 230-pound Sharpe took the brawl to another level, revealing a weapon. With no warning, he sent a bomb into the air with a controller in his hands. People fled. I froze. And a wide-open Rod Smith caught it, ran a few yards and strolled into the end zone for a touchdown.
Sharpe? He exploded in gleeful falsetto: "Eeeee ... I got him. I got him. That's Rod. Yeah boyyyy. That's Rod. Ha-ha-haaaa."
A healthy Jake Plummer had just delivered the battle's first major blow with a TD pass to Rod Smith. And Sharpe, the Denver Broncos mouthy tight end, was letting the entire hotel know who actually orchestrated the drive as he and I played a game of NFL Street, EA's new football title due out in January.
It was a different story five minutes ago, however. The seasoned trash-talker, wasn't getting loud about his gaming skills. In fact, he was a little hesitant about our matchup.
"Man, you play all the time," he said sounding as if he was walking into a trap. "I only play video games with my kids."
But perhaps he was just hustling me. Perhaps this was his kind of game -- a smash-mouth arcade-style football game that kept it simple and rewarded hard hits, flashy plays and lots of attitude.
Or perhaps I had just underestimated him. Because, with the score now in his favor, there was a mischievous grin on his face.
We were playing: first to score 36 points wins. And like you'd expect from a game called NFL Street, there was no punting or kicking. Not even 'going or throwing'. It was all about getting into the end zone. Just like a pick-up game in the schoolyard.
Players had to line up on both offense and defense. There were no helmets, although players could sport a cap, visor or hairstyle any way they wanted. The fields ranged from grass to mud to sand, with trashcans sometimes posing as obstacles and out-of-bounds often the adjacent buildings.
The only difference between this and a real "street" game was that instead of you and your friends pretending to be NFL players, emulating their every move, now you could be them. Even legends like Barry Sanders.
I wanted to be Steve McNair, a guy who could star on both sides of the ball. So I went with the Titans, who thanks to the exaggerated player features really looked like titans.
Naturally, Sharpe wanted to be himself (although he was wearing an old-school Jim Brown jersey). So he took Denver and six other Broncos of his choice. "I've been picking all little guys," he said, having played the game twice before. "We can't run 'cause they can't block. They been killing me."
Lucky for him, his passing attack was just as deadly. Sharpe went to the air on almost every down -- which wasn't a huge surprise, especially given the fact that even back in the day he would line up as receiver and have his brother, Sterling, play QB in the yard.
And with McNair playing DB, linebacker Keith Bullock playing safety, and Kevin Carter and the three-man line getting no pressure up front, he was completing down-field heaves all day, with his second score being another Rod Smith Hail Mary catch.
Sharpe was getting all high-pitched again. I was questioning his playcalling.
"Man, you afraid to run Portis?" I said as boldly as I could for a guy who was just burnt twice by the same play.
"You can't stop it so I'm gonna keep on runnin' it," he replied.
Apparently his verbal attack was also working for him.
But as you'd expect from any schoolyard fight, there would be no backing down from either side. At least until recess was over and the bell rang.
Sharpe was up by 12 after not converting the mandatory two-point conversions. Then a seemingly re-energized Eddie George bullied down the field, bouncing off walls and breaking tackles for my first eight points. And Derrick Mason gave us the lead after returning an interception for a TD.
Sharpe answered back with Trevor Pryce, who caught another lollipop-pass for a score, and even provided a little dance. Sharpe urged him on: "Do it to him like Billy White Shoes." Broncos 18, Titans 16.
Then McNair delivered the play of the game, a behind-the-back laser to Derrick Mason streaking on the left side, which even had Shannon Sharpe impressed and a little embarrassed. That led to another George TD run and enough style points for a Gamebreaker, EA's version of being "on fire" or "in the zone".
Sharpe looked at me and shook his head. He knew what was coming.
I activated the Gamebreaker on his next possession. He was passing again. CB Eddie George read it, plowed through cyber Sharpe, intercepted the ball, and ran it back for a TD -- putting the Titans in the lead and putting on an even more impressive end zone celebration, much to Sharpe's dismay. Titans 30, Broncos 18.
But there would be no quit in Sharpe. His Broncos were driving again. He had completed a pass to his likeness and his cyber double was running down the left sideline, headed for paydirt.
"I can't let you do that!" I said. Determined to prevent him from scoring, knowing full well that if he did with his own self, I might lose all sense of hearing. So with my whole body moving left with the control pad, I rammed Sharpe into the wall right at the goal line for the tackle.
It was a sweet hit, but neither Sharpe seemed shaken. "I'm gonna score now," said the one beside me.
"You know what I feel? he said, his voice getting insanely pitchy. "I feel Gamebreaker. I feel Gamebreaker. I FEEL GAMEBREAKER."
His Gamebreaker meter was flashing and seconds later Portis scored, and Plummer tacked on the two. Titans 30, Broncos 26.
Knowing I didn't have to score on my next possession, I was unfazed and decided to try out the game's different style moves and plays. I ended up not scoring on my next two possessions.
"That's what you get for wantin' to show me up," Sharpe would say later.
Sharpe, on the other hand, marched his team down the field twice more with another barrage of heaves. The last one tipping off Sharpe's hands and right into the grasp of an injury-free Ian Gold right in the end zone. The Broncos won 40-30.
Needless to say, Shannon Sharpe went wild, making noise in impressive fashion, laughing loud, shrieking high and smiling big -- rubbing the loss in my face. His antics proved to be the knockout punch and, well, pretty hilarious.
Proving also that you can get a kick out of the game.
Matt Wong is an editor for ESPN Gamer.
Shannon Sharpe can talk the talk. But when it comes to gaming, can he walk the walk?