Josh McCown had just found out that Larry Fitzgerald was a new video game coverboy and it took about 15 seconds before the first challenge was issued quietly from Cardinals quarterback to Cardinals receiver.
“I’ll have to bone up a little,” McCown said later to a reporter. “But I’ll be ready to face off.”
Fitzgerald’s appearance on the front of the Electronic Arts’ college football game NCAA Football 2005 has created a small stir inside the Cardinals’ locker room. Shoe deals are still where the big money is, but the cover of a video game carries some serious prestige.
It’s a little odd, with Fitzgerald gracing the front of a college game when he has made the jump to the NFL. The college game must use NFL rookies because they can’t use current college players as spokesmen.
Besides, the eloquent and polite Fitzgerald is a good frontman for any product. He says all the right things — except when the subject shifts to his own playing of video football.
ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt found that out last week when, guest-hosting on Dan Patrick’s radio show, he interviewed Fitzgerald about his video game fame. Van Pelt, a huge fan of EA’s NCAA game, made his expertise clear during the broadcast. Then Fitzgerald started trash-talking.
The two planned to play a game. Fitzgerald expects he’ll make it to New York at some point and make a side trip to Bristol, Conn., and ESPN to play Van Pelt and “spank him up a little bit.”
Van Pelt, reached by phone Wednesday, wasn’t about to let that comment slide without returning the trash talk, not after Van Pelt had logged more than 600 games on his copy of NCAA Football 2004.
“It’s hard to believe I won’t be good,” Van Pelt smacked back. “(The talking) is fine and good. That’s OK. He’s not in the real world yet.”
There’s even something on the line. A Van Pelt win, and Fitzgerald must write “Scott Van Pelt kicked my (butt)” on his shoes for a game. A Fitzgerald win, and Van Pelt has to mention it on SportsCenter.
Van Pelt said Fitzgerald worried during the radio interview who might pay the NFL fine if he defaced his game shoes, a notion that Van Pelt said “shows he has subliminal doubt.”
Such is the high-stakes world of video games.
Inside the locker room, the winnings aren’t quite as tangible.
“I know he thinks he’s No. 1 because he’s a cover boy but he’s gonna have to hold that title,” running back Marcel Shipp said with a grin. “They gave him the title, but he won’t have it for too long.”
It might not matter, because Fitzgerald already has side benefits, like exposure. Last year’s version, NCAA Football 2004, sold 1.6 million copies, Electronic Arts’ second biggest seller behind the NFL game Madden 2004.
As for eventually being the first-ever double cover guy for NCAA and Madden, Fitzgerald hesitates. The Madden cover history is a scary one, with the last four cover subjects all suffering injuries or subpar seasons: Michael Vick, Marshall Faulk, Daunte Culpepper and Eddie George (Ray Lewis is on the 2005 cover).
For now, Fitzgerald will enjoy his NCAA cover and plans to take on all challenges — although that’s not his biggest concern in the locker room. “I’m more worried that everyone is going to start asking for the game and I’m going to have to come up with them out of my own pocket,” Fitzgerald said.
And indeed, that’s the thing most of his teammates said they wanted, more than a shot at beating Fitzgerald.
“It’s hard to challenge a man on his own game,” tackle L.J. Shelton said. “But I’m going to ask him for a free game, I know that. We’ve all got 50 bucks to go get it, but there’s nothing wrong with free stuff.”