Posted: Tuesday November 7, 2006 3:52PM; Updated: Wednesday November 8, 2006 12:28PM
Johnson was wearing an elaborately decorated pair of blue jeans and a sweatsuit jacket, a fitted Yankees cap perched atop his head. Around his neck blinged a long chain with a Roc-A-Fella records pendant swinging back and forth at the end of it. (That appears to explain the Roc-a-Fella dynasty sign LJ makes after scoring touchdowns.) It was just over 36 hours since LJ had piled up 172 yards on 27 carries in the Chiefs 31-17 win over the Rams.
LJ gave Gears of War a spin and was quickly exterminated. I approached him soon after and we had this conversation...
Me: LJ, what's up? I'm Lang, doing something about this event for SI.com. So are you a gamer?
Me: What game do you mostly play?
Me: When they told me you were coming in for this thing I thought for sure you'd be all sore after that game you had yesterday. You're not all beat up today?
Me: Have you had a chance yet to speak with Joe Paterno after that hit he took this weekend?
Alrighty, then. And I didn't even get to tell him that my SI.com editor asked me to break his leg to slow his fantasy football dominance.
Toomer was the other side of the spectrum -- laid back, cool, talkative. I've lived in Manhattan for six years now and endured a barrage of daily Giants coverage, but I still wouldn't be able to pick Toomer out of a lineup of various high profile New York-area athletes; Toomer is consistently overshadowed by the Giants' bigger name and mouthed players. But his numbers are stunning in their consistency: Since 1997, he's missed all of one NFL game for the Giants. I liked him even more once my friend Sam pointed out that Amani is one of the Giants players who doesn't do a Jim Jones-inspired "Ballin'" dance after a big play.
Standing a few inches taller than everyone else in attendance, Toomer's eyes widened as he saw Gears of War. He likes shooting games, he admitted, though his favorite game is Fight Night, the boxing simulation. We chatted for a few minutes, and then Amani accepted my challenge to play a game of Madden.
Over the last five years, I've made something of a cottage industry out of playing against athletes at these video game exhibitions. I once pounded Jason Kidd in a game of NBA Live, even as I handicapped myself by using the Atlanta Hawks. I hung on for dear life to edge Carmelo Anthony in a game of NCAA March Madness. Freddy Adu beat me at FIFA on a fluke goal. Marcus Camby dominated me so badly at Madden that the unofficial mercy rule (generally applied during games between pro athletes once a team has a three touchdown lead) had to be invoked.
While we found a place to play, I peppered Amani with questions: No, they don't play video games at the Giants training facility. Yes, growing up in Berkeley, Calif., involved attending many socio-political rallies and marches ("I thought that was just something everyone did."). Yes, he's usually sore on the day following games. Yes, he's picking the G-Men to win the Superbowl.
Someone found a copy of Madden and slipped it in the 360. Amani handed me a controller and he grabbed a wireless controller. As the choose teams screen came up, before anything could happen the game started loading up, so we were stuck playing the Cardinals (me) against the 49ers (him), a barnburner if ever there was one; if this was a Sunday Night game, NBC would have quickly flexed the schedule on us. "Aw man, I bet I'm stuck using Kurt Warner, too..." I muttered, before realizing that Warner was Toomer's quarterback just a season ago. Toomer either didn't hear me or he let it slide.
The game began, and it instantly became clear that my controller wasn't working, so Amani soldiered on against the computer. He won the coin toss, ran the kick off back to the 25, and then ran a play-action pass for a 30-yard gain. He then ran three more play-actions, all of them incompletions, and after lining up to punt on fourth down he audibled into a fake-punt run, which went for 3 yards and a turnover on downs. This wasn't exactly textbook football play calling, but this wasn't exactly real football either, and Toomer appeared to have had enough football in the last 24 hours. He set down the controller, looked at his watch and saw that it was approaching 10:00 p.m., and moments later he somehow squeezed through the crowd and made his escape. It was a move even Tom Coughlin would've been proud of.