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Everyone has their own story about how they got into sports. From watching games with their families to playing pick-up games in their neighborhoods, kids develop a love for a game at an early age. Whether they stay fans or go on to play the game at a minor league (where applicable) or professional level, it all starts with that first moment.
For many who grew up in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the Backyard Sports series is what really got kids hooked into sports. Debuting in 1997, the Backyard Sports series has released more than 50 games, featuring dozens professional athletes from various sports. All of this starting with a white ball with red laces.
25 years ago, the first game of the series, Backyard Baseball, was released by Humongous Entertainment. Its roster was made up of all original characters who would return in nearly every game that followed. Names like Pablo Sanchez, Pete Wheeler, Achmed Kahn and Keisha Phillips would become known to the kids that played it.
Since the game didn’t have a license with Major League Baseball, players also didn’t have the ability to use regular teams such as the New York Yankees or St. Louis Cardinals. Instead, players could choose from a pool of team names including the Melonheads, Wombats and Fishes. That didn’t stop the creators from sneaking in some clever references to teams including the Socks (you can choose the first name of red or white to reference the real life team) and the Bombers (one of the Yankees’ nicknames).
Minus power ups that could be unlocked in game, Backyard Baseball served more as a way to teach the game in a fun way. While it didn’t teach concepts of advanced ideas such as balks or interference, it was meant to show kids the basics of the sport in a more accessible kind of way.
Following the success of Backyard Baseball, Backyard Soccer and Backyard Football would be released. Similar their predecessor, these two served as a way to teach soccer and football, respectively, to their younger audiences. The games also didn’t feature their respective leagues licenses, so the kids from baseball returned as playable characters.
This would change a year later.
In 1999, a second Backyard Football would be released. This time, along with one of the originals on the cover, San Francisco 49ers’ legendary quarterback Steve Young was also featured, marking the beginning of the professional players era of the game.
Despite having to shrink the original cast of characters down, legendary names like Detroit Lions’ running back Barry Sanders, San Francisco wide receiver Jerry Rice and Denver Broncos’ quarterback John Elway now joined the fold. Though a sample of what was to come, it gave kids the chance to play as some of their favorite players they watched in real life.
Along with well known stars, real life NFL teams were also included for the first time. Unlike future games however, you were fully allowed customize the real life teams including changing their city to an adjective and changing the team colors. It may have been short lived, but a quick google search will show creations such as the “Amazing Jaguars” with their green and purple jerseys.
Following the success of the relaunched Backyard Football, each game would now try and push the envelope for star players. Several players including Hall of Famers like Denver Broncos’ running back Terrell Davis, New York Yankees’ shortstop Derek Jeter and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Randy Johnson would join the fray. Even players who never lived up to expectations such as Chicago Bears’ quarterback Cade McNown and Minnesota Twins’ utility man Marty Cordova were invited to play.
Humongous Entertainment would also start looking into other sports over the years such as basketball (released in 2001), hockey (released in 2002), and skateboarding (released in 2004). Along with these games came pros such as Los Angeles Sparks’ center Lisa Leslie, Dallas Stars’ center Mike Madano and Tony Hawk.
Following the release Backyard Football 2006, Humongous Entertainment took a step back as the developer, as various studios developed the game from 2006 through 2015. The series would continue to put out games regularly in that time under publisher Atari, until their bankruptcy in 2014.
After two more games with Day 6 Sports Group LLC developing and the Fingerprint Network publishing them, the Backyard Sports series came to an end. No word has even been made official if there will be another game, but as there has been no release since 2015’s Backyard Sports: Basketball and Baseball 2015, it’s safe to say the series is now dormant.
In the time since, a film was being developed by Cross Creek Productions and Crystal City Entertainment in 2016. No information has been released since.
It was also teased that that Humungous Entertainment was bringing back the series after they tweeted “Junior Sports,” the original name of the Backyard Sports series logo. A week later they responded to a tweet saying they didn’t own the rights to the franchise.
With that seemingly being the end of the Backyard Sports series, it’s time to ask, what was its impact?
In a time when the sports games markets are dominated by Madden NFL, MLB The Show and the NBA 2K series, the Backyard Sports series were just different. Aside from being more kid friendly, it also was given more of an arcade like feel with power ups, unique fields and fun in-game chatter. It also gave it more of a pick-up game feel, rather than a franchise or ultimate team, giving it that nostalgic feel of growing up.
25 years later, people are still arguing if they should build their baseball team around Pablo Sanchez or Pete Wheeler. They’re also arguing if they wanted focus their offense on Dante Robinson at running back or Reese Worthington at wide receiver in Backyard Football.
With several let’s play channels on YouTube as well as spoofs from Florida State as well as other online sports publications, it seems like there is a renewed desire for the franchise to come back. Whether it does or not is the question. Until then, we just have our memories playing these games.
Thank You, Humungous Entertainment and all those that worked on the Backyard Sports series. Thank you for 25 years of fun.