A HOMAGE Tecmo Bowl graphic. A HOMAGE Tecmo Bowl graphic. (HOMAGE.)

Apparel company HOMAGE has struck quite a few notable licensing deals over the years, including partnerships with video games NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, a variety of movies, Guy Fieri, the NFL, and Jason and Travis Kelce’s New Heights. But their newest and latest deal is one that HOMAGE founder and CEO Ryan Vesler has long been chasing: one with famed video game Tecmo Bowl. Here’s more on that from a press release:

Tecmo Bowl, revered throughout the sports world as one of the most iconic video game franchises of all time, now has an official apparel line thanks to HOMAGE, the fan-favorite apparel brand known for ultra-comfy t-shirts boasting vintage-inspired graphics. More than 50 designs in the HOMAGE x Tecmo Bowl Collection are launching this year and each boasts true-to-era designs so authentic that fans will practically be transported inside the original Tecmo Bowl’s 8-bit pixelated gameplay and legendary playbooks.

…Former Detroit Lions’ running back Barry Sanders says, “I loved Tecmo Bowl. I feel like Bo and I were unstoppable in that game. I still get comments about how fans would rush for like 500 yards and 7 TDs with me in the game. No doubt, many fans still talk about that when they meet me.”

…“This collaboration is easily the most requested by our customers,” said Ryan Vesler, Founder and Chief Executive Officer, HOMAGE. “Tecmo Bowl is so deeply entrenched in pop culture that it has endured as one of the most valuable pieces of IP in football and videogame history. For HOMAGE, this collaboration has been a 10-year journey since our team initially outreached to the parent company of Tecmo Bowl with our interest. As the adage goes, good things come to those who wait, and we are truly honored and so very excited to present this collection to fans worldwide today.”

“Tecmo Bowl is more than just a video game, it’s a pop culture phenomenon,” said Amos Ip, Senior Vice President and General Manager, KOEI TECMO America Corp. “HOMAGE respects the Tecmo Bowl IP as much as KOEI TECMO, and we knew we could trust the HOMAGE team to do right for the Tecmo Bowl fandom.”

The first design in the collection is available now, featuring the classic Tecmo Bowl American flag logo from the game’s opening credits. On Nov. 2, HOMAGE will drop a collection featuring all team helmets in Tecmo Bowl style. On Nov. 16, they’ll drop another collection featuring the first wave of players, including legends such as Sanders, Jerry Rice, John Elway, Jim Kelly, Randall Cunningham, and more. Ahead of those releases, Vesler and Jon Robinson of KOEI TECMO America spoke to AA about this partnership, with Vesler saying it was a deal he’s long been chasing for both its personal relevance to him and the demand for it from HOMAGE consumers:

Tecmo Bowl is one of the greatest sports video games ever made,” Vesler said. “When it came out more than 30 years ago, it pushed boundaries. It was the first game to use names and likenesses of real NFL players. Before that, it had never been done. And the amazing thing is that the love for this game endures today. I’m hard pressed to come up with any other games that have as much staying power as Tecmo Bowl.”

“I played this game on repeat as a kid. It was just the coolest. Now that I’m an adult and work at a t-shirt company, I get to do fun things! And one of those is making unexpected t-shirts. And since we acquired the NFL license last season, we have pushed ourselves to offer unexpected designs that tap into the nearly universal love for football and its role in pop culture. Tecmo Bowl checks all the boxes.”

Vesler said this is the fulfillment of a long-held goal for him and the company, and it wasn’t an easy task.

“The reality is that Tecmo Bowl has been on HOMAGE’s wish list for a decade. In so many instances with vintage brands, IP gets lost, goes missing, is orphaned. Just trying to figure out who owns it and if we can license it becomes a full-fledged investigation. Elliott May on my team started the hunt 10 years ago. Along the way there were a lot of deadends, many re-directs, and even a couple of no’s before we finally landed with KOEI TECMO America and got a yes.”

He added that the overwhelming fan feedback requesting Tecmo Bowl apparel was a big part of what kept them going after that license.

“We have a very passionate fan base. They tell us what they want. They are always DMing us on social requesting specific collaborations. Tecmo Bowl, hands down, is the most requested all-time partnership from our customers. We are thrilled to deliver the HOMAGE x Tecmo Bowl Collection to them today.”

As for the KOEI TECMO America side, Robinson said they’re very careful with that license.

“KOEI TECMO is very protective of its classic games, especially when it comes to Tecmo Bowl, so we’re looking for partners who understand the history of the game, understand the passion of the community, and want to bring back the fun vibes for fans who still remember the first time they picked up a controller and ran circles around defenders as Bo Jackson.”

He said HOMAGE hit that criteria, especially around those player shirt designs.

“When I first saw the initial concept designs for some of the player shirts, I knew HOMAGE was the right partner as they just captured everything I love about the game, everything fans have been talking about for over 30 years, and put it in a shirt. Seeing shirts for players legends of the game like Jerry Rice and Barry Sanders just brings back instant memories of how dominant they were in games like Tecmo Bowl and Tecmo Super Bowl.”

Robinson said those shirts brought back particular memories for him of playing the game.

“I see a shirt of a specific player and I actually remember the plays in the playbook and certain times I drove my friends insane with another bomb to Rice or devastating run by the Nigerian Nightmare himself, Christian Okoye.”

And Vesler said the player-focused shirts are an essential part of this, and a recognition of Tecmo Bowl‘s key place in video game history.

“The players are everything in Tecmo Bowl. And that may be an understatement. Tecmo Bowl quite literally changed the game for sports video games when it became the first-ever video game to use actual NFL players. For the first time, we–as football fans and as video game players–could get inside the helmets of greats like Bo Jackson, Jerry Rice, Barry Sanders, Randall Cunningham, John Elway, and more.”

“We could choose our player based on their unique skills and then play ball vicariously through the 8-bit, pixelated, rudimentary runs that manifested on the screen. So we absolutely had to capture that in our designs. The player tees are the heartbeat of the collection. The graphics on our player tees have so much energy, so much excitement. We cannot wait to unveil them in November. Fans are going to go insane when they see them.”

Robinson said those releases have him excited as well.

“HOMAGE has done such a great job bringing back so many amazing memories from the game, and this is just the beginning. We want to hear from fans about which Tecmo Bowl players they’d love to see in future shirts. Whether it’s another legend who wasn’t announced in the initial wave of players, or even an unsung hero from your favorite team, just thinking about some of these old rosters makes my head spin. Can’t wait to throw on my Derrick Thomas shirt while racking up the sacks!”

Robinson said he thinks the Tecmo Bowl legacy is so strong 36 years after its initial arcade release because of the ease of getting into that game.

Tecmo Bowl is a true classic because the way the game was designed, anyone can pick it up and have a blast playing within minutes. The controls were simple to understand and execute, and the way some of the players were given such superhuman attributes, it just helped make Tecmo Bowl a timeless experience.”

Vesler said HOMAGE has seen great success with their previous video game partnerships, including NBA Jam and NFL Blitz, and they’re optimistic that will continue here:

“Our NBA Jam and NFL Blitz [shirts] are among HOMAGE’s most popular designs. They are different from regular logo tees. These tees offer fans something a little different, a little more unique, a little deeper as we like to say. They also marry two loves–the love of sport and the love of video games. So the designs are very much in a sweet spot.”

HOMAGE has quite a wide range of products at the moment, from video games to classic movies to current professional sports teams. But Vesler said the overlap is the ability to tell stories with one image.

“The common thread here is the eye-catching, retro-inspired graphics that tell a story in a single image. Our shirts inspire nostalgia, they take fans back to a uniquely personal place and time. They generate good feelings. That’s when we know we have a winning design. And that’s really the standard, the gut check, we apply to all of our products.”

And Vesler said this has been an incredible year for them, with New Heights (where they recently released a “Mama Kelce: Rooting For The Offense” fundraising shirt, even) and more.

“This is a record-breaking year for HOMAGE in so many regards. We’re in year two of the NFL license, and this year we scored the NFL Youth license that means kids will get their own line of cool apparel this year with so many expansions planned for next year. And certainly working with Jason and Travis Kelce on their “New Heights” merch has been incredible and the relationship with the Kelce family continued to expand.”

“When football’s favorite mom comes to you asking how we can help raise funds for the Kelces’ hometown of Cleveland Heights, you know you’re doing something right. ‘Mama Kelce Rooting For The Offense’ shirt is just the latest in our cause-related tees, which are so important to us.”

Vesler said they have more notable retro products on the way, too, including a “Blackout” Starter satin jacket line coming for certain NFL teams later this year.

“And we haven’t even mentioned our Starter collection–another iconic brand that transcends sports, entertainment and pop culture. We have an epic “Blackout” Starter Satin jacket line that will launch for select NFL teams later this year. And the thing about the Starters is that they are made in such limited quantities and they sell out so fast. So your readers heard it on Awful Announcing first, Blackout Starter Satins are coming soon–watch our site for the drop so you don’t miss out.”

About Andrew Bucholtz

Andrew Bucholtz has been covering sports media for Awful Announcing since 2012. He is also a staff writer for The Comeback. His previous work includes time at Yahoo! Sports Canada and Black Press.