By Chris Vogt
AP Tecmo Writer
An astounding 224 participants flood this year’s tournament field as TecmoIX: Marino Royale takes place on Saturday, March 2, at Badger Bowl.
Madison’s tourney last year featured 176 players and was exposed by NFL Films, which aired a 30-minute segment on ESPN2 and NFL Network this past October.
“Not if you love Tecmo Super Bowl and competition, it doesn’t get better than this,” said Madison Tecmo co-founder Chet Holzbauer. “This is a national tournament. The field is comprised of representatives from 30 different states, plus D.C., and there is even an international participant from Costa Rica.”
Chet and his brother Josh Holzbauer have been conducting the tournament since 2005, and the idea was sparked from a simple, single e-mail exchange.
Now there is a committee of more than 10 people who help with the process. Putting together the current 224-man gauntlet is no easy task.
“It’s a logistical nightmare,” Chet Holzbauer said. “First we attempt to evenly distribute the elite players amongst the four regions. Second we try to place an equal amount of talent within each of the 8-man groups. New players complicate this task and require research.
“We try to ensure that brothers and other guys traveling together don’t end up in close proximity to one another,” he added. “No one wants to travel a long distance just to encounter one with whom they are familiar.”
Chet Holzbauer, last year’s champion, is the favorite in the Mark Clayton Region. He wouldn’t be mistaken as this year’s overall favorite either.
He is 42-1 in his last six major Tecmo tournaments.
“The Mark Clayton Region is stacked,” said Tony James, a TecmoIX analyst. “This region is the home to defending Madison champion, and you would have to believe the overall No. 1 seed.”
Along with Chet, there is another Final Four participant from TecmoVIII in Matt Miller in the Mark Clayton Region. Another player in the Clayton region that reached the Elite 8 at TecmoVIII is Jeff B.
“Getting out of this region will be nothing short of amazing,” James said.
Among three of last year’s top eight is “Best in World” Sobhi, who is a former champion and four-time Final Four participant at Madison. He once made the finals three years in a row.
Eric O’Dell, Detroit Kumite’s fearless founder, is a force to be reckoned with, according to James. Alongside him is Louis Buennagel, Francis Buennagel’s brother.
Louis is looking to get out of his sibling’s shadow. He’s coming off a finals appearance at the Boneyard Bowl in Cleveland.
“I’ve gone this far without even mentioning some other strong players like Erik Merliss, Johnny Bailey and Immortl,” James said.
Like every other region, the Jim Edmunds Region has a lot of power players sprinkled throughout.
Groups O and P contain two online virtuosos who have proven their ability to back up live play in other tournaments.
Kyle Miller should plow through Group O with little resistance, much like last year’s group play where he only gave up 3 points in all three games, according to TecmoIX analyst Erik Bergstrom.
Francis Buennagel — also known as Mort — who was featured heavily in the NFL Films documentary, will be the one to watch in Group P. He’s the lone participant with Madison experience against virtual unknowns in that group.
“Whether this helps or hurts him remains to be seen,” Bergstrom said of Mort. “It’s possible he may have to rely on his lucky cartridge lick sooner than he anticipates.”
Only one participant in Group Q comes with no Madison experience. It may be a wild chase to see who advances from there, Bergstrom noted.
Could it be Eric D. who shocked the world by beating Sobhi in last year’s tournament?
Perhaps the returning Seth B. is ready to continue his winning ways, going far in TecmoVII. He was absent in last year’s bracket.
In Group R, Erik J. stands as a favorite, and being a Madison native, he’s got home field advantage in a group of mainly newcomers.
Another former Madison champion resides in Group S, Kevin Miller, of Milwaukee. A somewhat early exit last year should have Miller hungry to ‘buzzsaw’ through his group, according to Bergstrom.
Group T should prove to give off the most volume out of the Edmunds region, with every participant coming with Madison experience, including Tony Orenga and his cheering faction of followers.
Group U comes with perhaps the most participants with something to prove, mostly all having wins in tournament play. Troy Hansen is the one to keep an eye on out of this group, with a solid third place in last year’s Madison tournament.
Hansen hit a snag in the Midwest tournament in Ohio afterwards and will most likely be looking to the hallowed grounds of Madison to return to glory.
Luke Carlberg and Jim Bontempo, the only two-time Madison winner, highlight the Mark Duper Region. Carlberg is 26-2 in his last four major Tecmo tournaments.
“With the exemption of a hand full of online players, this has to be the greatest assemblage of Tecmo Super Bowl players ever,” Carlberg said. “The competitive skill level is so high that once you get to the field of 56 every game is a dog fight.
Jon Jones, better known as Daboy, is always a player to look out for every year. He also can make a run in the Duper Region.
Other notable players in the Mark Duper Region are Chris Vogt, who is fittingly labeled the “Dan Marino of Tecmo,” James T. and Matt O’Toole. Juicer Adam G., better known as Garbage, also has a shot at advancing far in the Duper region.
The Jim Jensen Region appears to be the least likely group up for the task, said TecmoIX analyst Matt Knobbe.
While group bye favorites Josh Holzbauer and Matt Vogt have a great shot at making the Elite 8, it’s simply been a while since either has been crowned a champion.
Well known for their online as well as tournament play, Derek Ruble and Brent B. are threats to go on long tournament runs, said Knobbe, who operates TecmoBowl.org.
With over 30 tournament games under their belt, Madison veterans Rico R., Kyle F. and former champion Peter K. are capable of running the table into the finals if they’ve worked off their rust.
The tournament format has changed for the first time since TecmoIII.
“Rather than dividing participants into groups of four and conducting a round-robin, this year’s group play will consist of various 8-man double-elimination tournaments,” the Madison website said.
Group Winners and Group Runners-Up of each double-elimination tournament will advance to a larger “Bracket”.
The initial rounds in the Bracket will be single-elimination. Double-elimination will be introduced for the Elite Eight Bracket, and the TecmoIX champion will eventually be crowned.
“Having a double elimination final eight,” Knobbe said, “will possibly be the greatest display of Tecmo Super Bowl talent of this century.”
Chris Vogt is a national Tecmo Super Bowl writer and can be followed on Twitter @vogtcd. Matt Knobbe, Erik Bergstrom and Tony James contributed to this story.