By their very nature, sports sims are meant to be eminently disposable. The best of them will stick out in our memories years down the road, but the rest will quietly fade into history. For fans of teams like the St. Louis Rams, though, it can be their last connection to their favorite team.
When Madden NFL 17 comes out in August, it will feature the Los Angeles Rams, and the St. Louis Rams will effectively cease to exist. That will make Madden 16 a kind of historical document - the last game to feature the St. Louis Rams and possibly the San Diego Chargers. Next year, one or both will be in Los Angeles, and they'll bring with them new commentary, and possibly new uniforms as well. It will be possible to use the St. Louis uniforms, but the announcers will still refer to them as the team from Los Angeles, and it won't be possible to play in the Edward Jones Dome.
Believe me, I feel for Rams fans. Back in 1993, I watched as the Minnesota North Stars pulled up stakes and moved down to Dallas, which could charitably be called a non-traditional hockey market. We like to feel as if we own some small part of our teams; but in the end, we're all at the whim of mercurial billionaires seeking to maximize their bottomlines (or in the case of North Stars owner Norm Green, avoiding charges of sexual harrassment). I have the Wild to support now, but there are times when I will pick the Dallas Stars in NHL 16 and put them in the classic Minnesota North Stars jersey for old time's sake.
Rams fans will be able to do much the same in Madden 17; but of course, it won't be the same. The announcers will call them the L.A. Rams and talk about how the team is back where they belong (the Rams were actually in L.A. twice as long as they were in St. Louis); the score will read "LA" instead of "STL," and the games will take place in the L.A. Coliseum. The uniforms will be the same, but nothing else will be.
The only likely alternative will be to move them back in franchise mode - something I dearly wish I could do with the Dallas Stars in NHL 16. As it stands, though, it'll be something of a cold comfort. They'll get to call their team the St. Louis Rams again, but they'll lose the Edward Jones Dome (dark and depressing as it is), and they'll only have one home uniform and one away uniform. At best, it will feel like a basic facsimile of an actual NFL team; and if they want to play as their favorite team online, they will have to settle for picking the L.A. Rams, or they'll have to get some friends together to form a connected franchise. Either way, it won't be the same.
And that, ultimately, is where Madden 16 will come in. If they don't want to acknowledge the L.A. Rams, they can pop in Madden 16 and essentially create their own alternate future where the Rams remain in St. Louis forever, making it the best kind of sports wish fulfillment. Madden 16 can be an escape from the numbing realization that an NFL team will likely never play in St. Louis again.
For the rest of us, playing an old sports game can be like viewing a snapshot in time. Sometimes it's fun to see a stadium that has ceased to exist, like the Metrodome, which was demolished roughly two years ago. Fans of teams like the Saints or the Packers might hold on to a version from the year their team won for the sake of nostalgia. It's even fun to go way back and see where a famous athlete started, like this Redditor did for Kobe Bryant.
For certain fans, it goes still further than that. NBA 2K11 is famous for its Jordan Challenges, which put players in the shoes of Michael Jordan during some of his greatest moments. More recent versions of NBA 2K still have throwback teams - something that puts them above and beyond every other sports games on the market - but the Jordan Challenges are long gone. That makes NBA 2K11 a must-own for Bulls fans who want to relive their team's storied history.
In a perfect world, every sports sim would feature historical teams, classic stadiums, and the greatest moments in their sport's history, making them something akin to an interactive NFL Films. Sadly, the tangled web of licensing makes it difficult at best to represent these classic teams, and development teams frequently don't have time to implement them anyway. The best you can get are NBA 2K's throwback teams, or legends like Eric Dickerson in Madden Ultimate Team.
In the end, sports sims aren't really meant to be celebrations of league history. They are the embodiment of the old adage that there's always next year. You don't pick up a sports game to relive the past, but to see your teams new players in action and get a taste of the future. Then, when the season gets properly underway, you can play along and write your own history.
For St. Louis Rams fans, though, there is no future. Their team's future now lies in Los Angeles, and they can either go along, find a new team, or stop watching entirely. Madden 17 will include a few nods to the St. Louis Rams, but otherwise they'll be just a memory. But while the Greatest Show on Turf may never again appear in a video game, Rams fans can at least comfort themselves with Madden 16, which will take them to a world where their team will play in St. Louis now and forever. It's not perfect, but it'll do.