It's in the game
Madden is truly the king ... and I'm not talking about the broadcast booth
Posted: Monday August 9, 2004 1:50PM; Updated: Monday August 9, 2004 1:55PM
Two weeks ago, an advance copy of Madden 2005, EA Sports' amazingly realistic NFL video game, showed up at my office, a full three weeks ahead of its release date (it'll be in stores Thursday). As word trickled through the office, people began wandering over to my desk. "You got Madden?" I lied and said no, but it was burning a hole in my desk drawer; within about an hour I had it out and people were jammed in my office, playing and calling next up.
For those of us 35-and-under, Madden is our touchstone, our Strat-O-Matic. I remember being a kid and getting cable for the first time, and having a mind-boggling 18 channels. This world moves fast: Last week, I flew round-trip to California on Jet Blue, and I had 25 live channels at my disposal, right there at my seat on the plane. My generation was fortunate enough to come along in the digital age, and to me, Madden is one of the greatest innovations of the past 30 years. Sure, we played Atari, we sat on the floor and marveled at Mike Tyson's Punch-Out on Nintendo, we crashed in dorm rooms and played Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Genesis. But Madden changed our world.
Madden originally came out for PCs in 1989, but it didn't reach it's full potential until '97, when it was first available on the PlayStation. My friend Matt and I were both out of college and living with our parents, trying to figure out what the world held for us. Instead of going out and grabbing life by the throat, we agreed to take a more latent approach, waiting for a job, a career, untold riches, whatever, to come after us.
To pass the time until life prepared our seats at the adult table, Matt would come over every day around 3 p.m., just as we were waking up. We would settle into two chairs in my sister's old room, crack open a few cans of Mountain Dew and watch Jerry Springer, then play a game of Madden on the PlayStation. Matt beat me every day for about two months. We had blowouts, tight games and everything in between. I just couldn't win one.
My record changed when the venue moved. Soon we found part-time jobs and moved in together, into a run-down apartment complex. I started freelancing for a local paper; Matt got a mailroom job in the music industry. Money was tight, so we survived largely on the generosity of our friend Ahmir, who ran the cash register at a nearby Subway and provided generous discounts. Ramen Noodles and Mountain Dew augmented our diet. We coached a youth basketball team, went to concerts using free tickets, spent the days calling our friends with real jobs.
But more than anything else, there was always Madden. Technically, we never became couch potatoes, because the controllers wouldn't reach the couch, so we had to roll out chairs from our rooms to play. We played so much that we wore out several controllers, two televisions (on one the picture would randomly fuzz out, and the only way to fix it was by banging relentlessly on the side of the unit) and one PlayStation console. While we couldn't always afford food or pay the bills on time, we always found enough cash to get the new Madden.
The PlayStation 2 debuted in 2000, and it revolutionized the virtual sports world, allowing broadband gaming, faster load times and astoundingly better graphics. By the time the first Madden for the PS2 dropped in 2001, I had moved to the Big Apple and Matt was in Tennessee. While his new job had him frequently on the road, mine had me at a desk in a cubicle.
So it was quite a coup in 2002 when SLAM decided to start reviewing video games. Since I was the only real gaming fan on the staff, the assignment fell into my lap. I went out that afternoon and expensed a PlayStation 2, two memory cards, an extra controller and a 13-inch TV and set them up in my office. Because it's work, you know.
I occasionally play video games that aren't sports-related, but to me, sports games are why video game consoles were made. These games allow us to go from being armchair quarterbacks to armchair running backs and armchair GMs. They test our sports knowledge and our business acumen. My Atlanta Falcons routinely win Super Bowls, and Michael Vick is made of steel. (OK, so I turned the injuries feature off.) My Falcons overcharge for parking, in an effort to encourage fans to use public transportation, and I undercharge for concessions to keep the people happy.
As complete and complex as the previous Madden games have been, Madden 2005 takes it to another level. It has emphasized defense this year, adding the Playmaker feature on the defensive side of the ball, so you can always drop a linebacker out of the blitz and have him spy on the opposing QB. And the new Hit Stick control allows your defenders to bust ball-carriers like Steve Atwater used to. They also put Ray Lewis on the cover, so whatever you do, don't draft him for your fantasy team.
Madden 2005 still isn't perfect. For instance, as an NFL sideline reporter, Jill Arrington makes Eric Dickerson seem Pulitzer-worthy. Also, there's an overdose of statistics and scores that pop up while you play, unnecessarily cluttering the screen and blocking your view of the action.
Minor difficulties aside, there's no better way to learn about football than Madden. I can now recognize a cover-two defense, and I know when a team is bringing the zone blitz. I'm convinced that if someone had just slipped a copy of this game to Dan Reeves a few years ago, he might still be coaching the Falcons. And I had no idea what new Falcons coach Jim Mora Jr. looked like until I saw a digitized version of him.
This is what it has come to. I'm getting sports news from video games. The game is being released Thursday, so maybe you can all learn a thing or two when it drops. And maybe then I'll finally get some work done.
Quote Of The Week
"I just said I wasn't going to cut it until I won a Super Bowl, so that's my motivation. I figure come January, it shouldn't be so high...but it's getting pretty bushy. My mom doesn't like it. I figure this year, I'll stick to the script." -- Vick on growing out his hair. Last season he had the same plan, but cut his hair at the behest of his mother. Soon after, he broke his leg.
Game Of The Week
Simple, but great. Kind of reminds me of Frogger a little bit.
X-Games Events Of The Week
Because they're little rascals on their Little Rascals. Watch for the finals live on SportsCenter on Tuesday night!
And don't miss these finals live on Wednesday's night SportsCenter!
Scrabble Word Of the Week
Whatever you do, don't try to convince people at the National Scrabble Championships that "lez" is a word. Then again, the guy did win the championship.
Story To Make You Feel Better About Yourself Of The Week
One of the most popular singers in China isn't just a singer -- he's a hairy singer. So hairy, in fact, that every square centimeter of his skin is covered with an average of 41 hairs. He also once starred in a movie about "a hairy child's adventure." Anyway, he was having trouble hearing, so they removed his ear. Which ought to really help things.
Also, found one blurry picture of him here.
Fantasy League Of The Week
With the English Premier League kicking off this weekend, here's a great twist on the regular fantasy league. Shocker Soccer flips the script, encouraging you to pick the worst players and then hope for the best. After the way my Manchester United Red Devils played in the Community Shield match, I'd highly recommend picking up either John O'Shea or Mikael Silvestre.
Wonderful Television News Of The Week
Sports Illustrated has announced that its search for a new swimsuit model will be televised! The models will learn how to deal with the media, which sounds like a perfect opportunity for me to volunteer my hard-hitting interview stylings.
Non-Partisan Political Link Of The Week
We won't take sides here, but click on this link and then choose the "hi" or the "lo" version. Funny stuff...
The Week Ahead:
LITTLE LEAGUE WORLD SERIES -- I was all ready to make the Little League team from Columbus, Ga., the official Little League team of The Links, but it lost Saturday to a team from North Carolina, with a first baseman named Biscuit. Qualifying continues this week, and the Series starts next weekend. Can't wait to see how long it takes before New York Post columnist Phil Mushnick starts his annual crusade against ESPN for using the Little Leaguers to promote the X-Games.
THE BIG CAT -- We finally have another player to give our undivided attention. The Anaheim Angels have signed The Big Cat, Andres Galarraga, to a minor league contract, and he went 3-for-4 with a home run on Saturday night. If he can make it back to the majors, Andres is two home runs shy of 400 for his career.
Lang Whitaker is the online editor at SLAM magazine and writes daily at http://www.slamonline.com/. He wonders when people will start touting Bobby Cox as manager of the year.