Trip Hawkins first met John Madden in the dining car of an Amtrak train traveling from Denver to Oakland, California in 1984 after Madden agreed to give his name and soccer skills to a soccer simulation video game. Madden, the legendary trainer and broadcaster, quickly made it clear who’s in charge.

Due to the limited processing power of computers, Hawkins, who had founded the game company Electronic Arts two years earlier, came up with the idea of ​​a video game with 7-on-7 soccer instead of the 11-on-11 version that Madden just stared at him in the NFL and said, “This is not really football,” Hawkins recalled. He had to agree.

“If I wanted to be and be professional football, there had to be 22 guys on screen,” Madden once said said ESPN. “If we didn’t have that, we couldn’t have a game.”

The extra years spent creating a more realistic game called John Madden Football, which debuted for the Apple II computer in 1988, paid off. Decades later, the Madden NFL series of video games continued to sell millions of copies annually, helped make EA one of the most recognized game companies in the world, and left a lasting mark on football fandom and the NFL

Despite coaching the Oakland Raiders to a Super Bowl win and receiving praise for his work as a television analyst, Madden, who died on Tuesday at the age of 85, legions of younger sports fans is known as the namesake of the iconic video game franchise, which has generated more than $ 7 billion in sales.

“There are people playing Madden in every dorm, in every basement, on every couch,” said Scott Cole, a longtime sports broadcaster that has been promoting games for the Madden Championship Series for several years, the most competitive Madden NFL tournaments.

Madden was far more than a figurehead for the gaming franchise, which sold more than 130 million copies in the first 30 years through 2018, according to the company. For a decade, Madden, not star athletes like Jerry Rice or Barry Sanders, graced the front pages of the game. For early iterations of the game, he lent his voice over as a broadcaster and spent days in a studio recording the color commentary to narrate the simulated games while the players controlled their teams.

From the start, he insisted on realism, advising developers on such precise details as how a defensive player should tackle and what postures linemen should use in certain formations.

Early interaction with Hawkins on the train – Madden had a lifelong fear of flying – showed him that Madden, while easy to get along with and entertaining, was serious about the development process.

“Whatever John says is the last word. He had that kind of presence and the ability to be in command, ”Hawkins said. “It didn’t matter that I ran my company, he’ll still tell me what to do,” he added with a laugh.

Rex Dickson, who was the creative director of Madden NFL from 2012 to 2018, said he and his development team would visit Madden every year at his Pleasanton, Calif. Soccer field, where he would grill EA over changes to the game and then sit down to watch football with them while you eat breakfast burritos and sundaes.

Madden was holding court in a “giant man’s cave,” Dickson recalled, with TVs everywhere and Madden’s family members and former Raiders players going in and out of the sprawling complex. Madden sat in the center of the room.

“He was definitely a larger than life character,” said Dickson, “but what I remember most about him was how magnetic he was.”

The trip was a reward for outstanding EA staff, but it could also be stressful as Madden dropped in during a presentation to explain why the game misplaced a mechanic.

“He wouldn’t be afraid to stop you in the middle of the game and question you about your football knowledge or ask you to confirm why something was worth the investment and you damn sure knew better what you were talking about,” said Dickson.

Donny Moore, who worked on the game for EA for 20 years, recalled when Madden was introduced to the first version of the game with umpires. “John’s initial feedback was that the umpires are too close to the line of scrimmage,” said Moore. “It was something a soccer coach and analyst would immediately recognize. Game designers and video game people may not get it the first time. “

Madden’s desire to make the game as accurate as possible arose when he realized that the real sport he loved didn’t always match how other people made their own fun.

“I even went crazy once when my son Joe and Michael were playing Frank,” said Madden said Grantland in 2012. “You were on the bus and the result was 98-96. None of them have ever stung. It would be like twenty four and they would try. I was so angry. I said, ‘You have to poke.’ And they never wanted to poke. “

Still, he hoped the video game would help everyday fans learn the intricacies of playing football and enjoy the sport better.

Madden has peppered the game development process with educational moments. Once, at Madden’s house, Hawkins teased Madden for never supplying a 150-game playbook to be used in-game as required by his contract.

“He basically got a 1980 Raiders playbook off a shelf and handed it to me and said, ‘Let’s go,'” Hawkins recalled. “‘Here’s the playbook, you can find out.'”

Tim Esfandiari, a retired college football player and Twitch streamer who broadcasts Madden Games and talks about soccer to its nearly 1 million followers, said Madden’s goal of bringing soccer to the masses inspired him.

“What he wanted to do is similar to what I’m trying to do with my streams,” Esfandiari said, adding that many of his viewers “aren’t Americans, don’t know anything about football, but have now got into football”. the videogame.

Cam Weber, EA Sports executive vice president, added, “Fans who have never had the chance to see Coach Madden on the sidelines or hear his voice from the dressing room know him and have been recognized by his legacy through the Madden NFL Franchise touches. “

The game also influenced a generation of players and coaches.

Raheem Morris, who said he majored in Madden College, was hired as the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2009 when he was just 32 years old. He attributed a youth coaching movement to Madden: They built franchises, they played the game, they made games, they made games since we were about 12, ”he once said The Tampa Bay Times.

As with most long-running franchises, Madden NFL’s popularity has fluctuated over the years. The 2003 NFL season peaked when the game’s cover featured quarterback Michael Vick, astounding real football audiences with his dazzling speed and frenzied skills as he became groundbreaking and unstoppable in the video game.

Before the Atlanta Falcons’ wildcard playoff game against the Green Bay Packers in January 2003, Vick spoke to Madden and announcer Al Michaels. Vick said Madden told him he would put Vick on the video game cover for the next cycle if the Falcons, a 6-point underdog, beat Green Bay. That is exactly what the hawks did.

“I didn’t think it was just John – I was one of the most dynamic players at the time and it was just a perfect fit – but John promised me that and he kept his word,” Vick said in an interview.

Vick said people kept telling him that they enjoyed using his character in video game thanks to the detailed player profiles and different styles.

“I’m at stake and what I represented in the game paid more attention to me and the quarterbacks who look like me and played the game like me,” said Vick. “Now it doesn’t matter what you look or play – now anyone can be on the front page.”

However, in recent years, players have said the title is out of date. Unlike other hit franchises like League of Legends or Dota, which mostly offer single games with ongoing updates, EA releases a new Madden NFL every year, and players often complain that each version feels largely the same, with few new features next to roster updates.

“Things are falling by the wayside,” said Esfandiari. “For most of the 2010s, a lot of people were upset with Madden state.”

Still, their grumbling hasn’t stopped players from flocking to the title, leaving some younger fans barely aware that the word Madden means anything other than a video game.

“You won’t see Bill Belichick Football in 40 years,” said Moore. “It’s unique in video games, it’s unique in sport as a person’s name goes beyond the sport itself.”

Emmanuel Morgan Reporting contributed.



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