The birth of Madden

On June 1, 1988, exactly thirty years ago today, an icon was born. Typically we think of a person as iconic as John Madden was already that given his status as a Super Bowl winning coach and legendary broadcaster. But, when John Madden agreed to help some guys at Electronic Arts put together an actual 11-on-11 football game, he ensured that he would be remembered by generations well after the fact.

I bought the first John Madden Football game for my PC many eons ago. That was the only way that you could play the game back then. There were no consoles that could handle the new Madden configuration. If you were of my generation, you grew up with Atari football with three little men that moved together like they were connected by Foosball iron rods. Then, Madden arrived on this day 30 years ago. The players looked like the ones in RBI Baseball - short and squatty - but with those players, you had all 11 on the field and could run real plays, ones that Madden had shared with the EA group.

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Madden the computer game wasn’t a far-reaching success, but when the makers finally constructed a version for gaming consoles, in particular the Sega Genesis, the game took off in popularity. Yearly versions were released, which angered my mother when I asked for the new one for Christmas every year.

“Don’t you have this one already?”

“Well, yeah, but that’s last year’s version, Mom. I need the updated one, ya know, with the new Oilers ratings?”

From that start 30 plus years ago to the present day when nearly every single player in the league knows his rating in Madden... the “John” and “Football” part was no longer needed as the game reached iconic status. Now, you don’t even need the cartridge or a 5 1/4” disk to play the game. Just buy the download, then update the player rankings throughout the actual season.

Whereas the game was just a game when it was released, more arcade in nature, the current version emulates everything about the current game. The X’s and O’s are true to the game and the gameplay is as true to football competition as can be. This fall, I had the opportunity to broadcast our Texans Madden Championship. I’ll be honest, I just said yes because I always do, but I didn’t really know what they wanted. When they said I was going true play by play for dudes playing Madden, I snickered really. Then, I watched these guys play the game. I was astonished at the brilliant use of time outs, the way they changed plays based on what they were seeing in coverage and how it had a true football feel. As soon as it was over, I told everyone I’ll come back and do that next year for sure.

The most interesting part of the current Madden is the player’s understanding of ratings and how the game views said players. About a decade ago, my former radio host Sean Pendergast and I found out that Madden had ranked Texans wide receiver David Anderson as the lowest of any Texan and the lowest in the league. He was offended and, of course, it was something we could always use to get under his skin a bit. The next year after a solid season, his rating had increased by 12 to 15 points and he was as proud of that as anything he had done. The players’ reaction to their Madden rating is one of my favorite things of the entire football season. Even the guys that don’t play the game know how important that rating is.

Thirty years ago to the day, it all started with a computer game with a broadcaster’s name in the title.

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