Sunday, November 16: Madden (The Guy) on Madden (The Game)

I’ll be posting pregame and in-game stuff from FedExField a bit later today. Early reports from Adam Schefter (via Michael David Smith at ProFootballTalk) have Shawn Springs and Jason Taylor ready to go, which squares with what Coach Zorn has been telling us all week. I know a lot of you are checking for Clinton Portis updates, but every indication I’ve gotten has been that he’ll be an honest-to-goodness gametime decision. As soon as I hear something, I’ll pass it along. In the meantime, here’s something to tide you over during the interminable wait for Sunday night.

The game is being called on TV by the usual NBC Sunday Night Football crew, so John Madden was at Redskins Park on Friday to watch practice and have the usual assortment of production meetings with players and coaches.

Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images

Last time Madden was here, I didn’t get much of a chance to talk to him (although I did get a tour of his famous bus), and I didn’t really expect this visit to be any different. Instead, I wound up having a long conversation with him about the Madden Football video game series, which I’ve loved since the very first Sega Genesis installment. It was really Casey Rabach‘s fault, honestly.

Rabach came to the sidelines of practice, where I was standing with Executive Director of Communications Zack Bolno, and encouraged Bolno to go ask Madden if he ever received Ethan Albright‘s letter about Albright’s legendarily atrocious ranking in Madden’s video game. Bolno shrugged and headed to where Madden was standing, and I came along.

Madden laughed when Bolno explained what was up. “I never saw the letter,” he said, “but I’ve heard all about it. Getting those ratings right can be really tough for some guys.”

At this point, Bolno got called away, but I stuck around to talk and see what else Madden had to say.


How do you handle a guy like Ethan in the ratings?

“Special teams are hard, because you don’t rate them just on special teams. Take a guy like Dante Hall years ago.

“He was a wide receiver, and to get him where he was a third or fourth receiver, you had to knock him down or he would’ve been Jerry Rice. So what they did was they knocked his speed down, to get him to be the equivalent of a third receiver. But now he’s slow.

“So he gets on me that we made him too slow. He says, when a guy gets hurt, the trainers run in faster than he can run. The doctor waddles on the field faster than he does. And he was right, but if you gave him all the things, the speed and all the things that he has, he would be a top wide receiver. And at that time, he was a fourth wide receiver.”

Do a lot of guys talk to you about it, in production meetings or wherever?

“No, it’s usually something like, they tell Zack – or their Zack – about it, and he tells me.”

And then you talk to Electronic Arts?

“Yeah, oh yeah! I mean, that’s the problem: they have to take liberties to make the game a game.”

Yeah, that’s what I’ve heard them say about fumbles and other random events. Do you ever watch the Madden Nation TV show?

“Yeah, those guys are something else.”

Did you see all this coming at all? The TV shows and professionals and all that?

“Oh, hell no.

“I started this before there were video games. I thought this was going to be like a teaching tool for computers. I started this when computers first started, and I was going to be ahead of the curve in computerizing football. And then we made a game out of it for computers, and then the video games came out and we had the software for it.

“It was going to be for high school coaching, and then maybe it’d work its way up to college, and maybe someday in the pros in the NFL. And then we made the game just as a sidelight, so if you had a computer and wanted to play the game you could do that.”

Huh. What ever happened to the teaching tool?

Screenchot by Xcarvenger/Gamefaqs.com

Screenchot by Xcarvenger/Gamefaqs.com

“It never took off. Someone’s doing that now, but my idea was going to be, you put in a play, and you put in Dallas’s defense. Then you run the play in the computer and you see what happens, the computer projects how the play works.

“This guy that I started with at Electronic Arts is a guy named Trip Hawkins, and he had gone to Harvard and majored in computer games. He had started a company and was gonna have basketball with Red Auerbach, baseball with Earl Weaver, and football with me.

“Earl and Red dropped out, and I stayed with it, and it became a game and everything else.”

Do you play the game at all?

“Eh, I’m not very good. I can’t play well enough to really get the game up to where I can see how it’s doing. So I have people play that are pretty good players, and I watch them. I sort of play through them to see what’s right and what’s wrong. And I want it to be just like the real game.”

So you’re really involved with making the game, huh?

“It’s my game. I started it. Some of these other guys put their names on things, I invented the game. The first thing when I talked to the guy, I said “There’s no way that I’ll be involved in it unless there are eleven men on the field.

“In those days no one had anything with eleven men. There would be three on three or four on four or whatever. So that took about three years to generate offense and defense. I wanted linemen, linebackers, all that stuff, and no one had ever done that before.”

When I played it for the first time, it was just such a leap from everything we had played before it.

“Well, that was the thing: there was never a game before that was a real football game, that had guards pulling and double-teams and backers blitzing and all that.

“When I was travelling on a train, these developers would travel on the train with me, and I’d draw up plays on these big sheets of butcher paper to give to them.”

What was your reaction the first time you saw the game?

“It was on computer the first time I saw it, and I saw it in parts. If you just think of stuff that’s never been done – the extra point team, extra point defense, field goal team, field goal defense, kickoff team, kickoff returns, punt team, punt returns, nickel defense … those things had never been done before.”

When did you realize how huge it was going to be?

“The time when I knew we had it made was—my goal, when we first started, was to make the video game look like the game on televisions. And—this is years ago now, because I’ve been away from Fox for six years—but my last year at Fox, David Hill, the president of Fox, says, ‘Look, we wanna make our game on TV look like the video game.’ I just said, ‘Hey, we’ve come full circle! We wanted to look like them, now they want to look like us.'”

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20 Responses

  1. Matt,
    Much appreciated. Who ever knew the madden franchise was suppose to be a football training tool? But leave it to yours truly, Matt to bring Redskin nation the answers.

    Thank You

  2. So it started out to be a training tool – anyone have any idea how much money it’s made him at this point? Bottom line, if you make something people need, you make money, but if you make something people want, you get rich.

  3. Matt,

    What’s this I hear about Deangelo Hall not playing? Did you hear anything?

  4. Haven’t heard anything about that. Where’d you hear it?

  5. Matt- this is one of the most revealing interviews yet- on any topic… Gamers will be coming here just to get the scoop. Congrats!

    When I think Madden, I think of how much he loved calling the game featuring our future horse trailer 3rd QB in preseason… grin…
    GO ‘SKINS!!!

  6. I heard it on the Fox pregame show

  7. Curt Menefee was talking really fast but i’m pretty sure he said “with Deangelo Hall not playing…”

  8. another great little tidbit…. I wish I had your job… but I’m not so sure I’d do it as well… Congrats again!

  9. Yeah, I love madden, but off topic. Why do redskin fans conclude Colt Brennen this Colt Brennen that? Look Jason Campbell is our QB of the future. Start Talking like he is!

  10. what do you mean deangelo hall not’s playing??? i sure didn’t hear that!!!

  11. Would be nice to not have Portis play, but regardless, Cowboys are going to dominate this one. Theyre pissed off, on a mission, and have much more to fight for/prove than Washington. #1 RB out, #2 hurt, #3 old and decrepit…not good signs. Now, if its true Hall is out, look out. No one is going to be able to stop TO and Williams and still get pressure on Romo. This is all setting up for a big Skins loss.

  12. It’s still 4 hrs before gametime….I don’t think the final roster is in yet. Man i’m waiting on my ride to take me to the tailgate….E43 my skins fans. Biggest tailgate in Redskins Nation….Let’s run those Dallas fans out of our DC! And MD and VA.

  13. Which jerseys are we wearing 2night???

  14. white on white I hear

  15. Just heard on espn980 that Portis is NOT playing tonight. Hope the others step up, and we’ll have a ground game

  16. Wow, great interview! That’s classic stuff, seriously.

    As far as the game goes, I haven’t heard about Deangelo, and with our defense back, plus one DB, I think we’ll be fine. Last time we played Dallas we were without Jason Taylor. Being without Portis isn’t good, but Betts has run extremely well starting in place of him. Hopefully that will be enough.

  17. what time is the inactive roster released

  18. Inactives are release about an hour before the game.

  19. Official inactives meeting is 90 minutes before kickoff, and they’re released sometime after that.

  20. So, did Ethan Albright really write that letter? If he did, I really underestimated his sense of humor!!

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