John Madden and his incredible legacy left by games

Pelé, Muhammad Ali, Michael Jordan, Babe Ruth, Tiger Woods, Wayne Gretzky… Many sports have an athlete who ended up becoming the face of the sport, but when it comes to American football, the one who will always be associated with the ball. oval is John Madden. The curious thing is that this will not happen (so much) for his achievements on the field, but because of video games.

Credit: Playback/EA/MobyGames

Born in 1936 in Austin, Minnesota, John Earl Madden was a student at Cal Poly when he was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958. That was the dream of any young man who loved football, but the desire to become a professional player wasn’t much. far. In the first training session, the boy suffered an injury in his knee, which would prematurely end his career.

Graduated in pedagogy, while being treated for the wound Madden realized he could use his knowledge to teach and so he became assistant coach at Allan Hancock College in 1960. Two years later the young man would assume the position of the team, to be hired in 1963 by San Diego State, where he stayed for four seasons and would be among the best smaller colleges.

The success then caught the attention of the Oakland Riders, a professional team where he would initially coach the linebackers and help them reach the 1968 Super Bowl. However, the big leap in his career would come the following season, when the head coach would leave his position to take over the Buffalo Bills and John Madden would finally become the commander of the californian team.

Carrying with him the responsibility of being the The NFL’s youngest coach at just 32 years old, he would remain in that role until 1978, going on to win the Super Bowl the year before. Also, under Madden’s command the Raiders would never record a negative record (fewer wins than losses) and would win their division seven times. In all, his career would end with 103 wins, 31 losses and only seven draws, being to date the second best percentage of wins in the NFL, behind only the legend Vince Lombardi.

The former manager in Madden NFL ’94 (Credit: Reproduction/Luis Silva/MobyGames)

On TV and in games

From 1979 onwards John Madden would face a new stage in his life, that of commentator and analyst on television. Hired by CBS Sports, he would quickly stand out for two factors: his deep knowledge of American football and the ease in explaining even the most complicated tactics. in the taste of viewers, being the pioneer in the use of Telestrator , that technique in which a commentator draws freehand on the screen to demonstrate a play and which has become quite common in NFL broadcasts, being used to this day.

Such success led him to work on all major North American television networks, guaranteed him the Emmy Awards 16 times. However, what would take the name Madden to another level would only begin to happen in 1984, when a company called Electronic Arts sought him out.

Seeing in sports an area little explored by games and an excellent opportunity to increase his developer’s revenue, Trip Hawkins began to contact famous names to support his creations. He had already been ignored by Joe Montana and Joe Kapp, so the next attempt would be with the former Raiders coach, but the task of winning him would not be easy.

Although I would have been interested in the possibility of using an electronic game to teach people about American football, John Madden almost refused the offer and the reason was that the sport could not be recreated as faithfully as possible to reality.

John Madden Football for MS-DOS (Credit: Play Depeche Mike/MobyGames)

Due to the technical limitations of the machines at the time, EA had informed him that they would only be able to put six or seven players on each team. Madden put his foot down, insisting that if the developer didn’t reach teams with 11 athletes, he wouldn’t allow the production to use his name.

That changed the lives of Electronic Arts programmers in hell, but after several years of testing and improvement, in 1988 the Apple II, MS-DOS and Commodore 64 would receive the fruit of such hard work, a game called John Madden Football.

The title managed to win many admirers, mainly for reproducing American football in such a realistic way. One of the reasons for this was the sheer number of possible plays, which can be credited to the fact that Madden gave EA the playbook that the Oakland Raiders used in the 1980 season, but also to the contribution of Frank Cooney, a writer for the San Francisco Chronicle who would be responsible for giving scores to players according to their skills.

However, due to the complexity of the interface and the plays themselves, the game had only average sales and it didn’t help the fact that , due to the requirement of having 22 athletes on the screen, all the action on the fields took place at a rather low speed.

John Madden Football for Mega Drive (Credit: Playback/Picard/MobyGames)

The franchise situation would only change in 1990, when EA would release it to John Madden Football for Mega Drive. With an effect that mimics 3D and a much higher speed, the company’s expectation was that 75,000 copies would be sold, but the result was more than five times that number. The game would become the first big success of that console, helping Sega to conquer a market that was dominated by Nintendo.

The name change to )Madden NFL would only happen in 1993, when EA acquired the rights to use the league’s names, logos and players. To this day the series is the only one able to do this and with its non-stop annual releases, it is estimated that by 2013 it has generated more than $4 billion in profit since then, with more than 250 million copies having been sold.

However, there is an aspect that I consider even more important in the history of both the former coach and the franchise that bears his name, which is the popularization of the sport.

Thanks for everything, coach!

Although the success of John Madden Football for Mega Drive in the United States is something unsurprisingly, that game was also well received by audiences in other countries, especially in Europe. Due to the complexity of its rules, American football has always been viewed with some suspicion by those who are not used to the sport, but by lending his name to the franchise and helping to develop it, the commentator played a very important role in the “catechization” of new fans.

This was my case, someone who loves soccer and who just happened to like football by accident. I explain. Back in the mid-1990s, I was what we used to call a video store rat, someone who lived stuck in these establishments and tried to consume as many games and movies as possible. It made me have contact with a lot, a lot of crap, but it also allowed me to open my mind to new things and get interested in subjects that might not have caught my attention otherwise.

And it was in one of those forays into a video store I used to frequent that I ended up deciding to give that American football a chance. At the time I was completely addicted to FIFA International Soccer and I was curious to know other creations of such an EA Sports. My knowledge of football at the time was nil, so you can imagine the difficulty I had trying to play Madden NFL ’94 — or was it John Madden Football ’93? Anyway…

First down, punt, tackle, touchdown, quarterback, shotgun, blitz… For me, at the time, those terms didn’t mean anything and even the score of that sport seemed to me a great deal. mystery. However, I didn’t let myself be intimidated and, based on trial and error, I gradually started to understand the nuances of American football.

There were many hours dedicated to the various games released for the Mega Drive, always alone, because my friends didn’t see the fun in those titles and preferred to play matches in FIFA anyway. Naturally, years later I started watching the NFL games on television, I sought to learn more about everything that surrounded the sport and today I can say that I am passionate about American football.

Cowboys vs 49ers (Credit: Playback/Picard/MobyGames)

The interesting thing is to think that this only happened because one day I decided to give a game a chance that no one paid attention to at the rental company. A title that John Madden helped to create and that even though it is not the equivalent of an educational game, it certainly opened the door for many people to be enchanted by a modality as fascinating as it is complex.

I always say that serving as a cultural disseminator is a feature that video games have and that is often ignored by a large part of the public. I couldn’t tell you how much I’ve learned and the tastes that electronic games have awakened in me, but since yesterday I’ve been thinking about how I started to follow American football due to games.

E what took me back to adolescence and the days when I controlled a team of thugs on my Mega Drive was the sad news of the death of John Madden, aged 85. In mourning the death, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said that “no one loved football more than Técnico. He was football…there will never be another John Madden and we will forever be in his debt for everything he has done to make football and the NFL what it is today. ”

Well, I have no doubt about that. As much as American football has very important athletes in its history, such as Tom Brady, Jerry Rice, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Walter Payton, Dan Marino, Jim Brow, Joe Montana, Brett Favre and countless others, I’m sure none of them made it. win as many fans for the sport as the one who lent his name to the most famous franchise of games about oval ball football.

For that reason I just have to thank Madden for having dedicated himself so much to explaining to us the many layers that American football has and why games serve for more than just entertaining. Rest in peace John!

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