If you’re a 80s or 90s kid, and a football fan, then boom, you knew (and probably loved) John Madden.
The legendary coach, broadcaster and entrepreneur passed away on December 28, 2021 at the age of 85. He won a Super Bowl as the coach of the Oakland Raiders, then revolutionized sports broadcasting with his exciting, fun, and educational commentary work. Oh yea, and also helped create the biggest sports video game the world has ever seen.
He (and the video game) were also not only huge influences on my Galactic Football League work, I wrote the game of Madden into the books themselves. And if you enjoyed Madden’s delightfully positive approach to sports journalism, you can see a bit of the man in the words of GFL commentators Masara the Observant and Chick McGhee.
At the end of this blog post, I list all the times the game Madden Football appeared in the GFL series. Even if you haven’t read all the way through the series, don’t worry, these excerpts aren’t spoilers.
THE GAME THAT TAUGHT MILLIONS ABOUT FOOTBALL…
For a lot of years, I’ve told my readers that if they realized they enjoyed football only from reading the GFL series, and they wanted to learn more about the game, Madden Football on easy mode is an incredible educational tool. You will learn more about the ins and outs of football playing that game than anywhere outside of suiting up and being on a gridiron yourself.
In Madden, the Xs and Os come to life. Even the basics of choosing a play helps you understand the kind of routes receivers run, how the geometry of “zone defense” and “man-to-man” coverage really works, and the incredible calculations a pro quarterback has to process on every single snap.
Madden, to his admission, didn’t know much about computers and viewed the game as something of a teaching device before an actual competitive gaming medium.
The game featured the 1980 Raiders offensive playbook, and some critics viewed it as too hyper-realistic, something that Madden wanted over the arcade-style genre that others preferred.
Madden wasn’t a programmer, but he was directly involved with the development of the original Madden game. Even back then, with the game only available for the Apple II, Madden saw it as a way to educate people on the intricacies of the game of football.
When “Madden Football” came out in 1988, it was for the Apple II. Yes, the game is that old. Eventually it would spread to consoles and become the biggest sports game of all time. Madden alone turned EA Sports into a billion-dollar company.
COULDA BEEN A MILLIONAIRE…
At the time of his death, John Madden was reportedly worth $200 million. He did just fine. However, he could have had a lot more moolah had he grokked the concept of early stage companies and just how massive his game would become.
Back when the game first came out, Madden could have had “as much stock as he wanted” in EA Sports. He didn’t take EA up on that offer (because, boom!, he didn’t want to actually pay for the stock) something he regretted later in life.
“Hell, I’m just a football coach,” Madden said in the ESPN piece. “I pointed with my finger, all knowing, and said, ‘I gave you my time. I’m not giving you my money.’ I showed him!”
The “him” in question was Trip Hawkns, founder of Electronic Arts, now known as “EA,” the makers of Apex Legends, Battlefield, Medal of Honor, Star Wars Battlefront, and, of course, Madden.
MADDEN IN THE GFL…
If you’ve read the series, you might get that I dig the game of Madden. I dig it so much that twice in my life I’ve had to call a friend and tell them to come get the damn game and the console out of my house. Just take it. No, no money, just get this demon-spawn out of my domicile.
That is because the game is so good, I played it nonstop, at the expense of my writing. I had to make a choice, because I simply couldn’t put the game down. On “franchise mode,” forget about it — I’m building a team, managing the salary cap, scouting college players, formulating a draft strategy, bidding on free agents, and playing the actual games.
Madden football is amazing.
And, obviously, I’m not the only one who feels that way. Many NFL players, for decades now, play the crap out of the game. It’s a huge thrill for young men to see themselves in this end-all/be-all of computer games, something I wanted to capture in the pages of the GFL. You can see Quentin’s reactions, below.
Being on the cover of Madden has become a massive honor for pro players. I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say it’s up there with being an All-Star. It’s not winning the Super Bowl, sure, but it’s a damn big deal.
MADDEN EXCERPTS FROM THE GALACTIC FOOTBALL LEAGUE
FROM: THE ROOKIE, Book I of the GFL
He sat in his room, marveling at how much a body could hurt after just one practice. It wasn’t enough to stop him from playing. Nothing hurt that much. But it sure wasn’t a walk in the park either.
Quentin’s fingers deftly worked game controls as he guided his players around the holo tank. Games were a good way to get his mind off of practice — he didn’t know who “Madden” was, but “Madden 2683” was the best football sim he’d ever played.
His To Pirates were up 22-16 over the Jupiter Jacks in a re-match of Galaxy Bowl XXIV.
FROM: THE STARTER, Book II of the GFL
“Someday,” John said, “my little brother is going to get in trouble he can’t get out of, and you know what? His big brother John won’t be coming to bail him out this time.”
“This time?” Quentin said. “There have been times before?”
“Ju and trouble go together like a peas in a glove. But that doesn’t matter. He’s on his own. Let’s get out of here, I can’t even stand his stupid face.”
John finished the tour in the entertainment room, where a large holotank showed the hovering logo of a video game: madden 2684.
“John, no way! The new version of Madden? That doesn’t come out for another week, how did you get it?”
“Because people love Uncle Johnny. And guess who they have as quarterback for the Ionath Krakens?”
“No… way.” Quentin sat in one of the room’s two big recliners. He slipped on the fingertip controllers that were sitting on the arm rest. John did the same in the other chair. Within seconds, both players selected teams. Quentin chose the Ionath Krakens, of course — and so did John.
“Krakens versus Krakens?” Quentin said. “You don’t want another team?”
“If they have you as the quarterback, who do you think they have as the inside linebacker?”
Quentin smiled and nodded. “Ah, I see, and in the video game, there’s—”
“No red jersey,” John said, finishing Quentin’s sentence. “Prepare to be knocked into the Stone Age, backwater.”
“Bring it, Uncle Johnny.” Moments later, Quentin stared into the holotank at something he’d never dared believe he might actually see — a lifelike representation of himself. He’d played the various versions of Madden more times than he remembered, played as all the great quarterbacks — Zimmer, Adrojnik, even Don Pine, although he’d never tell Pine that. And now he was playing himself. It was a surreal experience.”
“Quentin selected a play and watched his team line up. So realistic, just like watching a game on the holo. His offense wore orange visitor jerseys. John’s defense wore the home black. Quentin saw the video-game version of John Tweedy creep up behind the noseguard, just a little.
Quentin’s fingers tapped open air, calling up an audible. He twitched his left thumb, snapping the ball. Sure enough, John’s holo-linebacker roared through the line on a blitz. Quentin’s holo-quarterback calmly threw to the holo-tightend — in this case, Rick Warburg — who caught the ball right where John’s holo-linebacker would have been.
“Jerk,” John said. “You see everything. I should know better than to blitz against you.”
FROM: THE MVP, Book IV of the GFL
(the “fifty-headed monster” below is Quentin’s reference to the sports reporters packed together after a game)
Messal pointed to a black-skinned Human. The fifty-headed monster quieted as the man stood.
“Jonathan Sandoval, Net Colony News Syndicate. The Krakens are averaging thirty-five points a game, and you’re averaging four-point-two touchdown passes per game. Through six contests, you’ve got twenty-five touchdown passes and only two interceptions. You’re making it look like a video game out there.”
“Uh … I haven’t really looked at my stats so far this season.”
The fifty-headed monster laughed, but he wasn’t joking. He’d been too busy to pay attention to stats — those numbers were insane. Sandoval was right; it sounded like something you got when playing Madden 2685 on the easiest level.
FROM: THE CHAMPION, Book V of the GFL
Quentin Barnes scrambled out of the pocket, and Quentin Barnes gave chase.
The first Quentin Barnes was the hologame version, the stat-maxed cover boy star of the just-released Madden 2686. When it had come out, Quentin had been shocked to see a bloody, snarling, nine-fingered version of himself featured as the game’s main image. The cover of Madden? Him? He’d barely been able to believe his own eyes. It was an honor comparable only to that of league MVP, because it meant that sentients all over the galaxy thought that you were the best player in existence.
Like every young quarterback, Quentin had once dreamed of being so good and so popular that he’d grace the Madden cover, but now that it had come true, it felt surreal and more than a little wrong. He was part of a team — being on the cover put all the attention on him. It was almost… embarrassing.
“Too slow,” Becca said. She leaned right, urging her hologame Quentin Barnes to avoid the pursuing linebacker. That linebacker, John Tweedy, was the real Quentin Barnes, or at least controlled by him.
“Dammit,” Quentin said. “Dammit!”
Last play of the game, Krakens versus Krakens, and Quentin had a four-point lead. All he had to do was get a sack or force an incomplete pass and he’d win.
“Uh-oh,” Becca said, “Crazy George looks open!”
Quentin — the real version — saw George open near the goal line, the area John Tweedy would have been playing if Quentin hadn’t blitzed.
Real Quentin wiggled his fingers to make his holo Tweedy dive for holo Quentin’s feet, but Becca made the holo Quentin effortlessly avoid the tackle.
Is this what it’s like when people try to catch me in real life? No wonder they want to hurt me …I want to hurt MYSELF right now.
Holo Quentin’s pass ripped downfield and smacked into holo Starcher’s oversized hands. George tucked the ball tight as Bumberpuff rolled into him hard, wrapped four tentacle limbs around him. George managed one more stumbling step, then fell across the goal line for a touchdown.
Becca stood up and raised her hands in victory. “That’s game, baby!”
“Quentin slumped back in his couch. He wanted to put his foot right through the holotank.
Becca did a shuffle-step dance to the left, then to the right. She started singing.
“You said I couldn’t beeeeat you, I couldn’t beeeeat you.”
Quentin crossed his arms. “You don’t have to be a dink about it.”
She laughed and puffed out her lower lip.
“Awwwww, after all that smack you talked, are you sad you lost?”
It’s sad to see someone as influential, positive, and just plain fun as John Madden pass, but wow did he lead an amazing life. The man put his stamp on multiple areas of football. And boom!, just like that, he’s ascended to Everdøøm where he will reside forever as a bastion of the Galactic Football League.
— Scott, Jan 3, 2022.