It’s Saturday morning and 15-year-old you decides to grab your copy of EA Sports’ Madden NFL 2004, and settle in for a day of football gaming. Without realizing it at the time, this is going to be the height of your love for the series.
That’s a feeling that myself and many more have when thinking about the 33-year-old franchise. A feeling of love that we yearn to have back. Unfortunately, for myself and others, it came back in a way we didn’t expect it to.
On Tuesday night the world learned of the passing of Hall of Fame coach John Madden at the age of 85. Though someone passing at that age isn’t all that surprising, it still sent shockwaves not only through the football community but the gaming community as well. After all, Madden had become just as synonymous with video games as he had in the sport his game was based off. There’s a generation of young kids that know of Madden not by what he did as a coach or broadcaster, but that his name is on one of the largest video game franchises of all time.
Immediately after the news of his death broke, memories of his games came pouring in from near and far. People you wouldn’t have expected to every be into gaming were sharing their memories of the game that then became echoed by a legion of other fans.
For me, it was no different.
Madden NFL Was A Yearly Event
From the age of eight, the release of Madden was a major event to me and my group of friends. As soon as information started coming out, we’d all get the latest magazines or read the previews online. We’d pick up the official Prima strategy guide to get a jump on the plays and strategies of the year, and we’d count down the days to launch.
With an August birthday, the launch of Madden was always at the top of the gift request list. It was as if the launch happened specifically for me (I know that wasn’t the case, but I felt that way growing up). Each year, getting the game, opening the case to get that “new game smell”, and loading it up for the first time was always a treat. Wondering what the first song I’d hear from the soundtrack would be, thinking about the first team I’d be (usually the Bills or Bengals), and debating on a team for my first franchise were always at the top of my mind.
Of course, a new Madden NFL game meant a launch party with friends.
Going to the store for the midnight release where there would be games to win free copies of the strategy guide, gift cards, and some even gave away copies of the game. It was a party for everyone through the late 2000s when physical copies of a game still mattered to people.
From there it was all about the fun of the game. What new modes were there? What about any fun new Easter eggs or lines of commentary from Madden himself? It was always a joy for me growing up.
Even today, while I don’t get the same feeling as I had with each new Madden release for one reason or another, it’s still a day I have marked on my calendar. I still play with — mostly — the same group of friends that I have for the last decade-plus, we still have online franchises together, and we still get on at midnight on launch day to dive in.
Remembering The Reason We Play
Everyone plays games for different reasons. Some do it competitively for money while others just use it for an escape from reality. The point is, gaming means something different to all of us. One thing that should always be the same, however, is remembering that reason why we play the games we do.
Not only do I play games for the love of the medium itself, but it’s also a social gathering. Joining parties on PlayStation or a Discord channel to talk and hang out. While it doesn’t replace in-person gatherings, it allows quality time with people that matter to me that I would only get every so often. Gaming made that happen more.
With Madden, though the group who play has dwindled in my circle, it’s still a game that I play with friends because it was the first series I really had that bonding moment with people over. I still play because Madden was a major part of my childhood and teenage years. I still play because it’s a great time to just “hang out” with friends. I still play because I love the foundation of what it was based on. And, no, this isn’t a setup for a debate on the status of the current product. That’s for another time and place.
Madden NFL remains the football game, at it’s core, that it was always designed to be starting with that first game in 1988. It brings strategy, adjustments, and a sport we all love to the virtual space. It’s still one of the highest-selling titles out there, and is played by millions each year. It’s because of that love of the sport and the game that people still play, whether you want to admit it or not.
John Madden helped that become the reality. He was directly involved in major aspects of the game through 2009, with his vision leading to various changes and updates that we still have today. From the time he signed on with EA in 1987, Madden gave the franchise immediate credibility.
You don’t call it NFL Football, you call it Madden NFL. Here’s to you, Coach. Your memory and legacy will live on forever.