I googled John Madden to make sure he wasn't dead. John is alive and well. According to the internet. 82 years old.
Did you know that John Madden was born in Austin, Minnesota? Austin is a small town south of the Twin Cities. Dad used to sell long-term care insurance in this small farming community when I was a kid. Small world. Small town.
I know John Madden more as a character in a video game than anything else. Yes, I remember listening to him call football games. I can't think of Randy Moss without remembering Madden's enthusiastic commentary.
"Just chuck it up there and that Moss will go and get it," he'd rumble after Moss scorched the Cowboys secondary, his jowls blubbering and flubbering with excitement.
I had the original John Madden football for Super Nintendo in 1991. My friend Nick got off at my bus stop after middle school. We'd set the quarters for 15 minutes. The games would take nearly two hours, and the score was usually 185-180. Epic battles.
The first Madden with real players blew our minds, but the addition of franchise mode in 1998 was what sealed the deal. Tecmo Super Bowl, another game from the 90's, had player names. But Madden allowed you to simulate the experience of signing free agents, trading, and building a roster. What fun.
My freshmen year of college involved epic Madden campaigns. Four of us took control of teams and played through seasons. My friend Mike still remembers when I kicked the couch after my New Orleans Saints, led by Heath Shuler, were eliminated from the playoffs. It was quite a temper tantrum.
I've owned many iterations of Madden over the last twenty-five years. Some are better than others. I can't deny it, the games hook me. I get swept up in the world of managing an NFL franchise. I picked up the newest Madden last week. My friend Nate and I got together last weekend to play Madden 19. We created a franchise. He's the Cardinals. I'm the 49ers. We spent all afternoon re-making our teams. Nate fleeced the computer controlled teams in his trading. I traded all of my overpaid players for draft picks. These days, you can even play the franchise online. You don't even need to share a dorm room. Or a memory stick. Small world. Isolated world.
The NFL is reeling in the press. On social media. Stand for the anthem? Sit for the anthem? Brain cells? Who needs them? Traumatic head injuries, domestic abuse, the tradegy of race in this country, and a combined net worth of $75 billion. Rich NFL. Problematic NFL.
Incidentally, did you see the news about that one guy shooting those other guys because he lost a game of Madden? Woof. Toxic. I can't deny that something of violent, unhealthy masculinity is wrapped up in Madden and, frankly, the NFL as a whole.
I've always been weary of the pageantry of football. The symbolism. Patriotism, nationalism, and capitalism merge to create a spectacle that, since I was a child, always felt a little creepy. Scantily clad women dance on the sidelines as grown men maul each other in front of 100,000 screaming, usually intoxicated, people? Woof. The Roman collosseum was used to distract the masses from social inequity. Don't think about your everyday life. Think about a game. Meanwhile, the elites remain the elites and take your money when you aren't looking. The owners of the NFL will survive all of the negative press the league is getting these days. The creators of Madden too. They have money. People with money usually do well. The rest of us? It's less of a sure thing.
My little rant aside, I'm a consumer of the NFL. I can't get enough. I'll hang on every play in every Vikings' game this season. This addiction goes way back. I used to watch the Vikings with my dad in the 80's. Football is part of my acculturation. There's no getting around it. And John Madden football has played a role. I'm a master of the slant and zone running game. I've had years of practice.
All of this is to say that starting a franchise last weekend with Nate was fun. And nostalgic. And probably a distraction. I've got other things to be doing, to be sure. But finding time to play John Madden fun was a needed break from everyday life. It always is.