The Madden NFL franchise (newest instalment pictured at right, via DualShockers) has made plenty of headlines over its existence, racking up more than $3 billion from selling over 85 million copies. It's frequently played by everyone from casual fans to NFL players, and there have even been suggestions made that it might help players (and coaches!) understand certain elements of football. Long-snappers have gotten angry about their exclusion from the game, retired players have sued over their inclusion, parades have been held, and players have continually complained about their ratings.
The franchise has a long and storied history, and has made news for just about every conceivable reason one could imagine. However, it broke new ground this week, with CFL players in both Montreal and Edmonton upset about a line on the game's commentary track. Take it away, Edmonton Sun!
"The CFL has taken a virtual kick in the pants from the popular NFL video game Madden NFL 11.
A commentary track in the latest version of the EA Sports title by NBC colour guy Chris Collinsworth in reaction to an errant punt that lands out of bounds says: ‘Unbelievable. The field is 53-and-a-half yards wide and he still missed it. We're going to have to send him to Canada.'
While it may just be a humorous take on the CFL's 65-yard-wide field, the joke is being seen as a little offside by some who make their living kicking in the northern league.
‘Obviously Chris has never been to Canada,' said Edmonton Eskimos kicker/punter Noel Prefontaine. ‘It's interesting to have that comment on a game considering that it's harder to kick up here. Another thing that contributes to it: you let me know any NFL guy that does all three (kickoffs, place kicking and punting).'
‘If you haven't done it, then you don't know what I'm talking about. If you have done it, then you do. It's hard to develop all three techniques and do it at a high level. If Chris was a kicker and he had to do all three, then I'm sure he would understand where I'm coming from.'"
It's easy to understand the perspectives displayed by Prefontaine (and Alouettes' kicker Damon Duval, the other player who's prominently taken offence to Collinsworth's remarks). They make their living playing a position that's often overlooked or laughed at, and they do so in a league that often seems to be viewed the same way. However, the Sun picked a funny way to accuse Collinsworth of ignorance; they spelled his name wrong, made only passing reference to his main job as NBC's Sunday Night Football analyst (where he replaced the legendary John Madden), and neglected to mention his playing career at all.
Now we've cleared up who Collinsworth is and how you spell his name (Cris, for the record), let's get on to what he actually said. I don't think his remarks are that far out of bounds. Prefontaine (pictured, right) is correct that kicking in Canada can be very difficult thanks to weather and some of the stadiums (see Sandro DeAngelis' issues in Hamilton), as well as kickers being asked to play multiple roles. CFL kickers do tend to be those who didn't succeed (or get an opportunity) to play in the NFL, though; NFL contracts are orders of magnitude better than CFL ones, so it's hard to imagine any kicker with a chance to play in the NFL choosing to take their talents to Canada.
That holds true for other players as well; look at all the guys like Ricky Foley, Stevie Baggs and Ryan Grice-Mullen who abandon stability and stardom in the CFL for the glimmer of a chance at catching on with an NFL team. You can't blame them, given that the minimum pay for an NFL practice squad job is better than what many CFL players make.
Things were once different, and the Toronto Argonauts once outbid the NFL for the services of Rocket Ismail, but the leagues are in different stratospheres of pay these days. If given the choice between a guaranteed job in the CFL and one in the NFL, I don't think any player would choose the CFL. Furthermore, many of the players who fill the CFL are those who did get cut by NFL teams for mistakes such as the one Collinsworth is referencing.
Some people will surely interpret that as a slam on the CFL, but I don't think it has to be read that way. The CFL isn't the NFL, but it's a great league all on its own with its own unique rules, history, teams and traditions. Sure, the league brings in players that couldn't hang on to NFL jobs, but there's nothing wrong with that. If you look at the sheer number of teams and players in American and Canadian college football, there are obviously going to be a lot of very talented players who aren't able to make the transition to the NFL; as I mentioned in my interview with Shutdown Corner's Doug Farrar, even many players who have NFL-calibre talent fall through the cracks in the league's evaluation systems. The CFL provides a place for these overlooked players to show what they can do, and the different rules and skillsets it uses prevent it from being just a minor-league version of the NFL. To me, Collinsworth's comment is fair and not all that offensive.
Keep in mind, too, that in a way, this is a shoutout to the CFL. Eskimos' receiver Fred Stamps said in that Sun piece that he's a frequent Madden player, so he was happy to see the league mentioned. His teammate Maurice Lloyd also told the Edmonton Journal that playing Madden with his teammates is his favourite way to spend a day off; they might just find the reference to their league if they play it enough. Let's give the last word on the matter to Alouettes' safety Etienne Boulay:
"'The comment shouldn't be taken as an insult,' he said. 'We were mentioned in a video game that's loved by millions of people.'"