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- American football player and coach
If the creators of the NFL video game so many millions of people have played had their way, the wildly popular franchise would not have been known simply as Madden.
According to a story ESPN published in 2016, legendary coach and analyst John Madden was the third choice of Trip Hawkins, the eventual founder of video game maker Electronic Arts (EA), to be the pitchman of the game that eventually became Madden NFL. An avid football fan, Hawkins' first choice was legendary Pro Football Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana and former Vikings and Patriots quarterback and Cal Bears coach Joe Kapp.
Madden, who died at the age of 85 Tuesday, continues to be one of the game's most prominent icons. He was first a player, though a knee injury in his rookie season in 1958 with the Philadelphia Eagles cut his career short. He went on to be the head coach of the Raiders, where he won a Super Bowl. He became a television analyst during NFL games and made the game accessible for millions of viewers. He was enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in the Class of 2006.
But it's his constant presence on the video game franchise, arguably, that serves as his strongest connection to new generations of football fans and gamers alike.
According to ESPN, Montana could not be involved because he had a conflicting endorsement deal with video game console maker Atari, while Kapp wanted royalties. According to the article, Madden was so impressed with Hawkins' credentials — he went to Harvard and worked at Apple — that he agreed to sign on.
It proved to be a shrewd decision. Despite slow production and years of releases before it became a household name, Madden NFL has generated more than $4 billion since its inception and has sold more than 130 million copies, according to EA. Barron's estimates that Madden NFL generates around $600 million annually for EA.
Still, Madden lamented one major mistake that cost him millions more.
According to ESPN, after "John Madden Football" was released in 1988, Hawkins approached Madden and said EA was about to have an initial public offering and that Madden could "have as much stock" as he wanted, though he would have to pay the initial price of $7.50 per share.
"Hell, I'm just a football coach," Madden told ESPN. "I pointed with my finger, all knowing, and said, 'I gave you my time. I'm not giving you my money.' I showed him!"
In only the 10 years from 1989 to 1999, the price soared to $70 per share, according to ESPN.
Said Madden: "That was the dumbest thing I ever did in my life."
Originally, the game was planned as being a seven-on-seven competition, due to the limitations of computing back when it was being initially programmed. Madden, however, balked at that idea and wanted the game — if he was going to appear on its cover — to be as authentic as possible.
"If it wasn’t real football, I didn’t want my name on it," Madden told Grantland in January 2012. "I wanted it to be real football — pro football — with the sideline, the numbers, the hash marks. Everything had to be pro football."
One other unique aspect of the game is how the plays and formations users can call and execute are taken directly from NFL playbooks. Madden sent a 1980 Oakland Raiders playbook to Hawkins and former EA producer Joe Ybarra.
To elaborate on that, the game's producers sought to mimic the playbooks of the teams featured in the game.
"For our playbooks, I would say to (former San Francisco Examiner beat writer and consultant) Frank (Cooney), 'Go find out what a team's five signature plays are,' " Hawkins told ESPN. "He would go up to the assistant coaches, hand them paper. And they would draw up plays! We collected a huge amount of plays that way."
The video game franchise has evolved over the years to incorporate new game play modes and features, as well as tweaks to game play. Its reach across the NFL is comprehensive. Gamers within each locker room undoubtedly have their own copies and challenge each other during games.
R.I.P. to John Madden. It was one of my greatest honors to grace the cover of your video game. Thank you for the years of joy and motivation! pic.twitter.com/4P4NKdC1gT
— Richard Sherman (@RSherman_25) December 29, 2021
Even one of the game's most reserved and self-controlled figures — and one of the greatest coaches in the history of the sport — has his own exposure to the video game.
“I haven't played it in quite a while," Patriots coach Bill Belichick said Wednesday after he opened his press conference with a tribute to Madden. "When my kids were growing up, they would play it and I would watch them. They would beat me."
Belichick grinned as he told that anecdote, likely thinking back on those memories with his children —two of whom, sons Steve (outside linebackers) and Brian (safeties), are assistants on New England's staff.
Perhaps that's the enduring legacy of the Madden NFL franchise. Similar to the way he used charm and humor in the broadcast booth to make the sport appealing to all, the video game allows even those without expertise in the NFL or even in football to simulate the strategy behind it.
"It’s a way for people to learn the game and participate in the game at a pretty sophisticated level," Madden told Grantland.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Madden NFL video game: Story of how John Madden, EA Sports connected