We Might've Called It Montana NFL 11S

In 1990, Electronic Arts reverse-engineered the Sega Genesis to begin development of a game for it, fully aware that if the project became known, they were in for a major lawsuit. The game was John Madden Football.

Even when Sega learned of the gambit, EA still faced up the console maker and acknowledged its right to sue - but still went ahead, figuring that this game and their console, arrayed against the Super Nintendo would be worth more than anything the console maker could get in court. And EA was right. And it still got a sweetheart licensing deal.

That's just one of numerous compelling details in Patrick Hruby's outstanding narrative covering the Madden NFL series for ESPN.com, which published today and occupied the Worldwide Leader's top slot on a day brimming with news about Brett Favre and Alex Rodriguez. Sports fan or not, it gives a lively, no-holds barred insight into console development during the wild-west days of the early 1990s.

For example, though EA founder Trip Hawkins developed a football strategy game years before Madden, and always wanted Joe Montana as the series pitchman, it just wasn't meant to be. Meantime, Sega managed to snap up the 49ers quarterback, but couldn't finish a game in time for the 1990 holiday season. So EA offered to step in and build it, alongside Madden.

"We made sure it was totally inferior," Hawkins said.

Go check it all out. It's a very entertaining read, one of the best things written about sports video games this year.

The Franchise [ESPN.com]