The score was out of reach. The fans had given up. The result would have no effect on the season. Nothing suggested Greg Jennings and the Green Bay Packers were about to execute the most famous come-from-ahead touchdown miracle in NFL history.
"Every play, I don't care if I'm up by 30 or down by 20, I will go for the score," Demetry James, who was calling the plays that day, told me later.
The Packers had the ball on their own one yard line with only enough time to run one last play, leading the New Orleans Saints by 22. So, clearly, this called for a pass out of the shotgun formation. James took the snap and immediately went right on a designed rollout, because, well, every pass is designed to roll out under this offensive scheme.
The cornerback came up, then stopped flatfooted, realizing only too late he'd left wide open the Packers' deadliest receiver. The one who went back into the game injured. The one with a broken leg. The one who would put the team on his back, and do this shit, for Madden.
"You know, I was surprised he even caught the ball," said James, the gamer at the controls and the creator of probably the most-viewed Madden highlight ever. "All I was doing was looking for the open man. I saw he was open and threw it, and then I saw him limping and realized, that's Greg Jennings, the guy got a broken leg!
"There were four or five of us friends playing Madden that day, all of us watching, and then all of a sudden we're all dying laughing. Oh my God."
After five million YouTube views, what happened next is as clear in the mind's eye as Montana to Clark, Kellen Winslow being helped off the field, or Namath running up the tunnel with his finger in the air. Playing Madden NFL 10 in his Miami home that night, James took Jennings 99 yards for the score, then replayed it with commentary as quotable as anything John Facenda ever uttered for NFL Films.
In the video, Jennings ridiculously limps 85 of the yards clutching his femur, having been reinserted into the game despite suffering an injury-James says it was a broken leg-earlier. It exploited Madden's old injury system, which allowed for the reinsertion of players after their injury had been diagnosed, albeit with the risk of reinjury depending on the severity. As this was a one-off multiplayer game, such risk was inconsequential.
At the end, with the Saints' notorious hitter Darren Sharper in desperate pursuit, Jennings manages to cross the goal line for the final, if gratuitous, score. James captured it in a multiple-angle, shaky cell phone camera highlight as his friend and defeated opponent, "Gumby," stewed and then finally quit the session. James bid him farewell with "Fuck you, Gumby!" And an Internet meme was born.
"It just became huge. It was really flattering to see all of the reaction, all of the comments. Some were positive, some were negative," James said. "I think Bartstool Sports was the first to notice it, and then Jimmy Kimmel tweeted about it, and then it really was huge."
Filmed in April 2010, the video lingered on James' YouTube account for a few months until October, when everyone, including Kotaku sister site Deadspin, noticed and picked it up. In the NFL playoffs, Jennings himself would hear trash talk from opposing defensive backs challenging him to "put da team on your back, doe." (That last word, by the way, is pronounced "doo.")
"I'm like, seriously, we're beating you guys really bad. Put the team on your back," he said.
When the Packers made the Super Bowl in January, Jennings was asked about the highlight at media day. He didn't need it explained to him. "Darren Sharper!" he said, in James' voice, later reprising the highlights (sans profanity) in an appearance on The George Lopez Show and at Disney World.
"If I never became famous playing football," Jennings said, "he made me famous, playing Madden."
And not that he needed the help, but Madden has done its part for James' fame, enshrining "Put Da Team on Your Back" as an achievement/trophy in Madden NFL 12. Take Jennings (no other receiver) 99 yards for a touchdown and the 50-Gamerscore/silver trophy prize is yours.
In his regular life, James, a 24-year-old Miamian, works the front desk of a property management agency and is lifelong friends with "Gumby" and others who were present in the Xbox Live party watching. They all talk trash while playing Call of Duty, NBA 2K or Madden, which he's bought every year for the past decade.
But he unwittingly created a masterpiece that taps all the necessary components of an iconic highlight, in video games and sports alike. It is brief (just 90 seconds). Not only does it have a signature line, it has at least eight. And, of course, what it all describes is just stupefying to behold. That's what got James so excited in the first place.
Demetry James' call of a 99-yard catch-and-run touchdown by Greg Jennings in Madden NFL 10 has at least eight iconic lines, a career's worth for most professional play-by-play men. Here they are:
• "I have one of the most best offense in Madden history."
• "He put (But I put) da team on his (my) back, doe!"
• "Let's go inside the mind of a Greg Jennings! (tinkly sound effect)"
• "I don't know how the fuck I'm runnin' right now, doe."
• "I'll do this shit, for Madden!"
• "Oh shit, DARREN SHARPER!"
• "One of the most hardest hittin' safeties in da LEAGUE."
• And finally, "Fuck you Gumby!"
"When I made these videos, I didn't do it for the quotes," James said. "That's just the way I talk when I'm amped up. I don't make those up, I just record them, put them on the 'Net."
He followed up the Jennings performance with another kit-bashed highlight reel, calling Marshawn Lynch's real-life "beast mode" 67-yard touchdown against, lo and behold, Darren Sharper and the Saints, in the 2011 playoffs. That one has done almost two million views on YouTube, but contains about twice as much profanity and coined a term in even wider use: "Hold my dick." James says it over the replay of Lynch diving backward into the endzone, grabbing his crotch, as Sharper looks on helplessly.
"That's something I just made up," James says, saying he hasn't heard it elsewhere. "He was just holding his dick, saying fuck you to all of the Saints."
In the aftermath, James said he's become something of an Internet celebrity himself. Daily, his Xbox 360 account will see at least 10 requests to add a friend, nearly all with a personal message citing something from the Jennings video. If he's playing online and someone recognizes him, he'll be bombed with chat requests to recite one of the lines.
Gumby, whose GamerTag has been seen at least 5 million times, has it even worse. Thanks to his friend, Gumby's inbox is filled with fuck-yous. James says friends in the real world greet him that way, too.
"They don't even say 'How you doing,'" James laughed. "Not 'Hello,' not 'Good morning,' not 'hey, man, what's the score,' just 'Fuck you, Gumby.'"
If Jennings has, graciously, acknowledged the video, the league is unlikely to do so officially given all of the cussing and slurs in it, and James knows this. It's perhaps the only brake on his mainstream fame, given that his best work can't be featured in a family newspaper or broadcast. He's fine with that. But James does believe he's a part of NFL lore, in his own small way.
"I think I am," James said. "Every time somebody's watching football now, they're hoping somebody puts the team on they back, doe."
And do it for Madden?
"And do it," James laughs, "for Madden."