John Madden has a low tolerance for cheesy play in the video game bearing his name. "I don't like to see stuff that isn't real, or isn't practical," he says, "like going for it long on fourth down." He would, however, blitz you every single down, if you gave him back one of his old linebackers.
"I did this in a couple of games," said the former coach of the Oakland Raiders, which I guess doesn't make it unreal, or too impractical. "But I'd just blitz them every play. I'd have Ted Hendricks out there at linebacker and then Ken Stabler on offense.
"Now that I really see how much havoc [Hendricks] could cause, and how I can move him around out there, I think he would have been great for the [video] game," Madden told Kotaku today. The 23rd edition of his game hits retail shelves on Tuesday.
Madden, 75, admits he doesn't actually play the video game very well, so he's not vowing to whip everyone with just a controller and the Mad Stork rushing the quarterback. Madden's Madden bragging rights are in being the guy whose video game is bringing kids to the sport smarter about its fundamentals, he believes, and better versed in its principles than the generations of kids who grew up without it.
"Raheem Morris, the head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he says that's how he learned football," Madden said. "He thought that's why he became a head coach at such a young age, was playing Madden. [Morris is 34] That's where these players today can get an advantage. You get a different look in the game. You see the whole, not just one position."
Morris, whose Bucs won 10 games last year, has told writers he "majored" in Madden while at Hofstra and that the game, even back in the 1990s, convinced everyone who played it they could be a head coach, too.
When Madden himself was a coach, beginning as a college assistant in the 1960s, it goes without saying there was no video game inspiring such confidence. There was barely any video. Coaches had film, and there were a ton of books, and in the off-season you went to a clinic where someone drew Xs and Os on a chalkboard. Very top-down, and no interactivity.
Then you went out and coached kids who had never seen a playbook. Today, they get one every August, and they learn to speak its language at a very young age.
"I was watching my eight-year-old grandson playing the other night, and just his knowledge of the game is amazing," Madden said. "The whole game, knowing plays, and defenses, and rules and terminology, and he's using the right words. I'm surprised hearing it all come out."
Really? So his grandkid is coming to the line, sending a receiver in motion, reading the zone coverage and hitting his tight end underneath?
"Well, he's eight years old," Madden says, "he's in a league where, if he wants to run, he'll run and when he wants to throw it, he plays quarterback and if he wants to receive he's a receiver."
Madden stopped coaching in 1978, of course becoming the television analyst whose work helped bring him and Electronic Arts together in 1988 for John Madden Football. Though he retired from the booth in 2009, he remains an active consultant on the Madden NFL series. Each year, the design team visits him at his studio in California.
When he evaluates the game, "I don't think about having a great time playing the game," Madden says flatly. "You know, they say if it's in the game, it's in the game, well, what I do is watch the game. I try to watch every [NFL] game and just watch the trends, see what they're doing now, and whether that is in the video game, so we're playing the same game that they're playing in the NFL."