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Sports >  NFL

Gridiron gaming: A look back at some of the NFL video game classics, including Madden

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is on the cover of EA SPORTS Madden NFL 20 after being voted  league MVP last season. (AP)
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes is on the cover of EA SPORTS Madden NFL 20 after being voted league MVP last season. (AP)

Always run the halfback toss.

That was my strategy, tightly clutching the Super Nintendo controller in my 7-year-old hands, in the early days of Madden. Growing up in the suburbs of Kansas City, the Chiefs were my go-to team, and I had Marcus Allen in the backfield.

Allen didn’t have the stats in the early-’90s Madden iterations, which included tiny 16-bit versions of the legendary commentator’s “Boom! Pow!” that have since been replaced by the voices of Brandon Gaudin and Charles Davis, as, say, Bo Jackson in Tecmo Bowl. But the play was guaranteed to gain at least 7 yards, as well as start a fight with my twin brother, or whoever had picked up the second controller to play against me.

My video game habits have changed since those early Nintendo days. I haven’t purchased a Madden title since 2008’s installment, and even then it was only to appease my college friends who’d routinely pulverize the Chiefs teams I’d choose to enter gridiron battle against them. I mean, who could blame me for getting boat-raced in those days? We had Tyler Thigpen and Brodie Croyle under center.

Now, with NFL MVP Patrick Mahomes gracing the cover of Madden 20, I’m seriously considering jumping back into the franchise that has sold more than 130 million copies since the release of the original in 1988. But before I do, and before you consider your own entry into the virtual world of the NFL, here’s a look back at a few of the games that blazed a path for the behemoth sports franchise.

Madden ’96 (released 1995)

John Madden famously refused to put his name on an NFL game that didn’t feature 11-on-11 gameplay. By the time the ’96 iteration rolled around, the franchise had perfected its camera angle, solved some presentation issues and even began adding some additional features, including minigame “training” activities that helped determine the ratings for your created player.

But, again, the draw was that head-to-head gameplay, and the sheer effectiveness of the halfback toss play. By the time you hit the line at full speed, often in the gap between defensive backs and linemen, you were practically unstoppable with even the runts of the league’s running backs. It led to the “no halfback toss” rule for local games at the Hill household.

NFL Math (released 1997)

Was there any ploy to get you to do your homework more transparent than the late-’90s run of CD-ROM games? My household owned copies of the Oregon Trail, updated for the post-Myst crowd with actual full-motion video sequences, and the knock-off Amazon Trail.

Learning is fun, they told us.

That’s why my friend up the street owned this game. I suppose his parents thought that minigames featuring lumbering linebackers trying to tackle you as you snatched up slices of pizza for additional energy (I’m not even kidding) would distract us from the fact we were basically just practicing our sums. Those light action sequences were broken up by trivia questions and math problems that had to be solved on a timer in order to avoid incomplete passes or turnovers. They included such puzzlers as how many touchdowns are needed to 66 points, if a each touchdown is worth 6 points?

I’m still awful at math. But don’t blame cheesy PC games for trying to teach me.

NFL Blitz 2000 (released 2000)

This game was ported to everything out of the arcades in the early 3D era, and it’s not hard to see why. Late hits, excessive celebrations and generally playing like the Legion of Boom whipped into a frothy furor were all encouraged.

I owned the only version of any NFL video game where the New York Jets were a serviceable team selection, with Vinny Testaverde throwing impossible deep bombs to Wayne Chrebet. Blitz 2000 didn’t seem to be appreciably more advanced than the first Blitz game for my PlayStation console, but that was back in the era where anything had “2000” slapped on it in an effort to sell more stuff.

The selected receiver would flash as you chucked the ball downfield, making him an easy target for defenders who simply wanted to break up passes by dishing absurd amounts of punishment. The kind that would require an immediate booth review in today’s NFL.

NFL Street (released 2004)

Following the success of Blitz and EA’s NBA Street series, NFL Street took the helmets off and put the gridiron warriors in more exotic locales, including beaches and backlot blacktops. Players earned skill points for showing off during long runs, and the clock was eliminated as teams competed to score a certain amount of points first.

This title actually spawned two sequels, despite cover athletes consisting of, ahem, Ricky Williams, Jeremy Shockey (with a cameo by rapper Xzibit) and Chad Ochocinco. Simpler times.

Madden 2008 (released 2008)

Vince Young was on the cover, and I’d just bought an Xbox 360 system. My college roommate was deep in the Brett Favre renaissance of that year and routinely sliced my Chiefs secondary (Tamba Hali, Glenn Dorsey and Derrick Johnson were on this team; how could they be so awful?) as I was trying to figure out what a “Hit Stick” was. I’m still not certain I know.

This was also the first time I ever tried to play a football simulation game online. In the heady days of the Xbox Live service, that meant a heck of a lot of smack talk from pre-teens who were already better at the game than I was. And who would chortle uproariously any time I picked Kansas City.

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