Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

A Grip on Sports: John Madden’s video game is still relevant and even more so in today’s NFL

A GRIP ON SPORTS • When it comes to video games, we are of the observer generation. As in we observed our boys playing them often, but never really joined in. Who wants a 10-year-old to call you a dweeb and make fun of your uncoordinated thumbs? But we recognize the games’ importance in their development and in changing sports over the years.


• How can that be? Not the development part. That’s simple. Anything anyone does for hours on end as a youth has an impact on their development. It would be impossible for it not to. Good or bad, and studies often find evidence of both, they have had an impact on our culture and society.

Which is why the other part of our thesis should come as no surprise. It’s been almost 25 years John Madden’s namesake video game has been in existence. And probably a lot more than 25 million folks have played it. There is no way the game, with the potential of millions and millions of simulations, hasn’t had an impact on NFL coaches.

Not Pete Carroll, sure, though we bet he isn’t hesitant to jump in with his grandkids. However, Mike McDaniel, the Miami Dolphins’ 40-year-old head coach and the hottest offensive mind in the NFL these days, admitted he played. A lot. In college. At Yale, of all places.

How could that have helped a guy whose offense has been likened to the game’s by one of his own players, Tyreek Hill? Simulations.

Thousands and thousands of play calls against defenses without ever once having to risk anything more than pride. Trying new things over and over. Facing multiple defenses. It may not be the real thing but every year it gets closer and closer. And it’s helped develop coaches who have less fear of trying something different.

Innovation is the mother of success in a hidebound sport like football.

If you wonder why college and pro coaches are much more aggressive in their decision-making these days, look to their old gaming systems. Sure, the analytical aspect of their sport – all sports, really – have changed as the ability to parse numbers have grown exponentially over the decades. But where do you think the game designers go for their algorithms? The same numbers.

And it’s not changing. As each new generation ascends the coaching ranks, their foundation in the game is skewing more toward the video game’s break-the-barriers culture. Say what you will – and as someone who has always been outside looking in, we try hard to avoid tilting toward the negative – but it has brought a breath of fresh air to the sport.

Sure, you can cite all the rule changes designed to allow such things to happen. And point to the books full of analytics. Or fall back on the notion change is always inevitable. All have played a role in the evolution. But you can’t ignore the video game factor.

If you do, you ignore a whole generation that has come of age playing. And learning. And, now, changing the in-the-stadium game.

• What triggered these thoughts? Lots of things, really. We’ve heard rumblings over the recent years of the game’s influence. But Greg Woods’ story in The Spokesman-Review’s sports section was the spark today.

The Washington State coaching staff uses the game’s rating system to connect with its players. And why not? When dealing with a large group of people, it’s always best to find common ground, a common nomenclature to foster unity.

Today’s college players understand the game so well, by dipping into its ratings, the coaches have tapped into a touchstone of the age group.

It’s not only smart thinking, it shows, in a small way, a willingness to try something new to achieve success. And that’s one of the main legacies John Madden’s game has earned over the years.


WSU: Greg has his story on the Madden hands defensive backs display. And how the numbers motivate them. … A couple of key offensive weapons are getting healthier. They could have an impact Saturday in Eugene. Greg has more in this story. … Charlisse Leger-Walker was named to the Ann Meyers Drysdale Award watch list, an award for the best shooting guard. … Elsewhere in the Pac-12 and the nation, Jon Wilner has his Heisman watch and this week’s picks in the Mercury News this morning. … There are some good games this weekend, including Washington State trying to take advantage of a possible Oregon hangover. The Ducks don’t seem to have any huge problems coming out of their tough loss to UW. … John Canzano covers a lot of ground, including Jake Dickert’s responses concerning Michigan State’s opening. … Washington hosts Arizona State on Saturday, as the Huskies race past the season’s midpoint. … The Sun Devils hope to wrap up the UW offense. … Oregon State has been good in the red zone. … A bye week seems important for Colorado as it enters the stretch run. … USC is trying to get its offensive line worked out before its tested by Utah. … Knowing the game is a good thing for any defender, include UCLA’s Jaylin Davies. … The Bruins have to decide who to play at quarterback. … In basketball news, Colorado is laying the foundation for next year’s entry into the Big 12. … Arizona State is still recruiting for this season. … Another freshman is poised to start for the Stanford women.

Gonzaga: Drew Timme’s time with the Milwaukee Bucks has come to an end. Jim Meehan shares the news he’s been cut. … Isiah Harwell, a shooting guard from Pocatello, will visit GU in February. Jim shares that as well.

EWU and Idaho: There is football news, with Dan Thompson previewing the Eagles’ game Saturday against visiting Weber State. … There is also basketball news, as Dan tells us the Big Sky released the media and coaching preseason polls. The big news? The Eastern women are picked to win by the coaches, though second by the media. The men are second in the media poll and third in the coaches’. The Vandals are last in both men’s polls and seventh (media) and eighth (coaches) in the women’s polls. … Elsewhere in the Big Sky, schools ranked high in the preseason basketball polls, like Montana and Weber State, have stories to pass along.

Preps: There has been a quick turnaround in the football fortunes of Northwest Christian. Dave Nichols tells us how the Crusaders went from a winless 2020 spring season to a 7-0 start to this one. … Dave also has his daily roundup. … Greg Lee has a notebook from the happenings in the local cross country world.

Seahawks: No Abe Lucas this week. He’s still not back off injured reserve. … DK Metcalf seems almost defiant about his penalties. That’s not a good thing.

Storm: No bench left? No problem for Las Vegas, as the Aces, without two starters out, used a tight rotation to get past New York and win a second consecutive WNBA title. It’s been more than 20 years since the league has had back-to-back winners.

Kraken: Kailer Yamamoto scored the other night for Seattle and his family trekked across from Spokane to see it. … Climate Pledge Arena has won an award that fits its name.

Mariners: Julio Rodriguez is once again a finalist for a Gold Glove. … The Rangers welcomed back Max Scherzer last night but also welcomed the Astros into Globe Life Field. Houston did what it does there, win. This one was 8-5.


• Never in our life have we faced a tougher hiking challenge than we did yesterday. When we accomplished it, and ascended to some rocks 3,000 feet above the Shenandoah Valley, we were rewarded with a spectacular view. How do we know? Kim showed us pictures. Our acrophobia kept us well back from the edge. But it seemed pretty impressive. The climb certainly was. Until later …