Josh Cribbs of the Cleveland Browns might be one of the most exciting players in the NFL. As for his "Madden" character ... well, that's another story.
In a game built on flash, you'd think the man who holds the NFL record for kickoff return touchdowns would be one of the most electric players to take the polygonal field.
While Cribbs is rated a 99 overall as a kick returner, his 89 speed makes him slower than current-day LaDainian Tomlinson in the game, and it's a number that bitter Browns fans have taken to the EA Sports message boards to complain about.
And rightfully so.
But even with the undervaluing of his burn, Cribbs still admits to being a fan of the "Madden" series, even if he doesn't get to enjoy the same success with cyber Cribbs that Browns fans get to cheer in real life.
"'Madden' is a classic," Cribbs tells me as we sit down to talk about his admitted video game obsession. "That game never gets old, never gets boring.
"I'm really into playing 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2' lately, but I didn't get to bring my Xbox 360 down to Miami [for Super Bowl week], and I really miss it.
"Is that how you know you're addicted?" he asks with a laugh.
"My biggest mistake was putting my Gamertag on Twitter," Cribbs continues. "I got so many people trying to talk to me through the game, and it was cool at first, but it was a little overwhelming. I had to stop playing for a little bit just so it would calm down.
"I can't give out my tag no more, I know that."
Here's what else Cribbs had to say about everything from learning the game of football through "Madden" to what he plans to give Mike Holmgren next season.
Jon Robinson: Could you imagine that one day you'd be playing in the NFL against some of the same guys you grew up playing as and against in "Madden"?
Josh Cribbs: That's something I never could've imagined. All of a sudden I'm in the league and I'm playing against Deion Sanders when he was in Baltimore. Another guy is London Fletcher. I used to play as him all the time in "Madden" when I was in high school and he's still in the league. I idolized these guys and now I'm playing against them for real. I never thought I'd be where I am today.
I think "Madden" instills these dreams in kids. Playing that game gave me a dream to be in that spotlight one day, and here I am.
Jon Robinson: Growing up playing "Madden," did you find that the game actually taught you anything about the sport that you were then able to use on the field?
Josh Cribbs: Believe it or not, that's how I learned to play football, through games of "Madden." When I started out playing ball, I was just doing what I was told. In school, I was never told why we played nickel on third-and-long or why these different formations would work against different defenses. We were just told to run the play, but we were never given the understanding of why they worked. Playing "Madden" and actually getting to control the players and see the outcomes, that helped me learn the why. When you're a kid and you're only 65 pounds, they just want all the speed guys to get in on third down so they could throw deep, but you're not really learning the finer points of the game. Through playing "Madden," you're learning a lot about the sport and you don't even realize it.
Jon Robinson: A lot of gamers think you're one of the most underrated players in "Madden." How do you think your character has been portrayed in the game? Is he fast enough?
Josh Cribbs: Argh! All I can do is grunt that answer [laughs]. I think that explains it all. I'm better in the game now than when I first started back in '05, '06 and '07, but it's time they finally put my guy up to my level for real. They need to add more of how the Cleveland Browns actually run the Wildcat in the game. We're taking things to a higher level.
I like how now teams are going to need to recruit guys out of college who are special teams -- Wildcat guys like myself. Teams need these guys who can do it all.
Jon Robinson: There was that one play this past season where you seemed to bounce off of every Steelers defender as you rumbled downfield. What goes through your mind when guys are hitting you and you just keep on moving?
Josh Cribbs: They were crushed, but I don't know how I did it. That's the type of athlete that teams need to draft. Those are the types of guys who last long and stay in the game. I love contact. I love getting hit. I get up every time. Sometimes I get hit so hard, I'm not even sure what happened, then I get up and I can still see, so I know I can go right back in the game. I love football and you need guys who love football around you.
Jon Robinson: Sometimes you make a move in real life that looks like you have a turbo button hidden in your shoes.
Josh Cribbs: Exactly, and that's what I want it to look like, but it all really comes down to training. When I was younger, I had a group of five friends and that's all we did -- we'd work out and train for fun. Sure, we'd go to the mall and try to get girls, but our fun was working out and challenging each other. We'd get a deck of cards and whatever card you picked, that's how many pushups you'd do, or that's how many sit-ups you'd do. Aces count as 21. Royalty counted as 10. That's the type of fun we had in our youth. Those are the types of friends I had growing up.
We'd do the same thing with "Madden." We might bet pushups on a game and they're on demand, so you need to do them right there whenever I tell you. We even use the 21-skunk rule, so if you're down 21, it's game over.
Jon Robinson: How serious are your skills at "Call of Duty?"
Josh Cribbs: I sit there all night and play online. I play with my brother a lot and we're working together as a team. We're sitting there shouting at each other, "Look out for the sniper to the left! Somebody's behind you, let's get him!" and all that crazy stuff. It's a lot of fun. I've got this big screen that I play on and I sit right in front of it as I play. You know how your mom always told you not to sit too close to the TV or you'll mess up your eyes ... my eyes are messed up.
My theater screen is so big that it's almost like cheating. I can see everyone coming from the sides, I can hear them through my speakers. I love it.
Jon Robinson: EA Sports is working on "Madden NFL 11" right now. What's one thing you'd improve about the game?
Josh Cribbs: I want to see more punts being muffed. If there's a rookie out there or if he's not a good returner, I think they should make more mistakes back there. If his return rating is low and a defender gets in his face, I want to see him drop the ball more. Another thing I want to see is the quarterback falling down after they snap the ball every so often. Sometimes, a quarterback just slips out there for real, and it would be cool to see the quarterbacks in the game slip, and then you need to try to either catch your balance or get back up and throw the ball. There should be more bloopers in the game, because that stuff happens out there for real, so it should happen in "Madden."
Jon Robinson: So if you could take over the Browns franchise in "Madden," what's the first thing you would do?
Josh Cribbs: I'd start me at quarterback and receiver and throw it to myself [laughs]. Nah, what I'd really do is put me at quarterback and run the ball all the time. I would also give my character a little better throwing ability so I wouldn't have to just run around back there. I want to throw the ball.
Jon Robinson: How about in real life? What's the status of getting you a new contract to stay in Cleveland?
Josh Cribbs: [Mike] Holmgren reached out to my people and we told him that we're open to communication with him because they let go of all of the people who made the previous offer to me. Things are looking up for me, they're looking up. We're pretty close to getting something settled.
And when I do get that new contract, I'm going to go out and prove to him every game that I'm worth it. Every time that I score, I'm going to get the ball and sign it "To Holmgren" and give it to him just so he has the proof that I'm worth every penny. I have a chip on my shoulder now, but I want them to know just why they're giving me a new contract. I still have a lot of great years left and I'm going to go out and prove it every chance that I get.