NFL stars gather, game at 'Madden' Bowl

Drew Brees and an assortment of NFL players were on hand for the Madden Bowl in New Orleans. Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

NEW ORLEANS -- Arian Foster has something he’d like to say to all of his Twitter followers who blame him when his character fumbles in “Madden.”

“You have to remember one thing, I didn’t actually fumble the ball. You fumbled the ball,” Foster said with a laugh as we talked video games from Madden Bowl XIX Thursday night inside New Orleans’ Bud Light Hotel.

The EA Sports event pits elite NFL gamers against each other in “Madden 13’s” 3 vs. 3 online team play, and while the competition was heated, all of the players were eager to dish the dirt on their favorite memories playing “Madden,” especially considering that 2013 marks the game’s 25th anniversary.

“It’s all about the competition,” said Bucs rookie running back Doug Martin. “The game play is just amazing, and to be able to play as yourself and to play as your team, it’s something I always dreamed of growing up playing the game as a kid.”

These days, Martin says it’s all about one feature.

“I’m a hit stick guy,” he said. “But to be honest, it hurts me every time I see my character get hit hard in the game. I’m not going to lie. It hurts.”

“The virtual game of football is just as exciting for the kids to play as the real thing,” added Foster. “And to see how the game evolves every year, and to see what features they come up with next, it always blows me away.”

Foster’s favorite feature?

“I was always a big fan of the quarterback vision cone,” he said. “I know it was too hard for a lot of people, but it was pretty cool.”

As for his least favorite, Foster takes things a bit more personally.

“My character’s not good looking enough. He doesn’t look like me at all. But they just took a digital scan of my face, so hopefully in the next game, it looks more like me. My speed and all my ratings, I’m good with those, it’s my face they need to fix.”

Funny, because Foster’s teammate, All-Pro tackle Duane Brown, also looks for some cosmetic improvements when it comes to his virtual self.

“My character’s on the heavy side,” said Brown. “I know I’m an offensive lineman, but I feel I’m a little svelte. I’d like to see him a bit slimmer, but they made me a 96 in the game, so I don’t have many complaints. Make me a 98, and I’m good.”

Saints quarterback Chase Daniel admits to playing “Madden” up to six hours in a sitting, saying he has been addicted to running his virtual franchise for years.

“When you think of ‘Madden’ on any console system, you think excellence,” Daniels said. “It’s the only video game I even play, but I play it all the time. I love blowing people up with the hit stick, I just hate when it’s me on the receiving end. I see a safety running at me, and if he blows up one of my characters, all I can think is one thing … ouch. I love it.”

Bengals receiver A.J. Green is another player who has been playing “Madden” since he was a kid, but Green confessed to having a major problem: “I suck at ‘Madden,’” he said, shaking his head. “I’m a big gamer, and I’ll sit down and dominate in games like ‘Call of Duty’ all day. I’ll sit there and play ‘Call of Duty’ about five hours at a time, but I play ‘Madden’ and I don’t know what happens, I just suck.

“Fans come up to me all the time and they tell me how great my character is in the game, but then I throw the ball to me and I drop it. I don’t know what I’m doing wrong; all I know is that I suck.”

You never would’ve known by watching the Madden Bowl, as Green, Trent Richardson and Martin actually made it all the way to the finals to square off against a team of “Madden 14” rookies: E.J. Manuel, Denard Robinson and Kenjon Barner. Green made some key plays throughout.

“I hate playing games I’m sorry at, but hopefully I’m getting better,” laughed Green. “I grew up playing ‘Madden,’ but everybody is always beating me. Besides, whenever I see a player hit stick my character in the game, something about seeing myself get taken out like that, it just makes me cringe.”

To Victor Cruz, it’s not the big hits he loves about “Madden,” it’s the end zone celebrations.

“They added my Salsa in there last year, and it’s so fun to see that in the game,” he said. “This year, I want them to bring me down for motion-capture. That’s the next step, put all those little balls all over me and get me in that mo-cap suit.

“It’s a dream come true to see your end zone celebration make it into a video game, especially since my character scores a lot. They gave me great hands in the game, great agility, but I think they can ratchet up my speed just a little bit more. Throw in a little bit more muscles, a little bit more speed, and let’s get that Salsa dance going.”

At the end of the night, though, there would be no virtual salsa on the EA Sports stage, as it was the team of young guns, led by virtual QB Manuel, who took home the Madden Bowl XIX trophy.

“I’ve been playing ‘Madden’ since ‘Madden 95’ on the Sega Genesis, so I’ve had plenty of practice throughout the years to make this championship happen,” said Manuel. “It was a great team effort. We just came out here and did what we had to do to win. It felt like a real game out there.”

“We all grew up playing ‘Madden,’” said Robinson, “So for us to win this championship really means a lot."

And to Manuel, the win hopefully will add a few bonus points to his “Madden 14” player ratings.

“I know they’re always harsh on the rookies, so if I can get anything above an 80, I’d be happy,” Manuel said. “I think I have one of the stronger arms coming out in the draft this year, and hopefully, winning this championship, maybe they’ll boost me up a bit. Even if it’s one point, I’ll take it. From there, it’s up to me to prove to the producers of the game that I deserve a higher rating. That’s the great thing about ‘Madden.’ The game is so realistic, and the better I play in real life, the better I’ll be in the game.”

Something Martin’s virtual character had a chance to live through this past season.

“The ‘Madden’ ratings actually gave me motivation throughout the season,” said Martin. “I wanted to show the people making the game that I can be higher, especially my speed. So many people play ‘Madden,’ the last thing you want to be is the character who loses a big game for one of your fans.

“A lot of people out there take their ‘Madden’ game as serious as real football. Hopefully they’ll have fun handing me the ball for years to come.”