Madden on 'Madden'

John Madden is more than just the face of video game football. Scott Halleran/Getty Images

When a fan walks up to John Madden, the Hall of Famer knows instantly whether he's recognized as a former coach or for his billion-dollar video game franchise. "If someone remembers me as a coach, they still call me Coach," Madden says, "but if they know me for the video game, they just call me Madden. Just the other day, I went to where a bunch of high schoolers were hanging out, and that's what happened. They just all call me Madden."

And these days, Madden says, more people know him from his game than anything he ever did in coaching or as an announcer.

"It's been the video game ever since I got out of coaching," he says. "Even when I was an announcer, fewer and fewer people remembered me as Coach, and as the years went on, people just started knowing me from the game."

A game that has gone on to sell more than 90 million units since its debut back in 1988.

I had the chance to catch up with the man I still think of as Coach (shows my age), to talk about his game, its history and why Michael Vick is the most dominant player to ever hit polygons.

Jon Robinson: How did your relationship with EA get started back in the '80s? Why did they want you to be the face of video game football?

John Madden: I was more than the face of the game; I was more of the inventor of the game ... not the technical part, but the football part. At that time, Trip Hawkins was starting the company and he wanted to have three games for computers. This is even before video games. He knew that computers were going to be a big thing someday and that everyone would have one, and he wanted to be able to do more things on them. So Trip went to Harvard and started his own major, and that was computer games. Then he started this company, and he wanted to have baseball, basketball and football. It was going to be "Earl Weaver Baseball," "Red Auerbach Basketball" and then me for football.

It took a long time to get started because it was important to me that if it was going to be football, it was going to be real football, it was going to be NFL football. And to me, that meant that you had to have 22 players. Games before that maybe had three-on-three or five-on-five, and you didn't have offensive lines or defensive lines or blitzes. So that took two or three years to do. And to Trip, while this was a computer game, to me, this was a teaching tool. I wanted it so when computers came out, a coach could use his computer to show his players the plays and then you could analyze the chance of success of the play. So you could put a play in, then put a defense in and see if it would work. That was my vision. That's what I wanted to do with it. Instead of just coming up with plays and wondering if they would work, I wanted to be able to run these plays against a computer and see whether or not they would be successful. If that worked, I thought it might be a good high school tool or even a good college tool.

Jon Robinson: How have you seen the game evolve to where now high school players are actually learning offenses and defenses from your game?

John Madden: I think that's big, and it's not only for high school kids. I was with my 8-year-old grandson the other night while he was playing, and it's amazing how much they know now at such a young age. You don't have to wait until high school to get to know the plays and the rules now. Kids can call out rules quicker than someone inside the game can, and it's just amazing to me the knowledge of young players. And then for the high school kids, this is how they're learning how to play. That's why it's important for us to have the right way to play in the game.

Jon Robinson: When the game first came out, did you have any idea that the franchise would become so big that now people treat it like a holiday and take the day off work just to sit home and play some "Madden"?

John Madden: No, and nobody else did, either. We got started on this software before anyone knew about video games, then each piece of hardware that would come out, we would adapt to that hardware. So when we first did it, we had no idea that it was going to be anything like this. We had no idea, and like I said, nobody else did, either, and anyone who says they did is a liar.

Jon Robinson: How much input do you still have on the game? Do you meet with EA on a yearly basis?

John Madden: More than that. Now that I'm retired, I have more time. They have a system where they get every NFL game every week, and I have the same system. In fact, I'm watching the preseason game between the Eagles and the Steelers right now. So what my input is, it's like how we started years ago, if it's in the game, it's in the game. If it's in the NFL game, we're going to have it in our game. So as rules change, techniques change and the game changes, whatever changes happen, it will be in the video game. So I watch to see the end-of-season trends in the NFL game, then we talk about it and get it into the video game. Then the guys who make the game all come out here, and we watch games together and we talk about it and discuss it. It's mostly like, look what they're doing now. There's so much more shotgun, so much more spread offense with five receivers, and that pistol [offense] is starting to come in, so we watch these trends so we can get them in the game. That's really been my part all along.

Jon Robinson: The Eagles are probably going to be the most played team in your game this year, and Michael Vick is the most dominant player. You said you're watching the Eagles-Steelers game right now where he threw all those interceptions. Do you think you might have him too powerful in your game?

John Madden: Isn't it funny how preseason doesn't mean anything and how nobody likes them and we ought to get rid of them, but then when they play, look how much we talk about them. If it's meaningless before a game, then it has to be meaningless after it. His game last week just wasn't at the point where it's going to be. The reason he's so fun to play with is because he can run. With his speed, you get a two-way go with him in the video game, but in his real game, the more he stays in the pocket, the safer he's going to be.

Jon Robinson: Since the game is based off of the real NFL, what advice do you have for gamers playing "Madden 12"? If they want to beat their buddy, who should they play as?

John Madden: I think anytime you want to win, you play with a team that has an established system and a top quarterback. To me, the obvious is Green Bay. They're the Super Bowl champions; Aaron Rodgers is a guy I would never turn down. I'd also never turn down a Tom Brady. I'm not sure where Peyton Manning is right now, but Drew Brees of New Orleans is another one who can win you some games. The league right now is a passing league. It's a quarterback-driven league, and to be honest, there just aren't enough good quarterbacks to go around for every team to have one. So unless you're a really skilled gamer, you'd be better off playing with one of the good quarterbacks. That's the direction I would go. I always look to the quarterback.