Nofriendo. That's the term some of my boys back in high school gave my video game addiction. Those days, it was all about Tecmo Bowl. Growing up in the Bay with a heavy West Coast bias, I did what anyone growing up on a diet of Mark Van Eeghen and Lester Hayes would do -- I handed the ball to Bo Jackson. When that got old, I had this trick of running Jay Schroeder back to his own end zone just to see how far he could chuck it to Tim Brown. Todd Christensen was another favorite of the Silver & Black offense, as was Marcus Allen. Only thing wrong in my eyes is they were playing out of Los Angeles. Anyway, I dominated people so much as the Raiders, the team became banned in my house for 21'n fools (up by 21, game is automatically over). A month later, the 49ers were banned thanks to Jerry Rice, Roger Craig, and the interception machine, Ronnie Lott.
That's when I decided to switch things up and turn to defense, making pixels shake in their cleats with the baddest man to ever walk into a video game, Lawrence Taylor. LT was the fastest guy on the field and could not only get to the quarterback, but on special teams he could block just about every kick. Then on offense you had Mark Bavaro, Joe Morris, and one of the most underrated video game athletes of all time, Phil Simms. Dude just always did enough to win.
From there my game obsession only grew when my parents bought me a Sega Genesis along with Lakers vs. Celtics and NHL Hockey one Christmas. Tom Chambers dunking from the three-point line, Michael Jordan kissing the rim (back when he was actually in video games), Charles Barkley and his jam from the free throw line. I remember not having any money that year and my parents decided to play hard ball, telling me: "You already have a couple of games to play so play them, we're not buying you any new ones." So that's what I did. And in those days, growing up without ever seeing hockey on my parents' TV (and I mean ever), I can honestly say that everything I initially learned about the NHL, I learned from the Sega Genesis.
But if there's one moment that really stands out in terms of taking my video gaming to another level, it was the time I visited my cousin and he flipped on Madden. I remember playing as the Eagles and taking off as No. 8 (long before Madden had player names, but we all knew Randall could fly). As soon as I went home, I sold enough baseball cards to buy myself a copy of the game and, almost 20 years later, I haven't stopped (I say almost, as yes, this is the 20th anniversary of Madden, but the first game debuted on the Apple II, and back then my family only had a word processor).
From that day, I called toy stores and video rental chains and even Electronic Arts itself (which I found out was headquartered only about 10 minutes from my house) to find out the release date, and long before any suit ever made up the term "Maddenoliday", I was there with my money the first day I could find Madden in a store, locking myself in my room for all nighters. Nofriendo was born.
Seriously, I still remember when Madden 95 came out. It was the first year when the game actually saved your season (and the first year with player names), and I went upstairs, told my parents goodnight, shut the door and played through an entire season as the Dolphins by the time they woke up the next morning.
I started thinking back on those old days when an advanced copy of Madden 09 hit my desk. How I used to wait in line the day it came out, used to scheme on how I could get an early copy to the point where a friend and I once did some dumpster diving at EA for games. We actually found cartridges of some Rome war game and I think James Pond, the special agent fish, but no Madden (and yes, the cartridges did smell thanks to some other unknown gooey substances the people at EA threw in the garbage, but they did work!).
Now the game gets shipped to my house before it even comes out and I still get that same feeling of wanting to do nothing else but lock the door and play all night. And that's exactly what I'm doing. Twenty-four hours straight of Madden. I figured I'd start at 8 p.m. on Tuesday and end at 8 p.m. on Wednesday, that way it's over, I can watch Hard Knocks and head to sleep.
So I drop a 12 pack of soda in the fridge and get to work (and yeah, I can't believe this is my job either).
First order of business is selecting my franchise team. This is always tough because I don't like playing as teams that are too good (what's the fun of roughing up the computer as the Patriots?). I like to take an underdog and see how long it takes to turn them into a winner. When I scroll through the various teams, I find myself examining the Raiders and their roster. The team overall is a 71, tied with the Chiefs as the third worst in the game, ahead of only the Falcons (67) and Dolphins (67). But when you actually look at the Raiders in Madden, they're not a bad video game team. JaMarcus Russel has 98 throwing power, 72 speed, and 87 throwing accuracy. Justin Fargas is 94 speed, Darren McFadden is 97 speed, their backup tight end, John Madsen, has 86 speed and could be a weapon against linebackers, not to mention the defense is led by two of the top corners in Madden, Nnamdi Asomugha and DeAngelo Hall - who is an astounding 99 speed.
I figure it's my time to step up and represent the Bay. It's time to bring back that commitment to excellence. So I start franchise mode as the Silver & Black and hope McFadden is the new virtual Bo Jackson (although it's never a good thing when you select a team and are told that your top weapon is your punter).
I'm playing five minute quarters with injuries, the trade deadline, and the salary cap all on and hopefully I'll be able to bring the Raiders to the playoffs in my first season as the new Al Davis (sans sweats). I decide to simulate through the preseason and start in Week 1. This simulation always makes me sweat, though, because I've done this before only to find out that my starting quarterback or stud receiver was injured during the preseason sim. Luckily for the Raiders, heading into Week 1 I've got a healthy group and we're ready to step up and play the Broncos to open 2008.
One cool thing about Madden 09 is that rivalry games actually matter. The teams get fired up and play harder against a rival, there is some commentary by the announcers about how the teams don't like each other, and the crowd just seems more into every possession. The only thing missing is all the batteries you'd see flying at the Broncos players from the Oakland sidelines. I was talking to some Chiefs one time and they said Oakland is the only stadium where you always wear your helmet, even if you're sitting on the bench, because the entire game you're getting pelted by debris. Crazy.
Before the game, I'm able to pick a couple of players who need special training to try and advance their skills. I pick Javon "What happens in Vegas" Walker and Ronald Curry to do the 40-yard dash, a drill in which you basically jam the right and left stick as fast as you can until the runners cross the finish line. They each add a point to their quick receiver skill set (they need nine more training points throughout the season to actually add to their ratings), and then it's time to beat Mike Shanahan like he owes me something (oh wait, I think my team owes him something ... never mind).
A couple of other new features pop up as you go to start your game. First off, the skill setting is now at My Skill, meaning the game plays up to your IQ, not just some random skill level (although you can still choose to play with the regular skill sets if you want). The second is called Rewind. You can select zero, one, three, five or unlimited as the amount of "Madden Mulligans" in the game where you are given the chance to simply hit a button, rewind the play like it never happened and try again. For example, McFadden dives toward the end zone but fumbles at the one. Now you can hit a button, rewind the play and go for a second dive while trying to hold onto the ball. I figure I'll play with one. That way I need to use it strategically (like on a missed field goal or if JaMarcus throws a pick toward the end of the game).
Broncos call heads, it's tails. Raiders ball! The kick goes to McFadden who breaks a tackle and runs out to the 40. First play of the game, HB Power O, Fargas runs behind the right side of the line, cuts back and speeds his way for 31 yards. Madden is still all about the speed. After the run, you could see Javon walking up the field holding his finger in the air like we're number one. Don't get ahead of yourself, Javon. It was just one play (but it was a great way to set the tone, if I do say so myself). A couple of plays later, my man Madsen at tight end catches a pass over the middle and rumbles for 12. I drive inside the red zone, but on 4th and 8 I make the classic Madden mistake of going for seven instead of three. I throw a perfect pass to Javon Walker but he drops it to turn the ball over to the Broncos. Maybe he should've retired after all.