The Watering Hole: A tribute to the man who I know better virtually, than through what he did on the field

By Michael Waterloo
Of The Spirit

When you hear the name John Madden, what do you think about?

Do you think about his playing career that never happened after he suffered a knee injury with the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958?

Perhaps you see the iconic image of him being carried by his players after he led the Oakland Raiders to a 32-14 Super Bowl victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

That's my dad and grandfather's John Madden.

For people my age, we know Madden for a couple of different reasons.

First, you may associate him with Pat Summerall or Al Michaels from his broadcast career, or you may think of him riding "The Madden Cruiser" around the country, since he was afraid of flying.

But for me, like many others, when I hear the name John Madden, there's instantly a voice in my head that goes "E.A. Sports. It's in the game."

I'm a full supporter of kids playing outside and getting their 60 minutes of physical activity in each day.

I like the "NFL Play 60" campaign that they have, not to mention the awesome commercial featuring Cam Newton and the trash-talking kid.

You see, as a kid, I was constantly outside playing backyard baseball, football, hockey or basketball in my neighbors' backyard.

But, come night fall, I was in the basement of my mom's house parked in front of my Sega Genesis, Playstation or Playstation 2.

NBA Live, MVP Baseball, Medal of Honor and WWE Smackdown were games that
I played regularly, but nothing compared to the Madden football games.

One of my favorite stories with Madden takes me back to when my brother was younger.

See, games used to be rated Y7, and Madden fell under this category.

On my brother's seventh birthday, he didn't care about the presents, cake or birthday wishes, he just wanted to be able to play video games
with me, since I always told him he had to be seven in order to play.

Without an excuse, I gave him the controller, but little did he know, the computer was controlling "his" team.

Well, after a few years, the trick stopped working, so I finally had to let him play.

We booted up Madden, and we were the Miami Dolphins playing against the computer.

In the waning minutes, I dropped back with Dan Marino, and I threw the ball to my brother's user controlled wide receiver.

He completely ignored my advice to run out of bounds to conserve the clock, and to this day, I still don't know how he managed to break every tackle from the computer en route to the game-winning touchdown.

It's still a memory that we bring up every now and then, and the look on his face at the time showed how much it meant to him.

Madden, the video game, has always meant a lot to me in different ways.

Through my teenage years, I would go up to Walmart for the midnight release, only to stay up until 4 a.m. playing it.

After school, following whatever sport was in session at the time, I'd get home from practice and/or work, and I'd boot up the system to play.

I admit, I used to be a loser and keep stats, figuring out how many yards I'd need with a certain player to break an all-time record.

To me, it was my release from school, sports, family, etc.

When I went to college, I was excited to start my academic career at
Clarion University after taking a year off to figure out this journey we call life, and I was thrilled to learn that I lived on a floor filled with video game and sports fans.

Freshman year had its ups (friends, parties) and downs (grades, grades and grades) but again, Madden served as a release.

I had a phase, however, when I took it extremely too seriously, as I came home from class and would sit on my bed to practice Madden all night.

No, not playing games against the computer or my friends, but practice mode with the Carolina Panthers.

I had to perfect the touch pass from Jake Delhomme to Steve Smith if I wanted to continue to be the best.

That year, I ended up beating a kid named Scotty 144-3, but I also broke
about five controllers from slamming them against the wall.

Fast forward eight years now, and I still get the Madden itch.

My friends — John, Zack and Brooks — and I all own a Playstation 3, and
despite all of us being in the latter part of our 20s, we have an online Madden league.

Yes, that's right.

Four friends who went to college together plan times in our adult lives to play a video game.

My girlfriend hates it.

Brooks' wife probably isn't a fan of it.

The one's boss thinks it's "childish" for him to be playing.

But you know what, it keeps us all in contact.

There's the normal trashtalking, late-night game sessions and spreadsheets with scouting reports on made up rookies in the game.

Well, OK, the latter part isn't normal, but that's only Zack who does that.

I'll admit, I wasn't the best of friends with Brooks or Zack in college, but we got along well.

But now, if Verizon still charged per text message sent and received,
I'd tell my bosses at The Spirit just to send my paycheck to them to cover the monthly charges.

I'm 27, and I absolutely love playing Madden today as much as I did when I was 15.

It's not just a game, it's a tradition for me to line up at Walmart for each midnight release (except for this past one) and stay up all night to play.

So, however you prefer to remember the legendary John Madden, I'll always look at him as the man who started the most successful sports' franchise in video game history, and as dumb as it sounds, one who put one of my favorite things into my life.