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.