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My Madden Memories

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By Scotty McDaniel

Many of his biggest fans weren't even alive to see him coach the Oakland Raiders to 1977 Super Bowl. They didn't see any of his winning seasons, which were all of them. They've never seen him with anything but white hair.

But they've seen that achieving grin on old school Nintendo box art. They've heard his stuttering football commentary, and they've played his video game - for the last 20 years.

The first version of the game was published in 1989 for the Apple II series of computers and titled John Madden Football. Since then the iconic football video game franchise grew in style and fan-base year after year, now leading the multibillion-dollar video game industry as the highest revenue-generating video game series in North American gaming history.

At that level of success, it now needs only his last name to reference it.

Madden is the football game that lets fans take the controller like a king takes his scepter, and become the star.

I remember playing old Madden games and taking control of some of the biggest names in the sports - Dan Marino, John Elway, Jerry Rice. In the early '90s, players in the video game all looked alike regardless of size and position. They were all tiny colorful dots bumping into each other, and your imagination filled in the blanks.

But it wasn't until the 1997 release of Madden 64 that I was hooked to the Madden game, and the game of football itself. That was the only year the game featured the "helmet cam" - a first-person view from inside the helmet. Suddenly I wasn't controlling little dotted clones, I was one of them. And instead of the classic overhead view I was down on the field, running for my life as evolved player models that looked like bloated Lego cartoons chased me around trying to hurt me.

With a quick toss play that was guaranteed at least 5 yards every time, my obsession with football was born. With each flag, I started to learn the rules of the game, the strategies, the different teams and the names I'd come to remember with an odd Rain Main-like retention.

Over the years I've fed that obsession with each new installment, and my how the game has changed during that time.

The graphics get more lifelike and the animations crisper as each new rookie class joins the rosters of the franchise each year. In recent years players have started to talk trash while faking a blitz, get in adrenaline-filled pushing matches after plays, and celebrate touchdowns with great excitement.

And releasing Friday is Madden 2010, the prettiest version yet.

Many of the players have their actual faces scanned in and onto their virtual identity. New realistic battles in the trenches let offensive linemen block to create an actual pocket for the quarterback to dance around in. New animations allow those with fast things to spin past those linemen with a defensive end and sack the quarterback with bone-rattling velocity. If the ball pops loose, a pile might form and players have to smash corresponding buttons to try and get the ball from the other team.

Officials will run in and discuss key plays before making their calls on whether the play resulted in a touchdown or a goal-line stand. Disagree with their call? Challenge the play and let the booth replay it carefully.

I've often had people confess that they walked in and thought I was watching an actual football broadcast on TV, in high-definition no less, when really I was just playing through my personal season. It's that authentic.

And my next season begins Friday. So by the time the NFL regular season begins on Sept. 10, I plan to sport an imaginary Super Bowl ring with my beloved Indianapolis Colts. Or two.