Look, I Hated Playing Against Me In Madden Too

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EA Madden

I feel like everybody has their Madden story. If you love football, you got one. 

I was a teenager when my best friend Jamal got John Madden ‘93 for Christmas … which meant I basically got John Madden ‘93 for Christmas. 

And that was a good day. A really good day.

We’d played football games before—stuff like Joe Montana Football and Tecmo Bowl where Bo Jackson was unstoppable. But from the jump, the very first time we popped the SEGA cartridge in on that Christmas Day, Madden was different. The camera views, the plays, the graphics, even the classic teams in the game like the ‘72 Dolphins—after that day, it was a wrap. I was a Madden guy.  

As the years went along, it was closer to a ritual than anything else. It would always be on while me and the homies were catching up about life, nerding out about x’s and o’s or just talking trash. Whether it was a good day, bad day or a day when I had something else I should be doing instead, I was probably playing Madden

To think that 30 years later, I’m being inducted into the 2024 Madden Ring of Honor is almost overwhelming. Because in that time, basically everything in my life changed. I’m a completely different person. 

But one thing didn’t change at all: I still love kicking back and playing Madden with my people.

Via EA Sports

Some people might find this hard to believe, but I never really liked playing as myself in Madden back in the day.

Well, I mean of course I liked it. Even growing up, I used to do the whole create-a-player thing, jacking up all my stats to 99 and just going off. So, from that perspective, just the idea of actually appearing in Madden was amazing.

But the reality of playing as myself on the sticks? I just never got the hang of it. Maybe it was because I’m a little too stubborn about being a pocket passer. When you don’t actually have defenders trying to hit you, to sit back there and sling it around. That’s why my favorite was always playing as those Peyton Manning Colts teams in the 2000s. Especially when they added the QB Vision feature in ‘06 (which I liked a lot, actually) and he could still see 3/4s of the field every play. Just dotting the ball all around the field with ease—there’s one for Marvin, one for Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, now let’s hit Marvin again (which was basically how things went down in real life with that team). But that wasn’t the right way to play as the video game version of me. You weren’t going to get many wins keeping Mike Vick in the pocket—especially with my QB Vision. Like a slice of pizza cut in half. 

So while I never had much success playing as me in Madden, I still preferred it way more than playing against me. Straight up I might be the most frustrating Madden character to play against ever.

Like, it’s difficult to describe how brutal it is to lose a game to a random online player who's playing as you. And not even really playing, man. Just spamming the turbo, scoring touchdowns and then celebrating as you, while the real you is getting more and more angry. But honestly, at this point, it’s one of those things you just learn comes with the territory. And at least the other guy was having fun.

The thing I remember the most about being on the cover of Madden in ‘04, was getting the advanced copies and handing them out in the locker room to the guys. And it was like this big celebration. The Falcons had never appeared on a cover before so it felt like something we’d all accomplished together having that team repped on the cover forever. 

But still, I don’t think it really registered to me at the time just what a big deal it was. I had no way of knowing that to this day, whenever I’d meet a new person—whether it’s a fan, celebrity, or rapper—they’ll almost always bring up Madden right away. 

Even when I met Patrick Mahomes, that was the first thing he told me: Bro, I used to dominate with you in Madden

It’s this surreal thing, to have people feel like they know you because they spent so many hours playing a game as you. But there really can’t be a greater honor than being forever attached to something that brings people joy.

That’s why it really means a lot to me to be inducted into the Madden Ring of Honor this year. Twenty years after I appeared on the cover, and more than 30 years since I played that first game of Madden with Jamal, it all feels like a full circle experience. 

What makes it even more special is the caliber of the other players joining me, who are all legends in their own right. They helped define their era and how their positions were played. They were not only great, but also feared—on the field and in the game.

Let me give a little love to the 2024 Madden Ring of Honor inductees.

Don Wright/AP Images

Troy Polamalu

It’s been years, but I still have nightmares about picks I’ve thrown to Troy. 

That’s probably something I have in common with quite a few quarterbacks.

I still remember in 2006, we had a pretty wild game against the Steelers where he managed to pick off a pass I threw to Alge Crumpler that I still can’t get over. He wasn’t even on my radar during the play because he wasn’t involved in the coverage at all. But as soon as I released the ball, he broke on it so fast—you just saw his big poof of hair moving like a blur. Neither Alge or I could believe he made the play. And there was the lesson so many had to learn the hard way: If you test Troy—or put the ball anywhere in his vicinity—you’re probably gonna fail.

And as far as his physicality, man, I don’t know if Troy was the actual inspiration for the hitstick, but I can’t think of many players who were more fun to use it with. 

He’s a two-time Super Bowl champion, the first safety to ever appear on the cover of Madden, and now he’s taking his rightful place in the Ring of Honor.

David J. Phillip/AP Images

JJ Watt

If there’s one thing I hope people really appreciate about JJ’s game, it was his strength. JJ in this prime was almost like the Hulk out there. 

Yes, he was also quick, had the moves, set the edge—all the things you want in an elite defensive end—but his sheer ability to just manhandle anyone who lined up across from him was impossible to scheme against. We’re talking about a three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and notched more than 20 sacks in a season twice.

As a quarterback, he was the type of player who throws your internal clock off entirely. And even if he didn’t get his hands on you, he was 6’6” with super long arms and would bat passes constantly, which also has a way of weighing on you as a passer. Teams had to alter their entire scheme to get two or even three bodies on him. And he still made plays.

Oddly enough, even though we did overlap in the league for a bit, I never got the chance to play against JJ.

And I’m not complaining. 

Paul Spinelli/AP Images

Devin Hester 

99 SPD

99 ACC

99 AGI

There it is. That basically tells the story of Devin Hester.

I’m even cutting my guy short here—he was the first player in Madden history with a 100 SPD rating. And even more telling, when he got that rating, nobody batted an eye!

I have admiration for any player who has ever returned a kick or a punt for a TD in the NFL. It’s an almost impossible task. If you do it multiple times, you got my respect. You have guys flying at you at full speed, while you have to stay stationary and focus on catching the ball. Then when you do, it’s just craziness. Gotta go 0-to-60, finding a hole that probably isn’t there, and hope you don’t get licked. So to do all that and score a touchdown against NFL talent is crazy.

But to do it 20 times? 


Come on, bro. 

There’s an argument for Devin being one of the most feared players in NFL history with the ball in his hands. Every time you had to kick him the ball, you held your breath.

And that’s not even talking about how much fun he was to play with in Madden. Put him at running back and run a few sweeps—thank me later. 

Al Messerschmidt/AP Images

Eric Dickerson

The Jheri curl. The goggles. 

It’s still an iconic look and it’s not the only thing about Eric that’s stood the test of time. He still holds the record for most rushing yards in a single season — which has now stood for 40 years

I was a 49ers fan growing up, and I remember them playing against Eric Dickerson growing up. What I admire most about his style was how smooth and effortless he made the position look. Even though he was a big running back, he never really got hit hard and he still had breakaway speed that made everyone else on the field look slow. In all the chaos happening around him every play, he always had a way of looking in control. Let’s put it this way: He led the league in rushing four times for a reason.

And even though he’s an All-Pro and Hall of Famer, I think if he’d had the opportunity to play on some better teams over the years, he might have received even more recognition.

As it stands, I couldn’t be more honored to be in the same class as one of the greatest to ever do it. 

And if you say “Oh come on, Mike, it’s just a videogame,” then you really don’t understand what it means to the culture. Being on that cover changed my life, and I feel like when I’m 60 years old I’m still going to have people coming up to me saying, “Mike, you used to roast me in Madden, man! You were a legend!” 

Should’ve had a spy on me! 

– Mike