Each year, millions of Americans face the same dilemma: Keep the players and teams they have worked so hard to develop, or switch to the latest version of EA Sports' Madden Football. Should you sacrifice all the hours you spent training and preparing to make Nick Pappagorgio the biggest NFL (video game) legend since Super Tecmo Bowl Bo Jackson in exchange for some new features?
Should a grown man in his 30s really be obsessing over fictional video games?
It is hard to resist. EA Sports always seems to add something to Madden that is just too enticing to let go, even if your franchise, in its 20th season, is on a 12-year winning streak. The circle of life for an NFL video game is one year--just long enough to allow you to run through the retirement of every current NFL player and well past the ones that you created or imported in the meantime.
Every gamer has their own ritual with discarding the game. Some callously toss aside a game and the relationships that were formed over many sleepless nights to make the change. (Video game football can be a cold business, much like the real thing.) Those with an ounce of compassion will take a little extra time to say good bye to the team, to look over the draft cheat sheets one more time and think about what must have been going through their minds when they gave Kyle Turley that seven-year contract extension. Odds are it was a couple of Miguel's Jr. burritos and a few too many Coors Lights. Those mistakes will not be repeated in the new game. It is time for fiscal responsibility this time around. (Have you ever wondered how many NFL owners would like to take advantage of that function?)
The excitement that builds in the days prior to the Madden release can only be described in the same vein as concert tickets of your favorite band going on sale. (Unless your favorite band is Tom Petty.) Luckily, there is not an endless line of people camping outside the local Best Buy store--probably because most of the gamers used their "camp outside" privilege waiting for Star Wars, Episode III.
The drive home from the retailer, with game safely belted into the passenger seat, is a lot like you would imagine Donovan McNabb ducking and weaving throw traffic like it was the Giants secondary. Fortunately there is not a Madden cover jinx on your car.
The first thing that is to be done with a new Madden game is to immediately set up the franchise mode. A lot of players--this one included--like the player development aspect more than anything. Players get to scout, draft, and develop players through mini-camp and preseason games. The only thing missing is having your star receiver walk out of training camp to go home and shoot baskets. Many gamers prefer to fast forward the regular season and go straight into the scout and NFL Draft portion of the game.
Kind of like the Bengals.
Nothing beats the excitement of setting up the franchise mode of that first season of the new game. Your favorite team's destiny is now controlled in your hands. But what do you do if your favorite team (the Los Angeles Rams) does not exist anymore?
You do the next best thing and take over the St. Louis football team and put them on the move. It is the remaining dream for those of us who play Madden well into the night, wearing a two-sizes too small Jim Everett jersey. There should be a function on the franchise portion of the game where you wed Georgia Frontiere, have her accidentally drown in three feet of water, inherit the team, push out all of her relatives, get married again within a year and put the team on the move.
Relocating the club back to Anaheim was fun the first couple of times in the earlier versions of the franchise mode. Why not live it up? Retire the "Rams" name to the good fans in Los Angeles (both of them) and look for a new, untapped location that will give your franchise a fresh start. There really is only one sensible thing to do--move the club to Las Vegas, build a stadium downtown, and rename the team the Rat Pack. Three things that could never do in real life because a.) The league would never approve the deal, b.) Las Vegas would likely want the thing in the Caesar's Palace Parking Lot, and 3.) The Rat Pack heirs would never approve the name for a sports team (it is rumored that many minor league and Arena Football League teams have tried).
That is the beauty of playing a video game; you leave the real world out of it. Who cares if the team is in Las Vegas and the team's star player has the same last name as you? This is your dream and your team now. After designing a stadium (The Sands Stadium), new uniforms (with an orange color scheme--Frank Sinatra's favorite color), and firing Mike Martz, it is time to tank the final lame-duck season of the St. Louis football team and wait for the PSLs to start rolling in.
See, there is some realism in this game as it is a lot like the final days of the Los Angeles Rams.
Through trades (bye Marshall) and a bad final season it is possible to land two picks in the Top Ten, enough to tab USC's Matt Leinart and Reggie Bush to run new head coach Bill Belichick's complex offense in the desert. The cycle of life for the video version of the Las Vegas Rat Pack has begun--and will last again until next summer when you face the same dilemma again.