Feature Article
Entertainment At Your Friend's Expense


Just one short week ago I wrote a 2,400 word diatribe on, essentially, reasons why next-generation Madden is little more than an aesthetically pleasing yet unfinished product. For all of the flaws that it has, Madden NFL 08 still attempted to maintain its grip on the public’s affection by taunting players with the title’s immense amount of potential that it may very well reach in future installments. But what about now? What are we to do in the present? Is there anything that Madden gamers can do to be reprieved, even if only for a few short seconds?

Thankfully, there is. Salvation lies in a time-honored tradition of playing the game as you sit side-by-side with the very opposition you aim to defeat. It’s true. No matter what you think of the game itself, almost any game can be enjoyed by using it as a means of competing face-to-face with a close friend. But you all know that so what exactly is the point that I’m trying to make?

People often take themselves and this game a bit too seriously -- especially in the online community. Guys lose games and take personal offense to the implication that someone, believe it or not, may in fact be better than they are. Such an event is, after all, a direct blow to their manhood. There are strict sets of rules which one must abide by in order to participate in an online Madden community, so there is very little tolerance of any actions which are deemed unacceptable. Sitting at home in the leather recliner with your opposition physically sitting right beside you? Well, in that case the rules are a bit more lenient. 

Be warned, fellow Maddenites. If you are of the breed which thinks it is a reprehensible act to bring one’s offense onto the field on a fourth down with inches to go on the fifty yard line in the first quarter of a tie game while you’re playing at your buddy’s house, you may want to stop reading now. Some of what I propose hereafter may be in direct violation of the code of conduct which governs simulation-style online play, but I think you’ll find it acceptable when applied off-line. 

As serious as some individuals can be, competition brings out the youthful zeal in all of us, even in its most leisurely of forms. Madden is no exception.  Some of the following tactics may be amateur if not immature, but when combining men, competition and football all in one room their effects can be entertaining, even if only for a few short seconds. So without further adieu, here are my top five ways to entertain oneself against an off-line Madden opponent.

#5:  Mask Your Play Selection
Some of the tactics I propose will be somewhat unconventional, while others will simply take advantage of the ignorance of an uninformed opponent. #5 is one of those instances. We all know that guy who leans forward, watching and waiting intently as we pick our offensive plays only to dive into his playbook to pick out an appropriate counter. How is that fair? Where in the NFL (outside of New England) does the opposition have any direct insight into what play another team is running? The counter to this is simple yet from my experience heavily underutilized: Mask your play selection. 

You would be surprised how many “casual” Madden gamers are unaware this option even exists. For those of you out there who were out of the loop, consider yourself in. All you have to do is press the play selection button when the play you wish to choose is highlighted. Instead of just clicking it, however, hold the button in so that the selection square remains on screen and move it to a completely different play and then release. The play you hit the field with will be the one you originally hit the play select button on, but your opponent can only assume it is the play you released the button on. Just imagine the frustration when your friend calls engage eight due to his anticipation of a halfback dive, only to see a wide open speedster running freely down the field for a touchdown after a quick pass to the sidelines. Remember, it is alright to laugh at the expense of others.

#4:  Utilize Onside Kicks
Let’s face it; for many of the more casual Madden gamers, playing defense is little more than a chore. While defense does win championships, offense makes EA Sports a whole lot of money every August. People want the ball in the hands of their quarterback, running back, and wide receivers. What better way to get some brief enjoyment at your opponent’s expense than to put their defense back on the field just as they thought their offense’s time had come?

The defensive coach already has minimal attention focused on the screen, but it is important to build upon that. After scoring a touchdown or kicking a field goal, woo your opponent’s attention even further away from the screen by indulging them in conversation and select the onside kick. The odds are that if you don’t do it on a regular basis, your opposition will be a creature of habit and select a standard kickoff return. Meanwhile with such little attention on the game itself, your foe can only resort to cursing you and your underhanded ways while you sip delightfully on your Dr. Pepper.

#3:  Utilize Fake Punts
Tactic #3 is in the same vein as #4. Entertain yourself by taking advantage of the attention deficits of others by choosing a fake punt when the opposition thinks you have no other options. Taking over the reigns of their return man, they opponents wait in anticipation of once again having the ball in a position to score points. It is not meant to be, however, if your fake punt is ran effectively. A word to the wise: an effectively run #3 following an effectively run #4 is even more comically satisfying than if they are applied individually. However, such frustration may also lead to your $50 controller being sent crashing to the ground. Be mindful of your opponent’s frustration level; the goal here is to entertain yourself, not tax your wallet.

#2:  Manually Boost or Lower Player Ratings Pregame
You had to have seen this one coming. It’s the age-old preemptive attack. You know that in your regular showdowns with your buddy you roll with the Eagles and he with the Broncos. So prior to an inevitable match-up, just go into the roster screen and make some attribute changes. An amateur move? Perhaps, but it is important to make these changes subtly in a way which causes frustration without breeding suspicion. Reggie Brown, for example, is the Eagles “number one receiver” yet is as painfully average as receivers come in the game of Madden. With Champ Bailey on him all game long, what are the odds that Downtown Reggie Brown has any sort of impact? Not very good, and your Mile High opponent is aware of that.

Why not even the playing field a bit? Give Reggie a boost in his speed, catch, and awareness ratings, but not too excessively. Yet how can one make Champ Bailey appear to be nothing short of a superstar without raising an eyebrow? It is his tremendous awareness and athleticism which make him the closest thing to a shutdown corner in today’s NFL, so for our purposes just lower the awareness rating a bit.

Now the rest is up to you. Reggie should have a field day on Champ and your opponent will only think to chalk it up to the Madden gods smiting Bailey by stripping him of his superhuman skills.

And now, a drum roll please. The number one tactic used to entertain oneself against an off-line Madden opponent…

#1:  Make Unheard of Substitutions
This one is for those guys who will pause the game right in the middle of an epic war simply so they can feed the dog, call their girlfriend, grab a drink, or any other task which could invariably be put off until the game’s conclusion. What are you to do, for an undisclosed amount of time, while your opponent wanders off? Stare blankly at a dull, unappealing pause screen? No sir! You will not tolerate such tomfoolery any longer!

While your opponent is off doing whatever irrelevant thing he or she may be doing, you are presented with an opportunity to adjust your opponent's depth chart to your liking. The key here is not to, for example, put a lineman at running back. That would be obvious as soon as the opposition first snaps the ball. How about something more subtle?  How about the next time your Bostonian friend leaves the room you rid him of Tom Brady and instead substitute Gostkowski in his place at quarterback?

Now sit back and take note of how many snaps it takes your opponent to realize a switch has been made. You may be thinking that their jersey numbers are different so it would be an obvious giveaway, but the view from the eyes of an unsuspecting victim is not quite so crystal clear. If your opponent runs the ball, the QB will be a non-factor in the play itself, while should the opposition choose to pass, a short pass to an open receiver may actually be caught. It is when the opposition tries to throw the ball deep, only to see it go fifteen yards in the opposite direction, that he or she may become suspicious.

By that point, however, you have had your fun. The sense of accomplishment one gains from manipulating an opponent into unknowingly running a handful of offensive plays with a kicker playing quarterback is nearly immeasurable.

Maybe that’s all a little dramatic. But in this day and age when products are frequently rushed to retail in order to satisfy mass amounts of consumers, sometimes you have to create some fun on your own even if it comes at the expense of close friends. None of them are safe from such playful instigation. Don’t worry though, they can take it.

Or so I hope, for your sake.