The ‘Madden’ Cover Process Needs a Fix, Here’s How: Game Theory


The current system of how Electronic Arts Sports chooses their yearly Madden NFL covers is getting played. There, I said it. Since the turn of the 21st century, EA has taken the game’s namesake off its covers (unfortunately, there’s a new generation who has no clue who John Madden is or what he accomplished as head coach of the Oakland Raiders) and started honoring transcendent players who had remarkable seasons a year prior. Even then, there was always an uproar as to the decision making of the powers-that-be on who graces their covers. Donovan McNabb over Tom Brady in Madden 06? Vince Young in Madden 08?

But in 2010, EA Sports took the customer-friendly (or lazy, depending on who you ask) route in choosing its Madden covers—in a 32-player fan-voting tournament. A cool novelty, but once Peyton Hillis garnered the cover for Madden 12, that’s when it lost its luster—and collectively fanboys lost all faith in football humanity. Let me express that again…Peyton…Hillis (sidebar, Cleveland really loves anybody that brings awareness to their city, so, Johnny Football…uh, Johnny Cleveland, you got the juice now, man!).

Last Friday, was no different. In a spectacle unlike any other on ESPN—which isn’t saying much for the network these days—the two finalists of this year’s tourney, Seattle Seahawks shit talker Richard Sherman and the face of the Carolina Panthers, Cam Newton, were present in front of rabid fans in Los Angeles. Fake anticipation and angst swept over the two combatants as host Michelle Beadle read who would be on the cover of Madden 15.



Needless to say, anybody who paid attention to last year’s playoffs knew that Sherman was a lock for this, making him the first cornerback to ever be on a Madden cover. Even if the old guard of EA execs making the decision returned, Sherman would’ve gotten it. He was practically the talk of the entire 2014 NFL Playoffs, mainly for yapping his gums—because there is no way EA can put the entire defensive unit of the Seattle Seahawks’ Legion of Boom on the cover. A while back, the knock against why the NFL doesn’t have its players comparable to the superstars of the NBA was because you can’t see what they look like under their helmets and thus onlookers couldn’t connect to them. Times have definitely changed. Even if you’re an above average player, but with the personality as big as Cowboys Stadium, you will be noticed, uncomfortably gushed over by Skip Bayless and get endorsements out of the wazoo (*cough* Tim Tebow). So when I saw the lead up videos between Sherman and Newton, leading up to “The (Virtual) Decision,” I stumbled on the former Heisman Trophy winner’s WWE-like promo.


And that got me to pondering—word to Pinky and the Brain. So, excuse me as I speak to EA Sports directly.

*Clears Throat*

Dear EA Sports,

From here on out, NFL players actually playing Madden against one another should determine all Madden covers. That is all.

Yours truly,

Madden Fan Since 1993

P.S. Oh, and let’s never speak of the QB Vision Control, aka “The Passing Cone” in Madden 06. Deal?

This idea is such a layup—or an extra point, keeping with the consistency—I refuse to believe it hasn’t been kicked around in their Redwood City, California offices. As much as the old curmudgeon beat writers and pundits are slow to come to this reality, sports are entertainment. They are pomp and circumstances even when it isn’t warranted. That’s why debate shows about matchups that are days or weeks from being played earn ratings gold. So, this needs to happen. It’s another way to draw interest and inject some mojo in a Madden brand that has been on cruise control (translation, lazy) since they monopolized the licensing rights on all video game platforms in 2004—eliminating any competition, most notably the NFL 2K franchise that was nipping at its heels. There are enough bragging rights in earning the cover of such an iconic football sim. Why not have players really beat their chest, “Wolf of Wall Street” style, saying they actually trounced their colleagues to earn the prize of having their likeness on a game millions buy every August? All NFL players play Madden. Hell, some probably learned more defensive and offensive schemes via a console than their own playbook.

How do you execute? Simple, EA Sports can keep their original 32-player tourney from the beginning and have the fans vote. Because, realistically, who can coordinate the schedules of 32 pro-football players to actually come to one venue to play a video game? Once the voting whittles down to the “Elite 8” or “The Final Four” that’s when you have a full three to six hour event (during NFL Draft week, perhaps?) where those four to eight players come together and duke it out, mano y mano, controller to controller in front of fans, viewers and the ESPN cameras (sorry, NFL Network).

It’s not like “The Worldwide Sports Leader” didn’t try a Madden competition program before. In 2005. ESPN debuted “Madden Nation,” a program where unknown gamers around the country travel from various NFL cities on a mega bus—the kind John Madden himself would travel in between calling games—and compete against one another for Madden supremacy and $100,000. It was essentially MTV’s defunct Road Rules with cornball characters and carpal tunnel. The program only lasted for three years, but it’s time to revamp the format but this time with the stars of the NFL today. Considering Commissioner Roger Goodell has put the kibosh on any kind of trash talking, taunting, over celebrating and dancing on the field, this would provide some much needed off-field fun for the “No Fun League.” C’mon, EA, do it for the shield and many others’ Attention Deficiency Disorder. Everybody wins. Except for you, Peyton Hillis. You go somewhere.

Hey, EA, I’ll be waiting patiently for either a call to consult or by my mailbox for a check…

You’re welcome.

Sincerely, Sean A. Malcolm.

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