FRONDORF: Madden absurdism

Thanksgiving Eve — the perfect time to catch up with some friends I hadn’t seen since last spring. We decided to party like it was 2010 and reach into the nostalgia bin for “Madden NFL 11” to relive our glory days. Three of us going at it like it was senior year summer.

Kevin Rudolf’s “Let It Rock” blared in the menus (“Because when I arrive, I-I’ll bring the fire/ Make you come alive, I can take you higher”) as we set up a matchup featuring me and my friend Tom as the Minnesota Vikings taking on Mark playing solo as the Green Bay Packers. Of course, all the settings had to be just right. It had to be a 1:00 p.m. game with overcast weather in Cincinnati’s Paul Brown Stadium — you know, because the Metrodome roof collapsed again or something.

On to the game. This was a classic QB battle — new guy Aaron Rodgers versus a fading Brett Favre desperately bouncing between NFL teams and Wrangler commercials. The virtual Cincinnati fans couldn’t wait for this out-of-conference neutral-site matchup. Neither could we, as we cracked open another round of Diet Mountain Dew and reached for a bag of pretzels.

I’ll be honest — I don’t really understand the intricacies of football defenses. Cover 2, Cover 3, zone, whatever — it’s all the same. But I’m certainly not going to bother to think about it during a pickup (video) game. So most of the time Tom and I hit that helpful little “GameFlow” button that just picked a defensive play for us. As you might imagine, this meant a high-scoring offensive battle. Nearly every play was for the end zone — and given four downs, one of us would inevitably blow the coverage and give up the touchdown.

By the fourth quarter, the score was somehow 45–37 in favor of the Vikings. Mark was driving with a minute left, and Rodgers quickly spiraled a touchdown pass to make it 45–43 with the clock ticking below 20 seconds. Time for a two-point conversion try.

At this point, Tom and I were tired of all the scoring. We didn’t want to go to overtime. Time to make things interesting — why not draw penalties until Mark simply gave up?

As Rodgers would line up in the shotgun or under center for the two-point try, my friend and I would take control of two linemen and move across the line of scrimmage, positioning ourselves right next to an unsuspecting Aaron Rodgers. The offsides flag would be thrown as soon the ball was snapped, but it didn’t matter, because we would immediately discount double-check Rodgers into the turf. Because “Madden 11” makes you accept or decline a penalty, Mark always had two choices: accept the penalty and try again, or decline and kick off. It had to be an offsides penalty after the snap — if we accidentally bumped into a Packer on our way across the line of scrimmage, we’d draw encroachment and Mark’s only choice would be to try again.

Our goal? To make Mark give up out of frustration and either kick off or go for the PAT. Either way, he’d still be behind to the mighty Vikings. This went on for nearly 30 minutes — Mark must have tried for the end zone more than 40 times. You know how things like this can end up happening: a combination of egos, a slightly insane need to see our goal to fruition and an absurd desire to win a meaningless game of Madden.

Over and over again Rodgers was sent careening into the grass, and over and over again, the unperturbed pixelated officials sent us back to the line of scrimmage. Favre was content to stand on the sideline and send some special cellphone pics while the defense took care of the hard work of mercilessly sacking Rodgers into the ground. For everyone, it was more hilarious than frustrating — Mark tried pitching the ball, going out of the Wildcat, and faking the PAT to reach the end zone. (Because if Mark converted, he could just decline the offsides penalty and still get two points.) But nothing could stop Tom and me. After around 30 minutes, Mark gave up and kicked the ball off. We won, 45–43.

Are we terrible people? Yes. Was it totally unsportsmanlike? Yes. Was it hilarious? Yes. Is hearing my Madden story about as interesting as listening to someone talk about their fantasy football team? Yes.

But did we win? Yes. That’s all that matters.

Our little Madden moment got me thinking though — wouldn’t it be hilarious if a coach actually tried this in real life? And why haven’t they, just to see how far they can take it?

Imagine Rex Ryan losing his mind as Bill Belichick instructs his defense to go offsides over and over to stop the two-point conversion. Imagine the boos from both home and away fans. Imagine the confusion and the rage, just moments from boiling over. And what if worked? I can totally see some non-gutsy coach like Marvin Lewis or Pat Shurmur eventually giving up, giving the rationale of “avoiding injury” or “we thought we’d have a better chance going for the onside kick anyway.”

Of course, it almost certainly wouldn’t work. There would be a huge media fallout afterward, the injury risk to both sides would be significant, and officials would somehow put a stop to it. And the NFL would probably fine the bejeezus out of the offending head coach. Plus, I’m pretty sure a team could eventually convert anyway. The real world isn’t like “Madden” where Aaron Rodgers obliviously stands inert in a state (farm) of ignorance waiting for the snap, completely unaware that he’s about to be blitzed out of his mind. I have complete confidence that the 2010 Packers would have been able to put together a play taking advantage of the fact that two defensive linemen are mindlessly running around looking around for the offsides sack. And if a team converts, this story comes to an end. At that point, it’s probably better to just defend the play normally.

But as I said in a column earlier this year about blitzing the quarterback on a kneel-down play, it sure would be nice to see something crazy happen every so often in the NFL, a league with too many punts, too many safe plays and too little calculated risk.

Oh well. Watching virtual Aaron Rodgers get wrecked 40 straight times was worth it anyway.

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