"EA Sports... It's in the game."

In light of John Madden's retirement this week from NFL announcing, which probably came 4 or 5 years too late, Sports Illustrated posted the covers of all 20 editions of EA Sports' "Madden NFL Football" video game.

The influence of that game on 20- and 30-something men cannot be understated. It's a cultural touchstone. A shared experience. Most guys you meet today, if asked, will have played Madden sometime in the last 12 months. It's just the way it is. Its appeal is universal and undeniable, made better of course with beer, soft drinks, and/or greasy burgers and/or pizza.

There's the competition and camraderie, sure, running your favorite team against your friend's favorite team. Those two teams are probably awful in the real world, but there you are, throwing for 400 yards or organizing a 85-Bears-like defensive shutout. You prefer the sweep left, but don't mind an occasional bootleg right. You could be a coach. Hell, you could be a player. Look how you pushed that X button and hit that hole. That was a busted play, bro, but you turned it into a first down. Glorious.

But it's not all lollipops and roses. You're human. You push the circle when you meant to push the triangle. You call a time-out when you meant to just pause the game. Adding to the anguish of making a mistake is having to suffer the indignity of Pat Summerall stating the obvious and mocking your miserable play. Like you didn't know that was a bad throw. Or that time is running out. Thanks, Pat. And he makes his comment with the same obvious and mocking phrase - embedded deep in your PS2's electronic brain - you've heard a million times before. That's when you make a cruel comment about Pat's alcoholism. Or his advanced age.

Aside from all of that, though, the even more meaningful contribution of Madden is football education. The Cheese Fry probably learned more about the Xs and Os of football from calling Madden plays than from watching actual games. It's one thing to hear about the value of the running game or the need for savvy clock management. It's quite another to experience it first-hand and learn hard lessons.

Madden makes us better fans. And it makes us better people.

Thanks, John Madden, for giving us "Madden."

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