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Front cover artwork from the 2023 game.

NFL greeted to one of the greatest ever video game franchises with introduction of John Madden Football '88

In 1988, game developer Electronic Arts introduced the first-ever Madden game to the world. Now, 30 years and 130 million copies later, the franchise is still going strong as it continues to grow year-on-year. The release of the 2023 edition is particularly poignant as it is the first since the passing of NFL legend John Madden, the man who lent his name, likeness and much more to a passionate project for over 35 years.

Madden NFL 88 vs Madden NFL 23

What a throwback, John Madden is a LEGEND

Who was John Madden?

The majority of younger NFL fans will associate John Madden purely with the game franchise, unaware of his two Hall of Fame careers - one as a coach, and the other as a broadcaster. A devastating knee injury suffered in his very first training camp robbed him of the opportunity to play in the NFL. The young offensive tackle and highly rated college star was selected in the 21st round of the 1958 draft by the Philadelphia Eagles. However, his career would be over in a matter of months.

John Madden
Offensive Tackle
Philadelphia Eagles (1958*)

It would be as head coach of the Oakland Raiders where Madden would begin building his legacy. Starting in high school football, he went on to spend 3 years as a linebacker coach under the great Don Coryell at San Diego State. Raiders owner Al Davis, seeing his potential, brought him to Oakland where he became head coach within two years. An impressive feat considering he was only 32 years old.

35 years ago, John Madden retired as Raiders coach. Picture at his hiring in 1969 & at his retirement in 1979 http://t.co/wggN3F0Cx7

He would lead the Raiders for 9 years, with his coaching career reaching its pinnicle in 1977 with a victory in Super Bowl XI. He never had a losing season in Oakland and was the fastest NFL head coach to achieve 100 victories with a 75% win rate. Despite this, he announced his retirement in 1977 and wouldn't coach again, refusing to coach any team other than the Raiders.

If the embodiment of the #Raiders can be shared with Al Davis, it can be shared by only one other man.

John Madden - under whom the true greatness of the Raiders was finally achieved.

Let’s ride The Autumn Wind for Coach this week and next, #RaiderNation

He was about more than just winning. He gave the Raiders their identity, one which endures to this day, in their current form as the Las Vegas Raiders. His team was known for being volatile and flamboyant - a band of misfits who were the bad boys of the league. They were outcasts and castoffs with John Madden operating as their commander-in-chief, moulding them into proven winners and subsequently becoming the most memorable team in NFL history.

The Coach, as he is affectionately known, would soon enter the field of broadcasting in 1979 and spend the next 30 years becoming the voice and face of the NFL. Viewers immediately grew fond of his infectious personality and he was soon regarded as a national treasure for his incredible calls, hilarious sense of humour, and unwavering passion and enthusiasm.


The man was not your usual old school coach. He was an innovator and he brought that to the broadcast booth, introducing fans to the telestrator and a new creative use of instant replays. His creativity and interest in technology that meant when offered the chance to be involved in a new video game project, he jumped at it.

The Creation and Evolution of the Madden franchise

The vast majority of NFL fans incorrectly assume that Madden purely provided his NIL rights to EA sports and collected a royalty cheque every year. Nothing could be further from the truth though. Before agreeing to endorse the game, he had specific parameters that needed to be met.

The game had to be realistic and involve 11 v 11 gameplay, a huge technological ask for 1988, but one that the developers managed to achieve. He would meet with developers several times a year to discuss new features and updates, ensuring that he was happy with the direction the game was going. He was heavily involved in multiple aspects of the game’s yearly evolution.


That close involvement continued all the way up to 2020, before the pandemic hit. His youngest son, Mike, provided some insight into his dad's commitment to the Madden franchise in a recent interview with the Washington Post, when he said:

Every year, up until the start of the pandemic, he would have a Sunday work session with about 12 to 15 Madden developers where they’d sit down in the morning and go over the latest Madden game, discussing whatever questions or topics they had, and then they’d watch football together.

Mike would go on to give an example of the level of detail his dad would expect from the EA team:

Dad would sit and explain to them things that were happening on the field, pointing out nuances to plays that should be in the game, and they would be scratching notes and recording things. I think it was really helpful for them to have that insight.

Despite being a pioneer of innovation in the NFL, the Coach didn't always make the right call. During the initial development period, he was offered the opportunity to buy unlimited stock in EA Sports, but he declined. He later admitted that it was the dumbest thing that he's ever done.

Originally released in 1988 under the title "John Madden Football", it didn't make the switch to Madden NFL until 1993, when the developers finally acquired official licencing permission from the NFL. In 1998, the popular franchise mode was introduced, allowing gamers to play multiple seasons, make trades and draft picks for the first time.

anyone else remember this?

These were the best modes of all the early 2000's madden games (showing my age a bit). twitter.com/AuxGod_/status…
Madden 2003 “Mini Camp Drills (2002)

Each year throughout the 2000's seemed to bring an added game feature that included player editor, create-a-team and online play, which made its debut in 2004. The game now has a worldwide following, being played at a professional level in esports tournaments across the globe.

Anticipation of its annual release has now become part and parcel of the NFL offseason. NFL players will wait eagerly to find out what their ratings are and will take to social media to share their opinions. It's an entertaining aspect of the game that brings out the fun spirit of football.

Seeing as 48 overall may be the lowest QB rating ever 🤦🏻‍♂️... I’ve got $250 for the first person who can win League MVP and the Super Bowl on @EAMaddenNFL All-Madden mode. With me, David Blough at QB... Good luck

Like the man whose name the game adopted, Madden is now an institution that is loved across the globe. There will never be another John Madden. His legacy will live on every year thanks to the game that owes him so much.

Edited by
Nicolaas Ackermann
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