This year is the 20th anniversary of John Madden football and to commemorate this historic occasion, the folks at EA Sports held a "MaddenPalooza" event in Los Angeles. Deadspin dispatched Michael Tunison to cover some of the sights, sounds, and overall geekiness. This is his second dispatch from the Rose Bowl festivities. Enjoy. More »
I'm sitting in the VIP green room next to the visitor's locker room in the Rose Bowl listening to Deion Sanders, Marcus Allen and Ronnie Lott casually chat about world travel. I'm not supposed to be in here, but I'm not doing anything to draw attention to myself and it seems to be working. Or they don't care. Either way, I'm doing this in hopes of pulling some sort of interesting bloggy tidbit because, even though it's early in the day, Maddenpalooza is already shaping up to be a pretty dull, overly orchestrated, sparsely attended clunker.
"Every time I see this guy, I gotta ask what country he's coming from," Deion tells Ronnie of Marcus.
Apparently Marcus Allen has something of a penchant for international travel, and has recently returned from China. He explains how much easier it is traveling as a single guy without the encumbrances of significant others who you must coordinate plans with and wait while they trowel on their clown makeup. This segues into a story about Marcus and Ronnie visiting Russia that somehow humorously ends with Lott being passed out in a limo.
Hahahaha! We're all impossibly rich!
I quickly include that this is getting me nowhere and head back onto the field where the opening band From First To Last isn't doing much to whip up the thin crowd of gamers. "Let's make some noise for Favre!" the lead singer exhorts between songs. For the first time in a while, no noise is made for Favre. By now, fellow blogger TheStarterWife has joined me at the event and her misgivings about the turnout, spurred when EA tried to offer free tickets to her entire office the week before, are confirmed.
"It's overbadged," she tells me, meaning half of the people in attendance are wearing badges signifying that they're media, athletes, VIPs or PR staff. The people in the other half are wearing an NFL jersey of some sort.
There's not a whole lot of energy in the venue, even under the large tent where the game is open for playing at any number of flatscreen TVs. About 75 percent of the TVs are hooked up to the Xbox version of the game. The majority of these are being used, but there are still plenty of empty screens. Maybe 20 percent of the stations contain the Playstation 3 version of the game. These consoles are packed throughout the day. About two short rows are dedicated to the Wii version of Madden. They're rarely touched and even when they are it's by obviously neophyte girl gamers and old people. That's because Madden on the Wii is goddamn impossible to play.
Outside the gaming tent, there are a few carnival-type distractions, scantily clad women hawking Slurpees and a main stage where some bad pop-punk music is being performed. The long snaking line for autographs with retired NFL players (Tim Brown, Andre Reed, Roger Craig, Eddie George, Eric Dickerson, etc.) is where you'll find most of the attendees. It has all the expected atmosphere of a sports collectibles show held outside with Good Charlotte headlining. The athletes are mostly surly and depart as quickly as they can. Marshall Faulk tapes some stuff on the field for NFL Network and brushes off any of the commoners trying to converse with him. TheStarterWife tells me she observed Deion leaving in the parking lot with seven copies of the game.
There are some exceptions among the athletes. Jamal Anderson (The Thursday night party did not slake his Madden thirst!) makes friendly with people and brings his kid to the tent to play the game with the crowd. In an event that features appearances from Steve Young, Roger Craig and Ronnie Lott, I purchase a football from the tightly secured Wal-Mart tent so one of the former 49ers can sign it for my father, who's a huge fan. Lott refuses to sign anything but Young graciously complies in the media area. (That's right! I broke a cardinal rule of teh journalisms!)
I continue to wander for a bit, making my way back to the VIP green room area where I start to record Warren Sapp and his kid practicing on Madden training mode. He chats with me a little while he's doing it until he notices the Flip Video camera in my hand. This will not do, it seems. Sapp gets in my face, irate that I filmed him without his permission and demands I immediately delete the video. I do it (because, y'know, he's a very large black man who's amassed his fortune by pummeling people), and he holds the glare for a few seconds after I comply. Turning to the others in the room, he bellows, "You believe this? It's like the paparazzi, man." I know, right? First they kill Princess Diana. Now they film you playing Madden with your kid in a public setting. Monsters! Later on I find out he had a similar freakout with some guys from The Sporting News when they tried to snap his picture (again without permission!) a little earlier. Warren's having a bad day.
The other media people are stationed in the visitor's locker room, where an old guy in an Arizona Cardinals shirt marshals the retired athletes around the various media encampments throughout the room. I miss out on Deion during his brief stay at the event, blowing my chance to ask him about his experience doing a car commercial with (the former!) Pacman Jones and what advice he gleaned from his disappointing 2004 comeback with the Ravens that could be applied to Favre's inevitably sorry one this year. For the most part, I don't have much to ask of many of the players and they don't have anything to say about the game beyond "I don't play it but my kid does." I force a sitdown out of Rod Woodson, knowing he'll give the exact same answers, only because I'm a hopeless Steelers homer.
Busta Rhymes injects some rare energy into the Palooza with an early evening set that goes long by 20 minutes. The audience cares little, finally getting some excitement and charisma from an event that was theretofore largely overproduced and rote. Like the NFL players that were there, it's been years since Busta has been considered anything approaching relevant. He at least gave some effort to those who made him what he is.