Video games taught me much of what I understood, and misunderstood, about football as a kid. When I was seven years old, I was playing Tecmo Bowl with an older kid, and the play-calling screen introduced me to the word "punt."
Me: What's a punt?
Older kid: It's stupid.
Me: But what is it?
Older kid: You just kick the ball to the other team and then they have the ball.
Older kid: I don't know. It's stupid.
I hadn't yet grasped the concept of field position, because when you are playing Tecmo Bowl with Bo Jackson's Raiders, completing a touchdown drive is as guaranteed and effortless as hitting the carriage return lever on a typewriter, and the concept of field position simply isn't taught. I was fascinated that the option to punt was even offered. I wondered, although not in these words, whether the act of meaningless, willful surrender was valuable in a way I was too young or stupid to understand.
We've all seen our share of miserable, 20-punt football games, and I hate them as much as anyone, but it's the only act in sports in which we intentionally sign away possession and our ability to score. It's unique, it requires a team to call in a specialist, and once in a while, it's extraordinary to see.
First note: see that 91-yard punt that's plotted in 1989? That, I was delighted to learn, was booted by Randall Cunningham. Second note: the NFL hasn't seen a 90-yard punt since 2001, and only five in the history of the league. It's easy to understand why. By definition, the punter has to punt the ball inside his own 10, and through a specific cocktail of power, accuracy, favorable wind, favorable bounce of a ball shaped to bounce at random angles, and ineptitude of the punt returner, he has to coffin-corner it at the other end of the field.
Or you can just fire up Madden, fool around with the settings, and blast a 99-yard punt with Pat McAfee on your first try.
Mr. McAfee is the subject of this week's BREAKING MADDEN for two primary reasons, both of which were previously documented in THIS WEEK IN GIFs. For most punters, a mis-handled snap spells absolute doom, but McAfee collected the ball, scrambled to elude a tackler, and managed to pull off a stellar punt while on the run.
@jon_bois it's an incredible honor fine sir— Pat McAfee (@PatMcAfeeShow) November 11, 2013
All right then, let's wreck some fools. This is a two-phase experiment.
PHASE I: PAT MCAFEE, PUNT-GOD.
The Madden NFL 25 version of Pat McAfee already boasts terrific ratings: he holds a 97 in kicking power, a 94 in kicking accuracy, and an overall rating of 94. Just for good measure, I cranked every single one of his ratings as high as they would go.
That means that McAfee is now the best in the league in terms of speed, acceleration, trucking ability, tackling ability, and every other skill that could possibly apply to him. I'm doing this because McAfee is not just going to punt. These are the rules:
1. I will play as the Colts in a night game against the Titans in Tennessee, just as they will this Thursday evening.
2. As the Colts, I will only call three offensive plays: punt, field goal, and fake punt pass. In other words, McAfee will be directly responsible for 100 percent of Indianapolis' scoring. (He has also been installed as the No. 1 kicker on the depth chart.)
3. On the "fake punt pass" play, McAfee will never be permitted to throw. He'll make improvised scrambles every time. He's going to own 100 percent of any and all touchdowns that might occur.
In addition, I tooled around with the game sliders and pushed the universal "Kick power" and "Kick accuracy" settings as high as they would go. This is not a simulation. This is a dreamscape of our greatest hopes and fears.
PHASE II: BUILD A PUNT TEAM FULL OF TWITTER USERS.
Special teams units are kind of tricky to edit in Madden, but I did manage to replace most of McAfee's punt team. His new friends are seven feet tall and weigh 400 pounds. They're mediocre 65/99s in every category, with the following exceptions:
99/99 in Strength, Hit power, Run blocking, and Tackling.
0/99 in Speed and Acceleration.
In other words, these guys are terrific blockers who also happen to be slow as the Dickens. They're far too slow to be of any help to McAfee if he happens to scramble upfield. Remember, he's doing as much as he can all by himself.
As usual, I found these players on Twitter.
if you would like to be in the next Breaking Madden, please tell me what you like to do for fun in Indianapolis— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) November 11, 2013
Here are the folks who will be blocking for Pat McAfee:
The Chevy Lumina was a sedan and a minivan, which makes it the most Indianapolis vehicle possible. Also, Did You Know: The Indianapolis expressway system is actually a stretch of asphalt that is 200 feet long and 7,500 lanes wide. You just merge from one end to the other, park on the shoulder, get out, and stumble across the mulch and granite to wherever you are going, which is also decorated with mulch and granite.
I've disparaged the city of Indianapolis more times than I can count, and here, my dear friend Pete affords me the opportunity to place it in context. I've called it "The City by the Land" and "Mashed Potatoes: The City." It really does have less going for it than other American cities of similar size.
But I live in Louisville, a smaller city 90 minutes south that sits in the same general forgotten chunk of flyover country. I love Louisville dearly, but whenever I travel to a metropolis, I get jokes. It happened again when I visited New York last week: "Louisville? Why the Hell would you ever live in Louisville?"
I want to check the geo-social elitism, and I want to effectively argue that Louisville is a special place, but when I'm in New York or Montreal or D.C., I just can't. They've got all the things. Louisville has, like, four things. And man, when I knock Indianapolis for only having one and a half things, I feel like a toddler throwing alphabet blocks at the family cat. In those times, I feel a pathetic sort of solidarity with Indianapolis -- a city that, like Louisville, sits on the side of America's abdomen in a region too nebulous to be part of the Midwest or South or anywhere at all.
Scrubs was as staggeringly boring as most sitcoms of the aughts, which would have been fine, except unlike the Everyone Loves Raymonds, it dug its hooks into some of my friends. I was exposed by proxy.
Forty years from now, I'll be digging through my attic with my grandkids, one of whom will stumble upon a small velvet box. He or she will open its hinged lid to find a medal as golden and glistening as the day it was stamped with the words: "DIDN'T ENJOY THE TELEVISION SHOW SCRUBS."
"Grandpa! Grandpa, how did you get this medal?" My lip will quiver, and my eyes will well with tears, and those tears shall be the wages of pride.
Honestly, for some of these selections, I just scrolled through my mentions and chose the tweets that gave me fundamentally Indianapolan images. Chevy Lumina? Yep. Scrubs? Yep. Motorola StarTAC phone? Oh, sure. 65 percent of Indianapolis is wearing one right now. In 2013, and on a belt clip, and via the belt that came with the cargo shorts.
Man, you ever try to force cottage cheese through a ball pump? Ain't easy.
I think this is completely natural, but one of the upsides of living in Indianapolis is that it's quite safe, as its mechanics move with the velocity of the sliding doors at the Target. Most of them are, in fact, the sliding doors at the Target. I'm anticipating objections from residents of Indianapolis, so fine. Yes. You also have multiple T.J. Maxx locations, and we're all very impressed.
This is good advice.
And this is precisely the level of go-gettedness I'm after. Lace 'em up, friend!
This is what an opening kickoff looks like if you max out every possible kicking setting and statistic.
The game's physics don't actually allow the ball to fly higher than the top of the stadium; it appears to hit an invisible wall of sorts. If it didn't, I think this ball might have cleared the entire stadium.
With Super Pat McAfee, kickoffs suddenly became fun. I started trying to kick unofficial field goals off the tee, and I had no problem doing so.
I kind of need to use multiple angles to illustrate how magnificent this kick was:
That little speck floating across the sky is the ball. At the moment it cleared the uprights, it appeared to be 40 or 50 feet above the bottom bar. McAfee really might have been able to kick a field goal from a tee at his own goal line.
As longtime readers of BREAKING MADDEN know, this game tends to get kind of cranky if I fool around enough. It sure didn't seem to like it when I called "fake punt pass" a dozen times in a row. Keep your eye on the Titans' Ropati Pitoitua, who starts at the far left of this GIF:
Once the computer realized I was scrambling with McAfee, Madden said "the Hell with realistic physics" and made Pitoitua streak to the other side of the line at 50 miles per hour. And he missed the tackle entirely, too. Serves him right.
McAfee, for his part, was a HOSS.
Once he crossed the line of scrimmage, McAfee couldn't depend on anyone to make blocks for him, so he often had to be his own blocker. He could knock Titans over like bowling pins, and he could also dart his way down the field to gain 10-yard chunks at a time.
But on top of venturing past the line of scrimmage without any teammates, he was also running out of the punt formation, meaning he had to start running from far behind the line. It clearly telegraphed his intentions well ahead of time, and I just couldn't find a way to bust loose for a long run.
About those teammates ...
This is Mr. Hansen, proudly wearing Peyton Manning's old uniform number. The CPU was clearly so fed up with my silly adjustments that it stopped trying to create a realistic simulation, opting instead to crudely slam players into each other and have them run in place until they fell down. I'm telling you: if true artificial emotions aren't already here, they're on their way. My Xbox 360 might not be able to appreciate sorrow or wonder, but it sure knows how to get cranky.
So did the Colts' brand-new punt unit. Please see Mr. Gebow nonchalantly step out of bounds and timidly try to blend into the (opponent's) sideline as he makes his way to the Gatorade. WHILE THE PLAY IS STILL GOING ON.
Hydration is nothing to be bashful about, friend. Drink up! Ain't nobody gonna bite you! Shoot.
As the game progressed, Madden really started to throw a fit.
Mr. McAfee, if you're reading this, I am terribly sorry. I didn't intend for this to descend into the realms of horror.
Madden really let me know how it felt at the very end. This, it decided, was the "Play of the Game."
Lots of remarkable things happened over the course of the game, and Madden chose to select the play in which I intentionally ran my kick returner out of bounds in order to give McAfee as much field as possible. I am probably not going to purchase a GMC-brand vehicle!
At the half, the Colts led 16-0. McAfee had kicked three field goals, one from 60 yards out, and had also managed to scramble for an 8-yard rushing touchdown. In the second half, though, the Titans' offense woke up and tied the game at 16, and the Tennessee defense had finally managed to halt my fake-punt antics. I suddenly had a lot of trouble trying to advance the ball.
We headed to overtime. The Titans won the coin toss and kicked a field goal on their first possession, meaning McAfee and the Colts absolutely had to score.
And this is how it ended.