We all built the "never count out Touchdown Tom" meme, and it is a monument to the normal. Anyone can play! All you do is shake your head, let out a chuckle, and paraphrase something to the effect of, "you just can't ever count out Touchdown Tom."
Here it is, deconstructed:
1. The NFL is the most popular sports league, and actually, it might be the most mainstream element of American culture.
2. Tom Brady plays the most visible position of this profoundly American sport in a uniform that looks like the American flag. He is perhaps the most popular football player in America. He is the football player you might see barely sketched into a little television in an illustration of a messy bedroom in a children's book. He is Captain Generic.
3. Tom throws a lot of touchdown passes, but so do a lot of quarterbacks. Because of that, and because it's alliterative, I gave him the nickname "Touchdown Tom." It's a title so generic that even American pop culture wouldn't give him that nickname, because it's too obnoxious and stupid.
4. Tom has developed a knack for coming from behind to win football games, and this is the final piece of the puzzle. When Tom Brady is behind by a touchdown or two, we say "never count out Touchdown Tom." That's when this nonsense reaches another, even more frustratingly stupid level: we're almost definitely right.
This happened for the millionth time last weekend. Here is Pro-Football-Reference's win probability chart for Saturday's Patriots-Ravens game:
Down 28-14 midway through the third quarter, New England was estimated to have a 9.8 percent chance of winning. When they actually won, it surprised nobody.
Welcome to the world of Touchdown Tom. This week, he sets upon his most foreboding, unknowable adventure yet. I wouldn't count him out just yet:
Music: "Breakdown Dead Ahead" by Boz Scaggs
This week's experiment borrows some elements from an experiment we ran in the first season of Breaking Madden, but it also features elements we've never attempted. This is a two-step operation:
I. WE CREATE AN ENTIRE OFFENSE OF TOUCHDOWN TOMS.
The quarterback is Tom Brady. The running backs, wideouts, and tight ends are Tom Brady. The kicker is Tom Brady. The entire offensive line is made up of Tom Bradys. In total, I created 20 precise replicas of Tom Brady, and I plugged them all into the Patriots' depth chart.
How would Tom Brady play if the Patriots made him switch positions tomorrow? How good of a wide receiver, right tackle, or kicker would he actually be? Madden offers a little trick to help us project this. I pulled up Tom Brady to the edit screen, temporarily re-assigned him to another position, and noted his new skill ratings, many of which plummeted.
For example, his Awareness rating -- which governs how well a player understands what's going on and what he should be doing -- remains unchanged at a perfect 99/99, because he's still Tom Brady. But now he has a new skill, Kicking Power, which the game tells us is 18/99. His Stiff Arm ability is set at 25/99. Et cetera.
So what we end up with here is a quarterback who is really good, but operates within an offense full of players who are really not very good at all. They're not total zeroes, but I mean, they're "Tom Brady as a linebacker."
II. WE MAKE THE COLTS' DEFENSE PHYSICALLY GODLIKE AND HORRIBLE AT FOOTBALL.
This is the twist we've never attempted in Breaking Madden. The Indianapolis defense is now made up of 21 players who are seven feet tall and weigh 400 pounds. They are as fast, agile, and strong as I can possibly make them.
Every skill category that has anything to do with an understanding of football, however, has been yanked down to zero.
The Pats' key advantage here is the Awareness category: the Toms are at 99, and the Colts are at zero. These Colts don't really know how to play football, but they are monstrously strong and unreasonably fast, so does that even matter? I suspect that Tom is still going into this game as an underdog. I'm sure a pack of dogs doesn't know how to play football. They'll still beat you at football, because a dead man cannot win.
These Indianapolis Colts, no matter how physically gifted they may be, figure to be a gaggle of clumsy screwup dipshits. As I often do, I recruited them from the ranks of Twitter.
if you would like to be in the next Breaking Madden, please tell me about a time you really, really fucked up
— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) January 12, 2015
There were stories. My God, there were stories. Here's one:
@jon_bois Paid off a man for hitting his car, told my mom I lost my wallet, accidentally got him arrested for theft when he cashed my check
— Janie Campbell (@itsjaniec) January 12, 2015
OK, one more.
@jon_bois 16 year old me drank most of a $10,000 bottle of scotch that was my friend's dad's retirement gift. She didn't speak to me again
— James Dator (@James_Dator) January 12, 2015
OK wait, I lied, one more.
@jon_bois 12yo - poured gas into paper cup, lit on fire & kicked it, yelling "FIELD GOAL!" 3rd degree burns on leg, bedridden for summer. :(
— Ian (@TheDDB) January 12, 2015
And I'm tellin' y'all, these aren't even the worst ones. There were 20 terrible stories in total, and if you'd like, you can read them all here at:
All right. Nothing left to do but let 'er rip. Godspeed, Touchdown Tom.
One more note at the outset: everything you see in these GIFs is the computer's fault. At no moment in these GIFs did I actually take control of any player. I just called whichever play Madden recommended, put the controller down, and watched it happen.
Before we even kicked off, my eye caught something strange. Phil Simms and Jim Nantz opened up the broadcast with the same banal non-sentiments they always spout. But I slowed down the tape. Look to the right of Simms' right shoulder.
It's nothing especially wild, but ... it looks almost like a set of chubby fingers, pushing its way into this world for the briefest of instances. I've played tons and tons and tons of Madden, and I've never seen that before. Why would I have? This "Nantz and Simms in the booth" segment is completely canned. It's not interactive at all, and if the computer were ever to screw up and randomly generate something that wasn't supposed to be here, it surely wouldn't be here, right? Are ... are we being haunted?
It's nothing. I'm sure that it's nothing and that it foreshadows nothing.
So, about these Colts. It's a miracle that they even know where to line up. They clearly have never seen or heard of the sport of football. The game just told them, "THAT IS BALL. GET MAN WITH BALL." What does that mean? Does that mean, say, using your arms? Hell if they know.
Jane Coaston just kind of sprints in the general direction of the man with the football, arms flopping around like vestigial mistakes. Madden was really getting into the spirit of this endeavor. It piloted these players, more or less, like shuffleboard pucks, except it didn't try to get them to rest at the edge. There was no steady hand here. The game just shoved these dudes as hard as they could.
Please forgive this big long GIF. I just wanted to show this to you, because it cracks me up. Surely at some point they'll stop flinging their fool asses into nowhere. They just keep going and going and falling.
I knew they didn't understand how arms worked, but I didn't expect such explicit evidence.
Yes. Yes, those are arms. Weird, right? I've never seen a player in Madden do this. Hypothesis: a developer was hired by Electronic Arts to program player animations. "I think it would be nice," this developer said, "if the players could dice invisible cucumbers! I also feel that football is an adjective and the Moon is made of crayons." This individual was fired, but not before programming Phil Simms' commentary.
Let's check in with Mr. McCue, who has been assigned to play zone coverage, I think.
This is where ideas like conviction and self-actuation go to die. I was able to see which plays the Colts were calling, and I know that no sort of "QB contain" or "QB spy" play was called here. Half of him seemed to want to continue to play zone, despite the fact that all the receivers were clearly running verts, and none of them were anywhere near his zone. I see that GIF and remember every time I've been stuck with a shitty grocery cart.
There was a lot of, "well, I guess I'll see what all these Tom Bradys are doing and kind of follow their lead."
"Huh? Oh yeah, OK, I'll see what's over here."
Visually speaking, these players are actually kind of adorable. They're like enormous tardigrades. Y'all ever seen a tardigrade? They're these chubby, microscopically-small animals who are far cuter than any creature that size has any business being. Like the tardigrade, these Colts could probably survive in space, and should probably be sent there.
Here's a curious thing about the Madden Patriots: they are not coached by Bill Belichick. While every other team gets to have its real-life coach in the game, Belichick didn't allow his likeness to be used in the game. Instead, they're coached by a generic shithead asshole, who will be revealed as a shithead asshole in short order.
See, the kicker is Tom Brady, who possesses a 18/99 in kicking power, and a 17/99 in kicking accuracy. That's no good. He's so untenably bad that he can't even kick an extra point. Generic Shithead Asshole Coach knows this, so understandably, he never, ever sends him out to attempt a field goal.
Problem: the Patriots face a fourth-and-inches at the Colts' 28-yard line. With a field goal attempt ruled out, they can either go for it, or they ... they punt. THEY PUNT.
I couldn't take this shit. This might be the first time Madden actually made me angry. This game was really tough sledding, and if Touchdown Tom had any chance of pulling out a win, he needed to take advantage of every opportunity he was given. Generic Shithead Asshole Coach was ruining everything.
I made that GIF back when I imagined that was the worst it would get. It wasn't. Look. THEY PUNTED AT THE COLTS' ONE-YARD LINE. GOD DANGIT, LOOK AT THIS SHIT.
LOOK AT THAT PIECE-OF-SHIT ASSHOLE. It's actually fortunate that the Patriots' coach turns out to be a pretend person, because I would never tell a real person, nor the avatar of a real person, "I am going to drag your shit-for-brains ass up a church tower and ring 6 o'clock with your face."
If you've never seen a punter try to coffin-corner a punt one yard from the opponent's end zone, well, there you go. That's obviously a touchback, which gifted the Colts' offense 19 yards for free.
Speaking of, I haven't even mentioned the other half of this game, because I didn't even touch it. It served as the control group: the completely normal, Andrew Luck-led Colts offense versus the completely normal Patriots defense. That was Touchdown Tom's challenge: he had to rise above this wonky Hellscape and compete against the normal world.
Tom has made a habit of surprising us in Breaking Madden. Remember last year, when he overcame a 74-0 halftime deficit to beat the Colts in the playoffs? Remember earlier this season, when, after 343 tries, he finally scored a 99-yard touchdown on a quarterback sneak? In those times, I knew not to count him out. But as this game rolled on, I found myself in an unfamiliar position.
I, of all people, was beginning to count out Touchdown Tom. You may recall that as a general rule, I do not count out Touchdown Tom, and I recommend that others also do not count out Touchdown Tom.
Here concludes the Touchdown Tom Trilogy. Here are your game highlights. Godspeed us all:
Music: "Sigur 8 (Untitled)" by Sigur Ros.