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Breaking Madden: The quest for 18,356 rushing yards in one game

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The Dallas Cowboys must be destroyed, and Emmitt Smith's all-time rushing record must be broken. Clarence BEEFTANK, the hero of Breaking Madden, has 60 minutes to break it.

The Dallas Cowboys play under a roof, and must make their own storms. In the natural world there is thunder and lightning; within the indoor, fluorescent world, there is miscommunication and stupid bullshit. Late in Sunday's playoff win over the Lions, the officials couldn't find the same page. After calling a pass interference penalty against Dallas, and even announcing it over the PA system, they quietly picked up the flag as though the last thirty seconds hadn't happened.

The Cowboys won their second playoff game since 1996. Such a thing is so rare and disruptive that it can't even happen without perhaps throwing a presidential election into chaos. The win sent New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who was watching from the owner's box, into a toddlery huggy happy fit. Now he has his Dukakis Tank Moment, and our next president will be Gary Bauer.

All that from one Cowboys playoff win. If there's another, we'll probably crash into the Moon. That is why this episode of Breaking Madden is committed to their absolute destruction:

Music: "Kaputt" by Destroyer

This is a three-phase operation.

I. SUMMON CLARENCE BEEFTANK, THE HERO OF BREAKING MADDEN.

Clarence BEEFTANK has been with us since the very beginning of Breaking Madden. I try to use him sparingly and only when he is desperately needed -- this is the 30th episode of Breaking Madden, and only his fifth appearance. He is a 5-foot, 400-pound, faster-than-the-Dickens quarterback who always runs and never, ever throws.

Well, he was 5 feet tall, anyway. This week, I'm pulling out every single stop I can find in the service of destroying the Dallas Cowboys, and that means increasing BEEFTANK's height to 7 feet.

beeftank

Sometimes, in between the initial conception of a Breaking Madden and the finished product, the purpose of the whole thing changes dramatically. For BEEFTANK and I, this week changed everything.

II. REDUCE THE COWBOYS' DEFENSE TO HELPLESS BABIES.

This part of the drill is familiar to regular readers of this series. The Cowboys' defensive line is now comprised entirely of 5-foot-tall, 160-pound people who are terrible at football in every way, and as per usual, I recruited them from Twitter.

Here are the 13 folks Dallas has ended up with:

rostercuts2

These people had remarkable stories to share. One enterprising gentlemen, for example, disposed of spoiled dairy products by covertly dumping them into a floor waxer. If stories of bad ideas and shame are your deal, you can read them here:

BREAKING MADDEN ROSTER CUTS: COWBOYS VS. PACKERS.

Despite overhauling the roster, I wanted to keep the Cowboys the Cowboys while still ensuring they were as terrible as possible.

III. BRING COWBOYS QUARTERBACKS OUT OF RETIREMENT TO PLAY SECONDARY.

Tony Romo has been re-assigned as a free safety. He joins Quincy Carter, Vinny Testaverde, Ryan Leaf, Drew Henson, Drew Bledsoe, Troy Aikman, and Jon Kitna to form Dallas' new secondary. I gave them their real-life heights and weights, but all their skill ratings have been yanked down to 0/99.

THE GAME.

Originally, I had no specific intent other than to indiscriminately whoop on fools for an entire game. But after BEEFTANK effortlessly galloped 80 yards for a touchdown on his first play of the game, I had a terrible idea.

Emmitt Smith holds the career rushing yards record. How many is that?

[looks]

18,355

Maybe I can beat that in a single game.

At first blush, that sounds completely impossible. Over the next half-hour, I did math and experimented and did some more math, and the terrifying truth slowly emerged: on paper, this is possible. One man can run for 18,356 yards in a single 60-minute football game.

No, for real. Just stick with me here.

STEP I

I have to take control of both the Cowboys and Packers in order to do this. First, I call an onside kick for the Packers, but a standard return formation for the Cowboys.

process1

This ensures that most of the time, the Packers touch the ball before it's traveled 10 yards. This results in a penalty, which gives the Cowboys the ball right around the Packers' 35-yard line.

And that is good. That is what we want. (Well, me, anyway. I don't mean to drag you into this.) My logic is that I want to give Clarence BEEFTANK the longest field I can possibly give him every time he touches the ball, and that means going deep into Green Bay territory.

Time elapsed: zero seconds, if everything goes right.

STEP II

As the Cowboys, I punt on first down.

process2

Since I'm only about 35 yards from the end zone, a coffin-corner punt is pretty easy to manage. Over the course of this episode, I was getting better and better at it, and by the end of it, I could pin the Packers inside their 5-yard line almost every time.

Time elapsed: four or five seconds.

STEP III

And now we give the ball to BEEFTANK.

process3

This is unfamiliar territory for the big fella. In the past, he's always actively sought fools to run over; this time, I need him to sprint down the field as quickly as possible, because every single second matters.

Time elapsed: About 13 seconds, on average, depending on where the ball is spotted.

After this, I kick the PAT or go for two, which takes no time off the clock. Then it's back to Step I. If I can average 90 yards every time, I will need to go through this process about 200 times.

The next question, of course, is whether 60 minutes is enough time for that. In order to reach 18,356 rushing yards, we need to average 5.099 yards for every second that ticks off the clock. In the example you just watched, the whole process took 17 seconds, and I gained 94 yards. That's 5.529 yards per second. That's a tiny cushion, and I'm going to need all of it to account for various mishaps. Maybe, God forbid, BEEFTANK will get tackled. Maybe I'll screw up a punt and boot it out of the end zone for a touchback, limiting BEEFTANK to an 80-yard run instead of his usual 90 or 95.

This is going to take forever, but the numbers are right there, proving that the wildly impossible is entirely possible. We have to try this, and we can't possibly not try.

The repetition of it was a fairly awful experience. It required me to employ skill on every single play, so I couldn't just check out and watch TV while half-playing. The first quarter alone took me two and a half hours. I left myself one little slice of happiness: the two-point conversion.

bowling

Since the two-point try didn't take any time off the clock, I was free to punch it in with BEEFTANK any way I wanted. Usually I had him vault over the line and crush dudes like little accordions, because that was the most fun. It was gruesome. At one point, upon stumbling upon the wreckage, Computer Quincy Carter took one look and backpedaled in horror.

quincy

And it was horror. These Cowboys unmistakably and desperately wanted out of this Hell. Sometimes they ran away, and sometimes they preferred to fall through the Earth and into oblivion.

ground

This is such an unsettling insinuation. Why, Baumgart, are you digging your way into Hell? "Because," he says, "there are no demons left in Hell. They are all in Lambeau Field."

The Packers, as you'd expect from this breakneck pace of football, suffered plenty as well. Two hundred onside kicks in a single game will really do a number on you. Look upon this man, whose back conveniently snaps into the letter C.

back

He was fine. So, remarkably, was HaHa Clinton-Dix, who at one point was reduced to an armless, legless statue.

what

The longer you ask Madden to process a nightmare, the more it becomes the nightmare. It starts forgetting to draw limbs. It fractures backs. It makes players fall through the Earth. BEEFTANK and I pressed forward.

And as we did, I began to consider whether, after this game, Clarence BEEFTANK would have anything more to accomplish in Breaking Madden. He's stomped over more linemen than I can count, and if he rushes for as many yards as humanly possible, what's left? What is left to break? Who remains to destroy?

Midway through, I decided that this episode would be BEEFTANK's swan song. And suddenly, a Breaking Madden quest had never been more important.

There were certainly some mishaps, as I'd expected, including some screwups on my part. Occasionally BEEFTANK would get tackled or I'd accidentally call a normal kick instead of an onside kick, and I'd have to burn a timeout. It became increasingly clear that this game would last 10 to 12 real-time hours, and the margin for error was brutally narrow. What if the game ends at midnight, and I've finished 100 yards short, and it was all because I screwed up one run at 4 p.m.? This was the thought that kept me perpetually stressed out.

After one quarter, the Packers led by a score of 367 to 2. (Disaster struck on one occasion when Troy Aikman busted through the line, and in a remarkable fluke, managed to sack BEEFTANK in the end zone.) The game's score counter always gets stuck once it reaches 255 points, and since I had no way of knowing when it would stop calling yardage, I made sure to record the stats independently.

Before I started the second quarter, I let myself take a break to look at my progress.

beefchart

As you can see, BEEFTANK and I got a little bit more efficient as time went on. There were fewer mishaps, and we were slowly but surely getting back the time we'd lost. During our first 15 minutes, we had averaged 5.024 yards per second, just slightly under our target of 5.098.

At this pace, we would finish with 18,088 yards, just a few hundred shy of Emmitt Smith's record of 18,356. I remained confident, since we were only getting better and faster. We could do this. I could think of no better or more dramatic way to say goodbye to Clarence BEEFTANK, and I began to think on what inspired him in the first place.

December, 1998. I am a sophomore at Waggener High School in Louisville. Our football team, to everyone's surprise, has advanced through the playoffs to face Highlands High School in the 3A state championship. Their quarterback is Jared Lorenzen, who will later become the largest quarterback in the SEC, and then the largest quarterback in the NFL. In my memory, he's just as gigantic in this game. He's 6'4, and accounts of his weight vary between 275 pounds (not likely) and 320 pounds (more likely).

This is in the old Cardinal Stadium, the dumpiest stadium I've ever seen. It's out by the airport and sits in the middle of a hideous asphalt desert. An entire section of seating is too rusted-out and dangerous to sit in; rather than replace it or simply tear it down, they've just cordoned it off with yellow tape. You get the feeling that if Jared Lorenzen stomps just one more time, this whole damn place will fall down.

Lorenzen passes occasionally, but he never has to. He just takes the ball and rumbles downfield in chunks of 30, 50, 75 yards at a time. From the stands I'm watching my friends, some of whom are no bigger than I am, heroically try to bring him down and bounce away like hailstones off a Buick. Sometimes they cling to him, two or three at a time, and he drags them toward the end zone. He's wearing them like they're clothes, like he's a toddler playing dress-up.

He is unstoppable. He is a thinking, feeling element of the Earth, as certain and world-forming as the winds and the tides. We scored a pity touchdown in the final seconds and lost, 56-7.

That is where BEEFTANK comes from, and he is special to me, and today we will bring the impossible to being. And then--

Click here to read many more episodes of Breaking Madden.