We are allowed to mess up in this world. That, according to a National Football Post report, is what Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill recently did.
On Saturday during practice, Tannehill, after a couple of practice squad players forced turnovers, [...] made negative comments toward them, including saying: "Enjoy your practice squad paycheck, enjoy your practice squad trophy."
I've certainly been a punk-ass before. Punk-asses are sophisticated beings. Punk-assedness isn't just an on-off switch, it's like a stereo equalizer. Some punk-asses subtly emphasize the mid-ranges, vague and camouflaged in their punk-ass behavior; other punk-asses cut deeper with their highs and lows. In this instance, Ryan Tannehill cranked every punk-ass dial all the way up, and it sounded awful: In the midst of a subpar season, practice squad players were doing their jobs, playing tough defense, and picking off his throws. Tannehill responded by mocking their income and station in life, which, of course, is an enormously chump-ass thing to do.
Whether this was Tannehill at his truest, or merely at his worst, I have no idea. He is allowed weak moments and lapses in being a good dude, and we are allowed to dump on him. In this episode of Breaking Madden, we banish him to a practice-field nightmare.
WELCOME TO TANNEHELL.
Music: "Kerosene Girl" by Young Widows
This episode shifted gears somewhat between inception and finished product. Originally, I transformed the Titans -- Miami's Week 6 opponent -- into a defensive juggernaut, flush with seven-foot-tall, 400-pound angels of destruction. I felt it especially important to do this, as it allowed me to fulfill a promise I'd made two years ago. Titans fans noticed that their team seemed to end up at the ass end of every Breaking Madden they were involved in. It took me long enough, but I finally got around to making actual titans out of the Titans.
I needed to find players who were properly motivated to exact punishment upon a punk-ass quarterback, so I recruited them on Twitter.
if you would like to be in the next Breaking Madden, tell me about a time someone was extraordinarily shitty to you
— Jon Bois (@jon_bois) October 6, 2015
Punk-asses are delightfully complex tapestries, and their inconsiderate behavior manifests itself in countless ways. Like this one:
@jon_bois i drove a co-worker who didn't have a car around for three months. no thanks + one time he started cutting his toenails in my car
— An Actual Ghost (@ZSGhost) October 6, 2015
You can read more of their stories at
Please meet your 2015 Tennessee Titans.
THE PRACTICE FIELD.
This episode quickly devolved from a clear, structured experiment to a disorganized dive into the sandbox.
Longtime readers of Breaking Madden recognize Madden's "Practice" mode as a sort of sun-bleached Hell, in which our heroes rarely do anything but suffer. The mode allows us to spot the ball wherever we want, call the plays for both teams, and repeat them as many times as we'd like. In so doing, we can create circumstances that make Madden behave as it was never intended to; The Johnny Manziel episode ended with players being caught in various phases of time-warp.
The practice field has also served as the setting for the unexpectedly inspirational. In one of the greatest episodes in Breaking Madden history, Tom Brady was doomed to snap the ball at his own 1-yard line and call nothing but quarterback sneaks until he ran up the middle for a 99-yard touchdown. We ran literally hundreds of plays. That is the true hell of Madden's practice mode. There is no clock. The sun hangs, stationary, casting the same long shadows hour after hour, as though it were tacked to the sky.
I opened by cranking every Dolphin's skill ratings all the way down, until they were reduced to complete uselessness. Then I introduced the Titans, who folded them like laundry.
All Mr. Liakos has to do here is paw at Tannehill with a free hand. He just crumples up and goes to the mat, desperate for a whistle that will not come. Although Liakos did touch him, the game refused to blow the play dead. "Nah," Madden seemed to say. "That's some bullshit, I'm not calling that."
We've seen that from this game before. Sometimes it beholds the terrors happening within its guts and refuses to follow its own rules. It's like Darth Vader watching the Emperor destroy his son. We don't get much. We see his expressionless mask turn one way, then another, because it is his only instrument of expressing grief. This game has no face, but we know it winces.
Shortly after this point, I abandoned this experiment, because a greater opportunity arose.
Madden games are enormously sophisticated, and some of its tunnels are curiously deep. This is a game that will allow you to tweak the punting ability of an offensive lineman, set the stadium price of peanuts for no real reason, and read fake tweets from imaginary fans who compliment you on the state of your parking lot.
Some of these features are under considered, and seem perpetually half-finished. They're vestigial limbs that sprouted in, like, Madden 08, kind of useless but always there, hitchhiking into one release after another. They're like scaffolding you walk under every day on the way to work; one day you look up and realize, "oh shit, this has been here for years." Are they still working on something? Did they forget? It's an unfinished artifact, fixed into permanence.
But the offense-only practice mode is difficult for me to explain. It's exactly as it sounds: there are no defensive players on the field, and the offense just trots out there and runs plays without resistance. Quarterbacks and receivers practice like this in the real world, but only to get better at throwing and catching, and the offensive lineman certainly would not stand out there in full pads and do nothing. They do so here. As for us, we're supposed to get better at ... pressing the A button? For what purpose?
There must be a purpose.
This is that purpose. KABOOOOOOOM.
Across the history of Breaking Madden, witnessing this glitch has been the rarest of unicorns. I've spent hundreds of hours staring at this game, and I've only seen it twice. And now, in the 36th episode, I've finally figured out how to fire a player like a cannonball.
This is how it works: You take your quarterback and kind of gently walk him into one of his teammates. It takes a little bit of patience. After a minute, your dude will bounce off him a little. Do it again, and he'll bounce off a little bit more. The resistance seems to build up each time. Finally, after four or five times, the collision engine will throw a fit, throwing one or both players further than is humanly possible.
This is far easier to do in offense-only practice mode, and I think it's because of the instructions given to the linemen: "stand there." There is literally nothing for them to do, and there aren't any opponents to get them all antsy. They're like empty little slingshots, full of potential energy.
I don't think I need to sell y'all on how fuckin' happy this made me. We will return to Cannonball Tannehill in a bit, trust me. First, let's pay a visit to Apathetic Miserable Tannehill.
I didn't make him do that. I just hit A to snap the ball, and before I could do anything else, he just dove to the ground. And then he stayed there. His body completely locked up. I could spin him around, but that was it. He was reduced to a man searching for a contact lens.
Madden may have achieved a very, very low level of sentience. It can't form complete sentences, but it can say HELP or NO or PLEASE NO in its own wordless language; in this case, it made Tannehill hit the deck for no reason and stay there. What we are witnessing right now is not programming, but what a machine does in the absence of explicit programming. It is improvising. It is expressing itself. I don't imagine it likes me, and I can only hope I pass on from this world before the machines come alive. If I don't, they will remember this day, and surely they will paint the forest with my blood.
In the interim, they know only terror. Once again, I didn't do this. The computer did this all by itself:
This is another thing I've never seen before. Immediately after the snap, running back Lamar Miller just turns around and runs the hell away. Some line of code made Miller do this, but what line would that possibly be? In what circumstance would a player turn tail, running in the completely wrong direction and off the field entirely?
Madden told me, with every tool at its disposal, that it had had quite enough of this shit.
Sometimes, when I tried to fire Tannehill downfield, he'd just kind of knock against a teammate and fall to the ground. This is how his teammates responded. They saw their quarterback wither in anguish, and they took five paces back and just stared at him.
I think being an asshole must be lonely. I'm getting softer and re-sensitized as I grow older. When I was younger, I'd see some intensely mean, over-serious blowhard on ESPN, or read some scold lash out at the world in a newspaper column, and write that person off as just that, an asshole. Now I just see the laborings of a lonely person. In feeling pity, I'm assuming a lot, and almost certainly too much. But I do feel that pity. On a different scale, I feel that for Tannehill, a man who couldn't possibly be accurately reduced to a single report of a day with the practice squad.
I felt that Ryan Tannehill deserved to escape this dungeon.
I made up a new sport. This is Tannehill's outlet to redemption.
These are the rules: I spot the Dolphins the ball at their own 20-yard line in offense-only practice mode, and the objective is to mount a touchdown drive. The rules of football still apply here: four downs, and ten yards for a first down. Since there is no defense, once the ball carrier is down, the play is dead.
Passing and running is forbidden. The Dolphins themselves are the football, and using the glitch I've found, they must throw themselves downfield to gain yardage. Since the player who goes flying through the air is sometimes unpredictable, this can either be Tannehill or one of his linemen.
If Tannehill can score a touchdown and escape this field, he wins.
And this is how it went. Best of luck to both teams: existential malaise, and the Dolphins.
Music: "Sea Calls Me Home" by Julia Holter