Armaddengeddon Part I

Training camp.

The quarterback took the snap and dropped back to pass. Suddenly, something clicked—rather, unclicked—in his mind. He suddenly had no idea where he was, or what he was doing. The weird object he was holding seemed to him like an alien artifact. Before he realized what was happening it was out of his grasp, escaping from his hands like a bar of soap escaping a man taking a shower. It tumbled to the ground. Feeling some hint of a need to chase after it, the quarterback did so, though his movements were more laborious than he could ever remember them being. Rather than bending down to pick it up he managed to step on it and fall backwards, landing squarely on his rear.

This all unfolded in about five seconds. All the players and coaches had a good laugh. But the quarterback didn’t get up for a while. The laughter dissipated and eventually was replaced by a grim silence. The quarterback had fractured his tailbone after what looked like an innocuous fall any NFL player could get right back up from. It was the first hint of something far more sinister.

Space Jam 2 isn’t ever going to happen. Whether or not that’s a good thing is only for God to decide. What we can do is finagle a sequel ourselves. What if, following the progression of sports set out by the original Air Bud series, the sport that Space Jam 2 focuses on is football? What if the Monstars end up stealing the talents of every single quarterback in the NFL? What if, since the Looney Tunes don’t have a horse in this race, they don’t enlist anyone’s help? What if that’s it?

No resolution. The talents, the abilities, they’re gone. They stay gone. Every single NFL quarterback becomes perfectly incapable of playing football or anything like it. The rest of Space Jam 2, the meat of it, is dark. How does the world deal with something so bizarre? What happens to the players? This was their life. Suddenly, it’s all crumbled away. Does anyone ever figure out what happened?

Obviously, it’s down to me to figure all this stuff out. This is essentially Part 3 of a series where, for lack of better nomenclature, I fuck around with ancient Madden games. In Part 1 I gave myself the fool’s errand of simulating the 2014-15 postseason using Madden NFL 2001. In Part 2 I used Madden NFL 2003 to simulate Super Bowl XLIX, and it accurately predicted the winner even though Tom Brady threw seven interceptions in the first half. Here I will be using Madden NFL 2005 to paint a picture of a world where no one can play quarterback.

Now perhaps more than ever, the quarterback is supposedly the most important position on any NFL team. There are probably lots of facts, stats, and testimony as to why that is the case. Most obviously, all of the perennially bad teams in the NFL have something in common–that is, they can’t find someone above replacement level to play quarterback for them. But I’m going to add something to the scholarship here. What happens when every single quarterback ceases to have any iota of football ability?

Before we get too far into it I need to take one brief moment to shout out Jon Bois and Breaking Madden, without which I doubt I ever would have had any of the hellish ideas to toy around with ancient Madden games. Thank you, Jon, as you are doing the work of God. Moving on.

As stated above, the game used for this experiment will be Madden NFL 2005 for the Nintendo GameCube. I could easily do this experiment with an actually relevant video game such as Madden NFL 15 for the PlayStation 4, but that’s too obvious. Besides, Madden 2005 is often regarded as one of the best, if not the best, Madden games out there. This has a lot to do with the fact that it was the last Madden game to have any sort of competition but that’s a topic for another article entirely.

Here is the methodology: Madden NFL 2005 assigns twenty attributes to every single player. They are Speed, Strength, Awareness, Agility, Acceleration, Catching, Carrying, Jumping, Break Tackle, Tackle, Throw Power, Throw Accuracy, Pass Block, Run Block, Kick Power, Kick Accuracy, Kick Return, Stamina, Injury, and Toughness. I have set every single one of these attributes to zero for each of the over one hundred quarterbacks included in the base roster of Madden NFL 2005, including free agents. For some reason, this sets their overall ratings to 12, which is apparently the lowest the game can go. This has several obvious effects, and a few not-so-obvious ones.

Most of those attributes are straightforward. These quarterbacks will be unable to run, jump, throw, or move. They may be fine when they aren’t on the field of play but as soon as they step onto the gridiron all of that talent evaporates instantly. The injury attribute, however, is most important. After making the roster match my specifications, I played the first drive of a game to test things out. In successive plays, all three of my quarterbacks were injured, including a broken collarbone. My punter (officially listed as the fourth-string quarterback in the depth chart) threw a touchdown pass.

For technical reasons the game doesn’t let you simply release every quarterback, which is why I had to go through the entire game and set all of the attributes to zero. It was tedious and time-consuming. But it might be a loophole. There might not be any quarterbacks left at all by the end of the season. Setting Injury (and maybe Toughness) to zero apparently makes their bones as brittle as uncooked pasta. Brett Favre holds the record for consecutive starts in the NFL at 321, including playoff games. In this simulation he may not last one game.

That’s the second part of this that’s important. This will be entirely simulation. I will be “controlling” one team in franchise mode, as it won’t let me simply spectate. But I won’t be playing any of the games. And I won’t be making any of the coaching decisions. The 32 NFL teams will be left to their own devices as they wonder just what in the fuck is going on with their quarterbacks. I’ll take “control” of the Panthers. But poor Jake Delhomme, Rodney Peete, and Chris Weinke are on their own.

Let’s begin.

The preseason is infamous for clumsy, disjointed football as coaches and teams figure out what players are worth keeping and what players don’t deserve a shot at the NFL. But after the slew of bizarre happenings with quarterbacks during training camps, the 2004 preseason is under more scrutiny than ever. Was it all just a fluke? It had to be. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, they’ll all figure it out during the preseason. They just need some in-game reps.

One thing was pretty concerning, though. They brought Peyton on ESPN, you know, for an interview. They had heard some unsettling things about his training camp (among them that he allegedly did not know what a quarterback even was despite still having memories of being whatever that was) and wanted to clear the air before the first preseason game. Here’s how the conversation went.

“Hey, Peyton, how are you?”

“Oh, I’m good. Just trying to figure out this whole … foot ball … thing again.” He said football as if it were a word in a foreign language.

There’s some laughter from ESPN. “Ain’t that the truth, huh? Training camp should be helping out with that, right? Plus, the preseason starts this weekend.”

Peyton seems unsure of himself. “Yeah, camp is … it’s hard. Whenever I step out onto that grass I suddenly feel like an old man. Slow, feeble, and even thinking gets a lot harder. Whenever I try to think about anything involving foot ball there’s just this haze.”

ESPN doesn’t know where to take the segment. “Well, we all look forward to what you and the Colts have in store for us this year. Good luck, Peyton.” End transmission.

The preseason reveals some concerning new trends. For one, there were five ties during the four weeks of play. One of those ties even finished with a score of zero to zero, which would be the first scoreless tie in modern NFL history. There have been plenty of scoreless ties in the early history of the NFL, but none since 1943, and certainly none since overtime was implemented. The stats of that 0-0 game are even uglier: it was between the Vikings and Seahawks in the fourth week of the preseason. The Vikings mustered a mere 94 yards of offense and only six first downs. The teams combined for just twenty-two net passing yards. 1)In calculating team passing yards, Madden NFL 2005 uses the following simple formula: (passing yards) – (yards lost on sacks).

They threw seven interceptions total and were sacked a total of twelve times. These quarterbacks aren’t mobile, and they don’t know what team they’re supposed to throw to. Even if they did, they wouldn’t be able to get the ball that far. But we’re looking at just one game here. What did the entire preseason look like?

The most yards anyone could muster was 235, courtesy of Mark Brunell of the Washington Professional Football Team. He tossed up one touchdown but seven interceptions. Todd Collins of the Chiefs had the highest quarterback rating at 46.3—if you’re unfamiliar with the impossibly obtuse statistic of “quarterback rating,” the highest possible rating is 158.3 and the average is around 100. No one threw more than two touchdowns and, in fact, only two quarterbacks at all threw two. Rohan Davey of the Patriots and Kelly Holcomb of the Browns. There were interceptions aplenty though: A.J. Feeley of the Dolphins threw twelve of them, with no touchdowns.

Before we move on to the regular season, where the games actually matter, let’s check in on the health of our QBs. Surprisingly, only three are currently nursing injuries at the end of the preseason. Jeff Garcia of the Browns is out for the season with a torn Achilles. Todd Collins is probable with a strained shoulder. And Jay Fiedler of the Dolphins is out for a week with a sprained wrist. So maybe their bones aren’t so brittle. But the stats paint a terrifying picture. We move on, with some trepidation, to the regular season.

The statisticians’ shouts were becoming more and more frequent. There was no way, they said, that five ties in four weeks of preseason games was a fluke. The bigwigs at the NFL, the coaches, and even a few of the players were willing to attribute it to the fact that preseason games were little more than exhibition games. When the statisticians pointed towards the horrific statistics from quarterbacks, the coaches went so far as to say that was a good thing: that their defenses were playing well. Eventually the statisticians threw up their hands and gave up.

The first game of the regular season was quickly approaching, and everyone thought that it would finally shut everyone up. It was between the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots and the Indianapolis Colts, two teams characterized by strong quarterback play and high-octane offenses. If anyone was going to solve this nebulous quarterback problem, it was going to be Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. That awkward ESPN interview seemed so long ago, now.

The Colts and Patriots came out for the game and both were completely punchless. Neither Brady nor Manning looked like they belonged on an NFL field. New England won, 6 to 3. But Brady finished 14 of 38 for just 88 yards and Peyton Manning finished 9 of 43 for 71 yards. The post-game news segments glossed over the stats, instead focusing on how neither team turned the ball over. Indeed, though there were no passing touchdowns, there were no interceptions either. One analyst dared to delve a bit further into it all, however …

“If one game is any indicator, which it shouldn’t, but still, the worrying trends from the preseason show no sign of going away. If Tom frickin’ Brady and Peyton freakin’ Manning can’t combine for 200 passing yards on over eighty attempts, is this even football we’re watching? You look at the stats of this game, and not just the passing stats, but look at the punting stats. Pats punted 12 times, Colts punted 13 times. That’s pre-forward pass level stuff! And I tell you what, say what you want about Brady and Manning but they looked like old men out there. They didn’t pass the eye test. Something is wrong. Something has to be wrong.”

Find out what’s wrong in Part II coming next week.

Notes   [ + ]

1. In calculating team passing yards, Madden NFL 2005 uses the following simple formula: (passing yards) – (yards lost on sacks).

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