Michael Vick may, for the rest of his life, remain a contemptible stereotype to much of the public: A brutal or stupid man. A laughingstock. A guy who did federal time. Still, there is one aspect of his football career that cleanly escapes the wreckage of his personal scandal, that lives on almost as a separate identity, and is a mortal lock to return tomorrow.
It’s the Michael Vick of Madden NFL 2004. The incandescent, unstoppable, oh-god-don’t-let-him-run, oh-please-don’t-make-me-throw Vick, the last of sports video gaming’s otherworldly performers. He arrived—with his jaw-dropping, unheard-of 95 speed and totally unfair 97-rated acceleration—at the sunset of the dorm couch’s dominance over online multiplayer, and in the age when what you got on a disc was what you played with for a year.
Subsequent editions of Madden, Moore said, were still forced to respond to the disruption Vick caused. “If you remember, Madden 2005, that was the year of the defense,” Moore said. “We added the hit stick and quarterback spies on defense.” Vick, and the advent of mobile quarterbacks seen today, changed the game in real life, but it changed Madden more immediately. “We had to combat the real offensive year everyone had seen in Madden 2004.”
Ray Lewis took the cover after Vick, and the Hit Stick introduced in his Year-of-the-Defense edition remains one of the most spammed control inputs in video game history, sports or otherwise. “To this day it’s still probably one of our top features,” nodded Moore. Defensive formations with QB spies—linebackers who sit back and neither drop into zone coverage nor attack the runner, but read what the quarterback is doing—have likewise clamped down on a mobile quarterback’s ability to draw Family Circus cartoons all over the playbook in Madden.
For my money, Madden 2005 was the best football video game ever made, largely due to those new defensive controls that were implemented partly because of Vick’s dominance the previous year. The 2005 gaming season was also the year 2K Sports’ NFL 2K5, with T.O. on the cover, legitimately challenged Madden. But Madden’s new defensive playmaker controls and, if I recall correctly, the addition of Tony Bruno as in-franchise radio commentator sent Madden to another level of excellence. It’s been a somewhat downhill journey since.