Are You Ready For Some (EA) Football?

COMMENTATOR'S NOTE: At the time of this writing (Sunday, December 26th), the football world was shocked to hear about the passing of former Green Bay Packer "Reverend" Reggie White. We at GiN wish to express our deepest sympathies towards the White family in this sad time.

With just over one week left in the NFL season, it has not looked good for me. With a god-awful 2-13 record so far, the 49ers are on the verge of their worst season since the pre-Montana era. Who can I blame for this matter? Dennis Erickson for his poor coaching? I still damn the 49ers front office for firing Steve Mariucci and replacing him with a coach who has only proven himself in the pros. (Do the names Butch Davis, Steve Spurrier, and if you include basketball, Jerry Tarkanian and Rick Pitino ring a bell?)

Maybe I can also put the blame on the front office for having the gall to give an untalented hack like Kevan Barlow a large signing bonus at the start of the season. Or maybe I can put the fault on two horrid quarterbacks like Tim Rattay and Ken Dorsey. (Then again, I always say: never trust anyone from the University of Miami, be it Dorsey or Erickson).

If there is any positive note to their horrible season, the 49ers will have the first pick in the 2005 NFL Draft. But still, aside from Peyton Manning in 1998 (interceptions notwithstanding) and Michael Vick in 2001, has there been a successful number one draft pick lately?

Let's go over them from 1995:
1995-Ki-Jana Carter (Cincinnati Bengals)"three words".OW! MY KNEE! Plagued by injuries.

1996-Keyshawn Johnson (New York Jets)"Just give me the darn ball or else I'll move to another team, maybe Tampa Bay or eventually Dallas.

1997-Orlando Pace (St. Louis Rams)"How often does a team draft an OFFENSIVE TACKLE for a number one pick?

1998-Peyton Manning (Indianapolis Colts)"Ok I may torment him on throwing interceptions at the worst possible time (the 2004 AFC Championship Game is a perfect example), but with passing Dan Marino's single season touchdown record he might be one of the best QBs playing today.

1999-Tim Couch (Cleveland Browns)…Not doing much since the Browns were resurrected in 99, he was eventually replaced by an ailing Jeff Gar-thee-a and eventually released.

2000-Courtney Brown (Cleveland Browns)"Again a DEFENSIVE END as a #1 pick. At least he made 38 tackles and 6 sacks in 2003 and is still with the same team.

2001-Michael Vick (Atlanta Falcons)"Aside from the year he suffered the "Madden Curse" and was injured, he has been unstoppable. A possible exception to the rule.

2002-David Carr (Houston Texans)".An expansion pick that has not come to fruition.

2003-Carson Palmer (Cincinnati Bengals)"Still too early to tell but why is it this year John Kitna is getting the wins, like he did in a last minute victory against the Giants earlier in the week.

2004-Eli Manning (San Diego Chargers, traded to the Giants for Philip Rivers)"The Chargers are getting the last laugh in this one, as they are the ones with an 11-4 record and the AFC West title while poor Eli is throwing picks and not helping his cause with the Giants.

Thus even with the 2005 first round pick, I shudder to think of what the 49ers will end up with. But still, even with all that happened, there are some good points to come from this season.

But nothing this big could have predicted that would happen in the NFL game market. As everyone knows from the hate mail that I have received and shared with you, I was not a fan of the latest ESPN NFL title that was released. It just was not nearly as realistic as Madden 2005. Even cutting the price of the game down to $20 and providing a presentation that has yet to be rivaled did not change the fact that the passing game was too clumsy (those dropped passes happen too often) and the running game is too stiff. And yes, I still hate playing against B-movie stars and their "dream teams."

I will always stick with Madden's realism, quality in gameplay, and even with antiquated graphics and presentation, I will favor it over ESPN. There was no other competition this year, as Microsoft closed all their sports titles, ending their XSN league, and Midway did not release another Blitz title this year, due to conflicts with the NFL over their violent content.

But now, there is a larger reason for me to favor Madden over ESPN, or any other football game for that matter. Earlier this month, EA Sports made the deal of the millennium in the form of a five year exclusivity deal with the NFL. What this means is that Madden, and only Madden, will be the official game of the NFL, and will be the only football video game to include the actual NFL teams, players and stadiums.

Needless to say, this is a critical blow to Sega, Take Two, and Visual Concepts, and while most people out there are crying foul and accusing EA Sports of attempting an illegal monopoly, I am laughing at Sega after all they have done to their fans.

After being screwed over by Sega four years ago after pulling the plug on the Dreamcast, and taking Shenmue II (the Dreamcast's supposed final swan song) away from us right before it was to be released, not to mention them hyping a major announcement at E3 (which disapprovingly turned out to be them as the publishers for the Matrix Online), it is about time that Sega was screwed over.

So what does this mean for Sega, as well as other companies like Midway? Simply put, they will have to make football games with fictional teams and players and they will obviously not sell as well. Midway has already started work on their next Blitz title, which ironically is going to be based on the ESPN original series Playmakers. If this is true, wouldn't Sega, through their ESPN Videogames license, be the ones to release Playmakers? But through the Sega/ESPN deal, there is another chink in the armor.

Last week, Gamespot mentioned rumors about Sega's distribution partner, Take Two Interactive, possibly buying capital stock in Visual Concepts (the developers of ESPN NFL and NBA), as well as Kush Games (developers of ESPN NHL). Where will this leave Sega? Deeper in the water than they already were when EA made their mammoth NFL buyout.

Sorry Sega, but I don't really think that even your hype over Matrix Online will be enough to save you. Without your ESPN developers, who will you turn to in order to win an obviously uphill battle against EA?
I do have one recommendation"you could always work on your baseball franchise.

If you lose Visual Concepts, and possibly Blue Shift (developers of World Series and ESPN MLB), you could always make a deal with Microsoft to buy the rights to High Heat Baseball. That way you can always be the best in the baseball market (but that all depends on how MVP 2005 turns out).

CURRENTLY PLAYING: Halo 2 Multiplayer, MechAssault 2: Lone Wolf

MOST WANTED: Gran Turismo 4 (Come on Sony, get off your lazy butt and stop delaying it!)

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