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Five things you don’t know about Madden

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(Credit: Getty Images)

It's been 24 years since football legend John Madden gleefully burst through a video game box and into popular culture, and he's not looking to stop anytime soon. Madden NFL 13 is releasing next week, bringing with it a slew of improvements including a new physics engine, a revamped passing system, and a role-playing career mode.

But while there's a good chance you've played your fair share of Madden games, you might not know exactly how big this gridiron great goes.

It started on a train — and almost stopped there, too.

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A few years removed from his epic Super Bowl run with the Raiders, John Madden didn't need a video game. His lucrative gig as an NFL color commentator kept him in the limelight and his impressive record as a coach pretty much ensured him a spot in Canton.

But one fateful day in 1984, Madden found himself on a train from Denver to Oakland getting the hard sell by EA founder Trip Hawkins on a football video game bearing Madden's name and expertise.  And he almost balked.

The reason? Hawkins wanted to make a game featuring only seven players a side, as anything more than that was impractical considering the technical limitations of the Apple II computer.  But Madden insisted, reportedly telling Hawkins that "if it isn't 11 on 11, it isn't real football" and that he simply wouldn't put his name on it otherwise.

Hawkins begrudgingly relented. The game went way over budget and nearly sank EA, but eventually made it to store shelves. While 1988's John Madden Football was only a modest commercial success, it marked an important lesson that the franchise would follow for over two decades: whatever Madden wants, Madden gets.

It's bigger than Zelda, Halo, and Pac-Man.

It should come as no surprise that Madden is one of the best-selling game franchises of all time, but you might be surprised to learn exactly how big it actually is.

All told, the Madden series has sold over 95 million copies, which trounces fellow blockbusters like Sonic the Hedgehog, The Legend of Zelda, Halo, and even Pac-Man. While it's still a ways off from overtaking the likes of Tetris, Grand Theft Auto or perennial kingpin Mario, nearly 100 million copies is a lot. Line 'em up and all those Maddens would stretch across 12,000 miles, which is long enough to create an unbroken chain from EA Tiburon headquarters in Orlando, Florida to Greece -- and back again.

It's the 33rd franchise.

Without unhindered access to the inner workings of the NFL, Madden would pretty much fall apart. Obviously the league has been pretty forthright giving the game's developers whatever they need to get the game up to snuff (Madden is incredibly potent advertising for the NFL, after all), but the partnership runs much deeper than stats and photos.

Sure, the NFL shares its wealth of media assets and gives Madden access to nearly every inch of every stadium, but did you know the Madden development team at Tiburon is the only group outside of the 32 NFL teams to receive the official game and coach's tape every week after every game?  It's a football fan's dream, a huge database of catalogued plays intended to help teams scout one another. Or, in the case, of Madden, help make an authentic video game even more authentic. No one gets this tape but NFL teams and Madden, earning the game the nickname "the 33rd franchise."

NFL players train with it.

Pro players need every (legal) edge they can get, which means endless reps in the gym, hours spent staring at game tape, and as it turns out, lots and lots of Madden.

Just ask Brandon Stokley. With under a minute left in the first game of the 2009 NFL season, the Denver Broncos receiver made a miraculous catch during a frantic comeback. But instead of waltzing into the end zone for the game-winner, Stokley toed the goal line as he dashed across the field, draining six seconds off the clock to make it harder for the opposing Cincinnati Bengals to stage a comeback of their own.

A tactic straight out of Madden, Stokley admitted, though he's hardly the only player who gets tips from the game. Pros everywhere use Madden to familiarize themselves with the competition and learn about various zones and schemes. Apparently, if it's in the game, it's in the game, after all.

It can tell the future.

Madden is eerily accurate -- and not just in terms of helmet glare and sock length.

Since 2004, EA has run a game of Madden in an effort to predict the winner of the Super Bowl. It hasn't nailed it every time, but it's done a better job than most bookies by accurately predicting the winner an impressive 7 out of 9 times. Its closest call? That would be in 2009, when Madden NFL 09 came within a mere 2 points of guessing the final score (Projected: Steelers 28, Cardinals 24; Actual: Steelers 27, Cardinals 23). Spread, covered.

Even more impressive? That year it accurately predicted the exact number of receiving yards for Santonio Holmes (131 yards).

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