Before last Thursday, the last time I saw Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in person was at the unveiling of the Madden NFL 10 cover, which took place in April 2009 in New York City’s Times Square. “If I’d asked you before today -- April in New York, or February in Dallas: which one would you have guessed would be colder?” I put that question to Fitzgerald while we were both freezing our fingers and toes off at the Coke Zero Black Carpet outside Madden Bowl XVII in Grapevine, TX, with the temperature in the mid-20s and a bone-chilling wind making things worse.
The Madden Bowl is an annual Madden tournament in which football players try to bring each other down on the virtual gridiron. It’s always a great time -- even the snow, ice, and below-freezing temperatures in North Texas couldn’t stop athletes and a few celebrities from making their way out to the party. Access Hollywood correspondent Maria Menounos walked by the press on the Black Carpet, commending us all for braving the cold to interview the stars. Rapper Big Boi, who later performed at the event, is a big Madden fan, and has been for “over ten years.” He and his buddies are so serious, in fact, that they often wager on Madden games on the tour bus.
Of course, most athletes are concerned about the Madden development team’s evaluation of their talents: their in-game ratings. One football star in attendance asserted that everyone cares, even if they don’t want to admit it. But Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman, an up-and-coming star who has played two years in the league, told us that his Madden rating isn’t that much of a big deal to him (his original Madden 11 rating was a 77). “I can take more pride -- if my rating’s low -- in going out and beating someone anyways,” he explained. “It’s one of those deals where [I] have to earn the respect of Madden, of the guys at EA Sports. [...] I’m hoping this year catapults me into the low 90s, at least.” I was surprised by his team choice in the game -- I expected him to say that he plays with his real-life team, but he said that he always goes with his hometown team, the Kansas City Chiefs.
As it turned out, Willis’ worries were unfounded. The New Orleans Saints team in the tournament -- which consisted of starting quarterback (and Madden 11 cover athlete) Drew Brees, halfback Reggie Bush, and backup quarterback Chase Daniel -- knocked out Jones-Drew and his Jaguars teammates in the very first game. Willis eventually joined up with Menounos and Cincinnati Bengals wideout Chad Ochocinco to take on the Saints team in the finals. The patchwork team played as the Colts in a reenactment of last year’s contest for the Lombardi Trophy.
After the conclusion of the tournament, the party kicked off with Big Boi and crew performing Outkast classics like “So Fresh, So Clean” and “Ms. Jackson.” The guys even invited a few lucky women to join them onstage for some dancing. Next up was Cee-Lo, who got the entire crowd to sing along to his Grammy-nominated hit, “Fuck You.” Guest DJ Biz Markie spun long into the night as the party died down. By the end of the night, a light snow was falling, as if to confirm that the festivities were over.
[Full disclosure: Coke Zero -- an official sponsor of the Madden Bowl -- provided my flight to Dallas and accommodations for my stay in the area, but did not have any bearing on this editorial content. Aside: Coke Zero is a beverage that I happen to enjoy. -Samit]