John Madden's retirement from television won't mean an end to the lucrative video game franchise that bears his name.
Madden NFL has sold 70 million copies and rung up more than $2 billion in sales since it came out in 1989, making the series one of the best-selling in the video game industry's history. Electronic Arts Inc. says it plans to keep churning out new versions.
"We're excited to see his legacy live on in the 21st year of Madden NFL football, and well beyond," said Peter Moore, president of EA Sports.
The former football coach-turned-broadcaster has made millions over the years by lending his name and voice to the game.
The relationship began in 1986, when EA founder Trip Hawkins recruited Madden during a series of train rides between games. Madden is afraid of flying.
"My game producer, Joe Ybarra, and I took an assistant producer, and the three of us flew to Denver and went to the train station to meet his train," Hawkins said. "We found him in the dining car chewing on the world's largest cigar, which he never lit, but which disintegrated over the course of the day."
They reached a deal. In the early days, Madden's presence was key to the football game's success. EA released a version each year with better graphics and different players, but it always included some of Madden's signature phrases, like "Boom!"
"The game would not have been as good were it not for Madden," said Bing Gordon, former chief creative officer at EA. "He inspired the developers. They tried harder to live up to Coach Madden's expectations."
Since then the franchise has developed a large fan base, including many NFL players who fired up the game during road trips. In a 2002 interview with The Times in 2002, Madden recalled a time in San Francisco when a Philadelphia Eagles player rushed into a hotel room asking, "Where's Madden?" Someone pointed out the commentator.
"No, not that Madden. I want the game!" Madden recounted.
Madden himself has reduced his role in designing and marketing the game. Though he continues to lend his voice, he is no longer its chief broadcaster. His picture has not been on the cover since 2001. Instead, EA has rotated the cover photo among top NFL athletes, some of whom suffered injuries or flamed out after appearing on the game, leading people to speculate whether there is a "Madden curse."
Part of the game's draw is its meticulous reproduction of the sport and its players. Crafted by about 150 developers in EA's Orlando, Fla., studio, the game re-creates each player's and team's strengths and weaknesses. Its playbook is so realistic that ESPN commentators sometimes use the game to provide analysis during live sports events.
"It is the Super Bowl of sports titles," said Scott Steinberg, publisher of a technology and game review website, DigitalTrends.com.