Madden 2004: A Different Take on Bounty Gate
Michael Vick was nearly unstoppable in Madden 2004. People who didn’t know how to play would just go shotgun and scramble. People who knew how to play would just go shotgun and scramble. All defensive strategies were useless since Vick was faster than every player on the virtual field and a more accurate passer in Madden 2004 than he has ever been in real life. The only real chance to beat the Atlanta Falcons was to injure Michael Vick.
Vick’s dominance in Madden 2004 led to an invention in the next entry of the Madden series known as the “hit stick.” The hit stick allowed a defensive player to tackle an offensive player with maximum ferocity. A well placed hit stick would force fumbles and occasionally injure offensive players. EA Sports’ addition of the hit stick supports the philosophy that a defensive player is supposed to hit hard. The primary purpose of hitting hard is to intimidate offensive players. Intimidation creates hesitation. Hesitation causes missed reads, lack of effort, and fear of being hit like that again for fear of injury. That’s football. It’s a tad barbaric.
One of the unwritten defensive rules is that if you consistently rough up the best offensive player, you have a much better chance of winning the game. Coaches often suggest that defenders punish wide receivers who come across the middle so they don’t want to do it again. An offensive player with a hurt right arm will be tackled on his right side the entire game to aggravate the right arm injury. Quarterbacks are hit hard in the pocket so they will look down at the pressure coming and not at the open receiver in the end zone. Knocking guys out of the game is not the goal, but it’s certainly not hurting the winning cause. Bounty or not, hitting hard is essential to the defense of every NFL team.
The public outrage displayed on the issue of bounties is simply one of semantics: A player is paid for injuring players in a money pool system that is endorsed by coaches and management. I’m not defending injuring players for money, but what’s the difference in getting that money away from cameras and signing a contract for a much larger sum for having the reputation as a hard hitter? The line is thicker between love and hate. Coaches endorse hard hits because they influence the psyche of offensive players. If the opposing offensive player gets hurt in the process, it’s not celebrated, but it’s damn sure not frowned upon.
Football culture typically does not champion anyone who intentionally injures players, but it does approve of hard hits. The NFL has refused to share the evidence against the accused Saints players regarding the bounties so it’s difficult to say if they were trying to take out an MCL or just make the targeted player really uncomfortable on the field. Either way, the conversations had from here on out need to be carefully articulated. For example, Eli Manning was hit hard many times in the 2012 NFC Championship game. Did the 49ers have a bounty on Eli? Probably not, but what would stop someone from accusing the 49ers of trying to knock Eli out of the game? And if the 49ers were trying to knock him out of the game, it’s to their benefit, but does that make it a bounty, money or no money?
Players who are intentional hurting the careers of other players should be dealt with. The problem is that the best offensive player on every team has an understood bounty on their head, money or no money. That’s something that’s not going away.