INDIANAPOLIS – The biggest names in football converged at the Bud Light Hotel in Indianapolis with Lucas Oil Field just blocks away. Before Super Bowl XLVI took place between the New York Giants and New England Patriots on Super Sunday, 12 NFL players partook in the annual “game before the game” otherwise known as the Madden Bowl.

The 18th videogame tournament featured a Pro Bowl roster of NFL greats from the past, present and future. And the championship game provided as much drama as the first Giants vs. Patriots Super Bowl – and far more excitement than the lackluster Pro Bowl in Hawaii last week.
A dozen NFL players picked up Xbox 360 controllers to crown the king of Madden for 2012. Although he came in a close second last year, Super Bowl XLIV MVP Drew Brees, quarterback of the New Orleans Saints and cover athlete for Madden NFL 11, finally emerged victorious in Madden Bowl XVIII. But he had some help.

EA Sports used the three-man team format for the second consecutive year. Brees played with Saints teammate Jimmy Graham and Denver Broncos quarterback and NCAA Football 11 cover athlete Tim Tebow on the Madden “Clutch Team.

”The game was filled with drama, including a safety and a fumble in the fourth quarter by Brees, who pushed the wrong button. That gave the 2012 NFL Draft eligible “Rookie Team” of Justin Blackmon (wide receiver, Oklahoma State University), Robert Griffin III (quarterback, Baylor University), and LaMichael James (running back, University of Oregon), “I thought I called a run play, but it turned out to be a play action pass,” said Brees. “Luckily there was still enough time on the clock for us to drive down the field after they scored. Wow. What a fun and crazy game.”

With just 10 seconds left on the clock, the Clutch team performed some Tebow fourth quarter magic and won 16-13 as a capacity crowd watched on big screens throughout the mammoth space. NFL greats watched from a second story balcony teaming with some of the biggest names in Indianapolis.

“The great thing about Madden is that every year the game gets so much better, it gets so much more real,” said Tebow. “If you love football and you’re a football junkie you’re going to love Madden. They make it so game-like with the speed of the game with different quarterback play actions and boots and blitzes, it plays so much more like a real game does. The players look just like the real players and they play just like we do in real life.”

The high definition big screens certainly captured the excitement of the games, especially after the four teams were cut down to two. Houston Texans running back Arian Foster was part of the All-Madden Team with Jacksonville Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew and San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis.

“A lot of us love to play Madden because we’re always active every day and we like to come home and relax,” said Willis. “I love playing Madden online with some of my teammates, but I like to play different so sometimes I still like to play one-on-one online.”

All-Madden teammate Jones-Drew also prefers to compete one-on-one.

“I’m still the Madden champ because nobody’s beaten me one-on-one yet,” said Jones-Drew, who wasn’t happy with the switch to online team play last year. He won the last Madden Bowl to feature the one-on-one tournament gameplay.

“I practice more playing Madden than I do real football,” said Jones-Drew. “I take this competition very seriously.”

DaMarcus Ware, linebacker for the Dallas Cowboys, is also a regular Madden Bowl attendee. And he doesn’t just come to listen to groups like Nas, The Roots and Snoop Dogg.

“The Madden Bowl’s a really big thing,” said Ware. “It’s the big bowl every year. Just to have the opportunity to be able to play the game in front of fans and players and get that exposure, it’s something I look forward to every year.”

NFL legends like Jerry Rice were in attendance. Rice, who worked with EA to launch NFL Blitz last month, made the rounds even though he’s not very good at Madden.

“I’m not one of those guys who plays a lot of games, but you have football players that play every day,” said Rice. “It’s their livelihood. My son has so much fun with Madden football and he’s always kicking my butt.”

Warren Sapp, who played on the Madden Legends Team in the tournament, said the level of competition has increased since he retired. “Trust me, it’s a whole different brand,” said Sapp.
The Madden Bowl has become part of pop culture, just as Madden, the game, has emerged as something more than just a videogame.

“Madden’s very popular in the NFL,” said Ware. “Every year guys are always checking out the new game to see what their ratings are and what their percentages are in the game. Guys have tournaments all the time on their own just to see who’s the best in the game, but Madden Bowl is the place to prove it.”

Brees will be in New Orleans next year for Super Bowl XLVII. And whether or not his Saints are in the big game, he’ll be back at Madden Bowl XIX to defend his title as virtual champion.