A match made in Madden 

Greg Brady could have told them, and the long-suffering fans of the Chicago Cubs might have had a thing or two to add, but it basically comes down to this: The more you try to avoid a curse, the more certain it is to overwhelm you.

Electronic Arts surely thought they had finally found a can’t-miss dodge to the legendary Madden Curse — you know, the phenomenon holding that any athlete who appears on the cover of video-gaming’s most hyped annual franchise is sure to suffer a career-altering injury (Daunte Culpepper, Michael Vick, Donovan McNabb), criminal ignominy (Ray Lewis, Michael Vick again), or a stink-bomb season (Vince Young). Picking Brett Favre, a player who was supposedly hanging up his cleats for good at the end of the 2008 season, seemed a far better option than angering all 23 San Diego Chargers fans.

But then the Head Cheesehead proved he was also a passive-aggressive waffle king, and a big ol’ diva to boot (more on this in a minute). By the time the bruised egos had settled, Favre had unretired, won a two-week game of PR chicken with Packers’ management, and wound up as the newest star in the NFL’s biggest television market. In other words? The Curse is back in play, baby. Even if it’s wearing the wrong uniform on the cover of the box.

But Brett the Jet and Madden 09 are a match made in heaven. Let us count the ways:

D is for diva

Favre spent 14 seasons in Green Bay reveling in his image as the ultimate regular Joe, a perpetually stubble-chinned Mississippi mensch whose boyish love of the game charmed everyone — even, sometimes, fans of his team’s most poisonous rivals. Then Favre unleashed his inner diva, burning both bridges and Aaron Rodgers’ chances of being a successful NFL quarterback in his “I’m-back-no-I’m-not” soap opera.

Madden’s been dealing with the same kind of identity crisis of late. The franchise has certainly been guilty of its own diva-like behavior — let’s not forget how ruthlessly EA bumped its primary rival, 2K Sports, out of the game when 2K dared to underprice and nearly outsell them in 2005. More to the point, Madden has struggled in recent years to balance its undeniable appeal to regular-guy gamers who’d rather just pick up and play than learn how to dial up a hot route with an increasing Bill Belichick-like complexity that’s starting to alienate even the most hardcore of virtual offensive coordinators. Madden 09’s trying to address this by putting you through a set of mini games that supposedly gauges your ability to run on the Giants’ virtual defense before you can even dial up an exhibition game. We’ll see if it works as well as Favre’s aw-shucks grin.

Gunslingin’

So you think Favre, a quarterback sportscasters called a gunslinger more times than Troy Aikman used the phrase “most definitely” last season, might enjoy having a do-over on that ill-timed interception to the Giants’ Corey Webster that set up New York’s overtime win in the NFC Championship game? (Or for that matter, any of hundreds of INTs that drove Packers fans batty and ended at least four Packers’ playoff runs in the early part of this decade?) Well, hey, whaddaya know: Madden 09 features a rewind function that lets you undo your Favre-like mistakes three times a game. If only he’d had a rewind ability to complement his Lambeau Leap, Wrangler jeans, and mad PR skillz, Favre would probably have more than one Super Bowl ring on his paw.

Snowflakes and steam

Even before he so unceremoniously unretired, one of the signature images of Favre’s storied career was sure to be the sight of Number Four standing on Lambeau Field last January, hurling footballs in a storm in which every single snowflake seemed to be independently visible — kind of like the pixels on NBC’s Olympics broadcast and the beads of sweat on George W. Bush’s brow during his hard-hitting interview with Bob Costas. You’ll see the same sort of snowy detail in the winterized games in Madden 09 — heck, thanks to the fact that the graphics are finally coming into their next-gen glory, you’ll even see the frozen breath steaming from the nostrils of the lineman. That’s what I call something to celebrate.

Even with its annual set of minor flaws, Madden 09 will be a hit for the same reason it always is: Millions of sports gamers crave their virtual football fix in the same way that Favre used to crave his Vicodin. Favre might be a hit, if he can stay healthy, win games, and avoid running afoul of the New York media the way Randy Johnson, Isaiah Thomas, and Jeremy Shockey did. And, hey, even if his Jets end up 6-10, he’ll always have his cover-boy copy of Madden to hang onto … or hawk on eBay.

SURF’S
UP>> A PITHY GUIDE TO RIDING THE WEB
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