Rutgers student Hassan Spall won the Madden 18 NFL Club Championship while representing the Redskins in Minneapolis earlier this month, Washington’s greatest performance — virtual or otherwise — at the Super Bowl since running back Reggie Brooks won the first two Madden Bowls in 1995 and 1996.
Brooks, the Redskins’ second-round draft pick out of Notre Dame in 1993, attended the Super Bowl in Atlanta on a whim in January 1994 after rushing for more than 1,000 yards as a rookie. He had such a good time that he took his wife and two kids to Super Bowl XXIX in Miami the following year and was invited to participate in EA Sports’ first Madden tournament featuring NFL players and celebrities in nearby Fort Lauderdale.
“I thought it was kind of just some rinky-dink deal at first,” Brooks recalled in an interview with The Washington Post last year. “But Naughty by Nature was there, Hootie & the Blowfish was there and then these other players. I was like, ‘Wow, this is the real deal.’ ”
The tournament was held in a ballroom with several video game stations and multiple games taking place at once. Brooks remembers defeating one of the members of Naughty by Nature in an early-round matchup. He defeated Hootie & the Blowfish lead singer Darius Rucker, a serious gamer, in the championship, which was projected on the ballroom’s big screen.
“At the time, Madden was everything for us,” said Rucker, who launched a country music career in 2008 and whose former bassist, Dean Felber, also played in the tournament. “It was before you could get satellite [TV] in the buses, so all we did was ride around and play Madden. So I thought I was really, really good. The thing I’ll never forget is Reggie shows up with his own [controller]. Dean was a huge Redskins fan, so he couldn’t believe Reggie Brooks was there. I remember watching him play Dean in the semis and thinking, ‘I got this guy.’ He didn’t blow me out. I don’t remember the score, but he didn’t blow me out.”
“I didn’t have a lot of expectations going in,” Brooks said. “I knew guys who played all day, every day. I knew I was pretty good, but I found out I was a little more than decent.”
Unlike Redskins tight end Jordan Reed, who advanced to the championship of the Madden Bowl two years ago by playing as the New England Patriots, Brooks tapped and juked his way to the title by playing as the Burgundy and Gold.
“I would always play as the Redskins,” Brooks said. “It was real cool, but I figured I probably wouldn’t go too far, because we weren’t very good in ’95. After my rookie year, we were 4-12. I had a pretty good rating because I did pretty well my rookie year, but we didn’t have a lot of great players in terms of rating at that time. If I’m going to go down, I’m going to go down with me. Even though we were pretty bad then, you got to go with your squad.”
Brooks honed his video game skills at Notre Dame, where he teamed with Jerome Bettis to form one of the nation’s best backfields.
“In college, we played a lot more NHL than we played Madden,” said Brooks, who retired from the NFL after the 1996 season and now serves as Notre Dame’s director of student-athlete alumni relations. “Oh my gosh, the Detroit Red Wings, back in the ’90s, that was the squad. We used to have hockey tournaments. Jerome would get pissed because he was a Detroit guy, and when I won, I got to take the Red Wings. We’d be up a lot of nights playing, and we’d play more NHL and FIFA, the soccer game. Don’t get me wrong; we had Madden Bowl tournaments, but we were more into the other sports.”
Madden was a popular diversion at training camp in Carlisle, Pa., during Brooks’s three years with the Redskins, and he said fellow running back William Bell was among his more worthy adversaries on the team. Brooks defended his Madden Bowl title in Tempe, Ariz., in 1996 but said the experience wasn’t as enjoyable as the inaugural tournament. He declined an invitation to Madden Bowl III, which was won by Bengals cornerback Jimmy Spencer, an eighth-round draft pick of the Redskins in 1991. EA Sports hosted a tournament and crowned a champion among NFL players and celebrities every year until 2017, when the Madden Bowl became a showcase for the Club Championship and competitive gamers such as Spall.
Brooks, 47, rarely plays video games anymore, but he still has the trophies to prove his Madden prowess.
“My kids are more into NBA 2K,” Brooks said. “They’ll play some Madden and they’ll try to get me to play, but there are too many buttons now. We didn’t have as many buttons back then. They’ll challenge me from time to time, just to be able to say they beat the Madden champion, but I steer clear of that, because they would kill me.”
Rucker, a die-hard Dolphins fan who once threw six interceptions with Dan Marino in a Madden tournament and teased the Hall of Fame quarterback about it the next time he saw him, also doesn’t hit the sticks as much as he once did.
“I have a 13-year-old boy who loves to play, but I don’t play as much as I’d like to,” Rucker said. “Back then, it was a slow day if I only played four or five games. I loved being good at it. I still like being good at it. I’m the OG. I can pick it up right now and beat anybody. I’d love to get in touch with Reggie and play him online at some point.”
Read more on the Redskins: