Recreating Seahawks win in Madden game proves a tough task
I texted my friend, Curtis Crabtree, and pitched an idea: What if we played Madden 2015, the NFL video game, as many times as it took to pull off the comeback?
/ Seattle Times staff reporter
RENTON — A short drive from the Seahawks’ headquarters, inside an apartment, an experiment of no scientific or social consequence was conducted.
The Seahawks’ comeback in the fourth quarter against the Packers last Sunday has been called the greatest rally in team history and one of the most exciting moments in Seattle sports. It also shattered the rules of probability.
At the moment quarterback Russell Wilson threw his fourth interception with 5:04 left, the Seahawks’ chances of winning dipped to less than 2 percent, and defensive tackle Brandon Mebane looked to see if fans were leaving. But to test the improbability of the Seahawks’ comeback, I needed more.
I texted my friend, Curtis Crabtree, and pitched an idea: What if we played Madden NFL ’15, the video game, as many times as it took to pull off the comeback?
One problem: We couldn’t recreate the circumstances at the end of the game without first replaying the entire game, a meticulous process that would have taken hours. We needed something more efficient.
And that’s when I tweeted a story about defensive tackle Tony McDaniel.
In the locker room after the Packers’ game, McDaniel, the Seahawks’ 6-foot-7 defensive tackle, said he never doubted that the Seahawks would win.
“Five minutes is too long,” he explained. “Too much can happen. I play Madden a lot, so I know what can happen.”
Madden? The fake NFL video game? That was what McDaniel turned to for confidence?
“Honestly, it did,” he said. “I play Madden a lot, so I know what can happen. Madden is like real football, so I know that five minutes is a long time. I play Madden Moments, and that was going through my head, like, ‘This has definitely got to be a Madden Moment.’ ”
Madden Moments allow users to replay memorable moments and epic comebacks from some of the NFL’s most historic games, and I wrote what McDaniel said after the game.
The next day, Jake Stein, an assistant producer for Madden ’15, stumbled across McDaniel’s comments and tweeted a link to the story. I took a shot and asked Stein if there was some way I could recreate the Seahawks’ comeback in the final minutes. He said I couldn’t, but mentioned that he was considering making a Madden Moment out of the comeback.
Two days later, Stein sent a note: “Officially live now.”
I drive to Curtis’ apartment, where we are joined by two friends, Andrea and Alex, who serve as the peanut gallery on our quest for nerdom.
It’s taco night. A bag of tortilla chips stand ready on the floor. Beer and diet coke are in the fridge a few steps away as we crowd into the living room: three of us on the couch, Curtis in a chair.
The Madden Moment drops us in at the 5:04 mark of the fourth quarter, right after Wilson’s interception. Morgan Burnett, the Green Bay safety who picked off Wilson’s pass, might have returned the interception for a touchdown had he not gone down untouched — a gesture typical in a game that’s all but finished.
“They thought it was over!” receiver Ricardo Lockette shouted on the field after the real game.
Our first try at the virtual comeback is a disaster: The Packers score a touchdown on the first play. The second try is better: The Packers wait until the sixth play to score. And our third try? Another touchdown.
It is around this time that the difficulty of the challenge we face comes into focus. And it is also around this time, after a series of miserable failures, that we throw out the idea of lowering the skill level (you can choose how good the computerized opponent is: the lowest level is rookie, then Pro, All-Pro and, finally, All-Madden. It’s similar to the degree of spice at a Thai restaurant. We started at All-Madden.).
Our fourth attempt begins with Phil Simms, the virtual announcer of this virtual game, saying, “You’ve got a close game.” He lies. This does not feel like a close game.
It is also around this time when someone asks me, “Do you actually play Madden?” I do not, not really anyway.
The reason I asked Curtis to join me is twofold. First, he owns the game, which is an important detail. Second, he actually plays the game. We decide to alternate every other attempt — the rookie and the vet.
The fourth try is my turn, and we see the first signs of a breakthrough.
I force the Packers to kick a field goal, making the score 22-7. Then I score a touchdown with 2:28 left — and promptly botch the extra point. I hit the wrong button and mistakenly call for a fake, which I don’t realize until the holder rises to throw a pass. It fails.
I panic and compound the problem by accidentally calling for a normal kickoff instead of an onside kick. I burn a timeout. I’ve rattled myself, and the onside kick attempt goes nowhere.
“The problem is the onside-kick scenario in this game sucks,” Curtis says. “The probability of you getting this kick is like 0.8 percent.”
Our fifth and sixth tries end with Green Bay touchdowns, and at this point we decide that the All-Madden setting has defeated us. We drop the difficulty a notch to All-Pro.
On the seventh attempt, my conservative play-calling comes under fire — I believe in short passes — and I optimistically mention that the game does, indeed, feel easier with the lower difficulty. I fail shortly thereafter.
Curtis throws an interception on his next attempt, our eighth. Then something happens. I force a quick punt, drive down the field and get to the Green Bay 4-yard line with plenty of time left.
“I don’t think I need to tell you how much pressure is on you right now,” Alex says. “Now run it right here. If you throw a pick, I’ll never forgive you. Never.”
I give up a sack on the very next play.
Our 10th and 11th tries go nowhere — a Packers touchdown and an interception. On our 12th attempt, reality sets in: The Packers aren’t trying to run the ball like they did in the real game. The computer smells blood and is going for the jugular. We can’t stop their four-receiver passing attack. Attempt 12: Fail.
We drop the setting again, to the Pro level, one step above Rookie.
The 13th try gives us hope. Wilson throws a touchdown pass on a fade to Bryan Walters to make it 19-14 with 2:38 left. I need the onside kick but don’t get it.
“It’s just not going to be recovered,” Curtis says. “You just can’t do it.”
On the 14th attempt, a defining moment: Curtis scores a touchdown to make it 19-14 with 2:19 left. The game gives the Seahawks three timeouts, and Curtis wants to kick the ball deep, play defense and use his timeouts. We tell him no. There aren’t many rules, but the onside kick is one of them.
His attempt fails.
The 15th and 16th tries end without any drama, and No. 17 dies when Green Bay tight end Brandon Bostick recovers the onside kick.
It’s nearing midnight. The room is quiet. My eyes are heavy. We decide to call it a night after our 18th attempt.
Curtis takes the controller. On the first series, something happens that hasn’t happened in any of the previous 17 tries: The Seahawks’ defense creates a turnover — a forced fumble by Kam Chancellor recovered by Richard Sherman.
Curtis hurries downfield and connects on a Wilson-to-Willson touchdown with 3:11 left.
“You’re in the best shape we’ve been in so far,” Alex says. “You almost don’t need to onside kick it.”
Curtis: “I don’t want to.”
Me: “You’ve got to, it’s the rule.”
Curtis (yelling now): “That’s stupid!”
He lines up for the onside kick.
The ball bounces twice, smacks off the leg of Green Bay tight end Richard Rodgers and is recovered by a diving DeShawn Shead. It is our sixth onside-kick attempt and the only one that comes close to working.
Curtis is an assassin. He feeds the ball to Marshawn Lynch. He picks up a first down on third-and-inches. Lynch finally scores on a 6-yard touchdown run with 0:33 left. On the two-point conversion, Wilson rolls out and throws a dart to Jermaine Kearse in the end zone.
Seahawks 22, Packers 19.
The game ends a minute later with McDaniel, the player who started this ridiculous idea, sacking Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers on fourth down.
The experiment officially concludes at 12:12 a.m., and if I wasn’t looking right at the clock when it happened, I would slap myself for the cheesiness of that coincidence.
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277