What’s a White Guy Gotta Do???

To get on the cover of a Madden NFL video game?

Aside from the game’s namesake, it’s been a blackout and it’s been CURSES going all the way back to 2001.

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This has certainly been one of the more interesting phenomena in sports marketing over the past decade. It flies in the face of film and television marketing which seeks the token inclusion of whites in the most inconceivable of places. After two generations of gratuitous “buddy films” (all following from the surprising success of Sidney Poitier’s pairing with Tony Curtis in The Defiant Ones), I’ve had enough. No more Negro sidekicks for me. I haven’t purchased a second-billing Negro title in more than a decade.

This Madden thing, though, is interesting. Consider that Peyton Manning and Tom Brady have never been on the cover. Brian Urlacher? Nope. The Madden franchise, at this point, stands nearly alone as a testament to the extent to which Black quarterbacks have changed many aspects of how the game is played. Perhaps what is most interesting of all is that DEFENSIVE players (aside from Ray Lewis) have been an equal if not greater part of this transformation, but not have garnered the attention of quarterbacks. For all the excitement and on-field regular season success of Black quarterbacks, there has not been as much post season success. Perhaps there would have been more if Robert Smith never retired and the Vikings were able to keep their core together. Perhaps if the Steelers had not set Kordell Stewart up to fail (according to Jerome Bettis), there would be other examples. In Philadelphia, the Eagles have had some success, but it has come using a finesse offensive approach and a scatback incapable of moving the pile or dominating power defenses in inclement weather. Perhaps the Titans under the leadership of Steve McNair and Eddie George came closest precisely because they most closely followed the formula – sound decision-making in the pocket, power running, stout defense. Perhaps a long bomb to Isaac Bruce is all that separated the Titans from forcing a new conversation – that Black QBs can win big games when the teams are up to the task.

After all, for all of Peyton Manning’s success, it was last year’s TEAM and its RUNNING ATTACK against the mighty Ravens which proved decisive in their playoff run. There are so many specious claims about biology in sports. Claims about the respective intelligence and athleticism of players based on phenotype remain part of the game. Those claims remain part of our conversation about the game – and about ourselves.

Looking forward, this year’s cover man is off to a roaring start having been suspended for a game in preseason. I saw a few highlights of Vince Young recently. He looks great. If Norm Chow has the type of success with Vince that he had with the quarterbacks at USC, the league is in for a shock this year. I know you cannot put much stock in preseason football, but if Chow’s work holds form, Vince will the most dangerous player in the league by the end of this season. Some might argue he already is…but that’s hyperbole given the freshly minted rings held by #18 in Indianapolis and the rock redundancy held by new Baby Daddy #12 in New England.

If Vince can dodge the curse this year, it might be time for Madden to consider putting a player like Carson Palmer or Marc Bulger on the cover.

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