Former Detroit Lions running back Barry Sanders, who left the NFL in his prime in 1999, has remained a fan favorite.
Many of his NFL rushing records remain intact, and he is rated one of the best virtual running backs in the new “Madden NFL 25” video game, launched last week. More than 40 million football fans voted him to be on the game’s cover over Minnesota Vikings running back and reigning NFL MVP Adrian Peterson.
Sanders talked about his own video game background and explained why “Madden” has remained a part of the NFL over 25 years:
Q: What is a favorite “Madden” video game memory?
A: My oldest brother, Byron, loved playing the game as a kid, and we used to play a lot. Generally, I could beat him, but when he started getting around to about the 11- or 12-year-old range, there was nothing I could do to beat him. And so that’s pretty much when I had to stop playing him. … “Madden” is a game that anyone can express their football interest through being competitive in the game. What’s so great about it is not just fans play, but NFL players, current and retired players, play the game.
Q: How does being on the cover of “Madden NFL 25” compare with your “NCAA Football 13” cover honor?
A: Being on the cover of “NCAA Football 13” was real special, especially since I got to share the cover with RG3 [Robert Griffin III]. But getting my own cover on “Madden 25” is probably more of an honor. Being out of the game for as many years as I have, the only way I could truly have accomplished that is because of all the fans that supported me. Over the years “Madden” has captured the essence of the game, and the designers have been truly generous to me over the years and have really introduced me, and the guys that have played in my era, to a new generation of fans through the video games.
Q: When did you realize that “Madden” games had become a pop culture phenomenon?
A: After the first couple of years it became a must-have for many people, including hard-core fans and more moderate fans of the game. Having young boys of my own, I’ve had the game in my home for quite a while.
Q: What are your thoughts on how far “Madden” has come since you retired from the NFL?
A: The game has always evolved, just as football has evolved. It certainly has changed since I’ve been out since the late ’90s. Certain elements of the game are still intact, but other elements are different. It’s still a great game that people can support, and it’s still extremely popular. It continues to grow, and some of the essence of the game is still in place. Just like real football, everything goes in cycles. There’s been a trend towards passing, but then the last year or so you’ve seen some teams have success running the ball.
Q: What do you like about what EA Sports is doing with the new edition of “Madden NFL 25”?
A: The new edition is terrific, especially for running backs. Running backs have features that make them more powerful, more elusive. It’s very fitting that I was able to grace the cover this year, being that I’m a retired running back. Even going up against a future Hall of Famer, Adrian Peterson, in the last round [of voting], it was very fitting how things turned out.
Q: What do you think has kept “Madden” going strong for 25 years?
A: It’s not just a video game. It really gets into the nuances of the game. It gets into the language of the game, and you really get a sense for how each individual play is designed. … The NFL is an exciting game to begin with, and then what EA Sports has been able to do with it is just taking it that much further. People who don’t play football are truly fans of the “Madden” game, and they learn a lot about the sport through the game.