NFL players keep heads in a game

Mark Clayton acknowledges that he used to be obsessed with it.

"Four to five hours a day," the Ravens wide receiver said recently. "And there were days when you'd play all day. You go order a pizza and go back and play all night. It was better to play it than watching the [real] game."


The object of Clayton's obsession was Madden NFL, the popular video game with the cult-like following, even among NFL players.

"It's ridiculous now," Clayton said. "It's grown so much that it's its own NFL, if you will, with leagues, guys have their own Web sites, they have their own everything. The same thing that goes on with businesses, they have that with Madden."


Clayton has a friend back home in Oklahoma who has taken his childhood passion and made it something of a profession.

"He pays his bills playing in Madden tournaments," Clayton said.

Though Clayton has cut down significantly on the time he spends in front of his Xbox, he still is one of the NFL's top Madden players, finishing runner-up to Tampa Bay Buccaneers tight end Alex Smith two years ago in the Madden Bowl, a competition held every year in conjunction with the Super Bowl.

Playing as the Cincinnati Bengals, Clayton lost to Smith's Indianapolis Colts, 24-14.

"I was leading 14-7, and then my button got stuck," he recalled, laughing at the memory.

Clayton started playing in 1990, when he was 8 years old.

"It was around Christmas, and my stepdad got it for us," Clayton said. "I was pretty good. I beat my uncle the first time I played."

Clayton hit his prime while at the University of Oklahoma.


It was in Norman that Clayton figured out how to find glitches in the game, helping him wreak havoc against his friends and Sooners teammates. The glitches come about by continually pressing different combinations of buttons on the controller.

"You'll find them out by playing for hours," Clayton said with a smile. "I knew all the glitches on defense so I could affect the quarterback as soon they [said] 'Hut.' I guess it was cheating."

Is Bill Belichick listening?

As a kid, Clayton usually played as the San Francisco 49ers. In college, it was the Jacksonville Jaguars because "Jimmy Smith was my dog," Clayton said. Nowadays, Clayton is more concerned about which of his teammates he can throttle than which team he plays as.

According to Clayton, the best Madden players on the Ravens are Willis McGahee, Samari Rolle, Ed Reed and Corey Ivy. McGahee has come out of Madden retirement since he joined the Ravens.

"I hadn't played in about two years," McGahee said, adding that his Madden sessions helped him bond more quickly with his new teammates.


McGahee was surprised to hear that Clayton had included him in the group of the team's top Madden players.

"I've been getting whooped," McGahee said. "But I'm getting better."

Not that all the Ravens are into Madden. Defensive tackle Justin Bannan wasn't a Maddenphile to begin with, but he certainly got turned off when the real John Madden criticized him in a nationally televised preseason game against the New York Giants.

Todd Heap used to play video games -- "war games like Call of Duty and Halo" he said -- but never had much time for Madden.

"I like to do the real live thing, not the fake one," Heap said.