Tuesday, September 04, 2007

The Best Game I Never Won

After a terribly long day working at the bank after a convenient three day weekend, I came home, grabbed something to eat, and sought to redeem my exhaustion in the best possible way - on Xbox Live playing EA Sports Madden 08. I have been at this for a couple weeks already, and I have to say that playing on the newer generation of consoles online is a completely different experience. I do not mean to sound like a cheesy commercial for the service, but the ability to trashtalk against an old classmate late into the night during a back and forth football game is a lot better once you actually experience it yourself. As tired and frustrated as I already was after a grueling day at work, I stumbled upon what may just be the best game I have ever played.

My random opponent, selected automatically due to our similar records and experience level, choose to be the Chicago Bears. As the visiting Seattle Seahawks, I could already see another low-scoring matchup based on defense and field position. Of course, the score at the end of the first quarter is 14-14 after each quarterback tosses a couple touchdowns. Yes, the realism is uncanny. Rex Grossman comes back down to earth after a deep pass is picked off by Marcus Trufant, and I take a 24-21 lead into halftime. Once we get a feel for how to defend each other, my opponent begins to pound Cedric Benson against my smaller defense in the second half, slowing down the pace a little. The first punt of the game only comes late in the fourth quarter when I am killing clock to try to protect a 31-28 lead. Devin Hester comes up with a huge return down the sidelines, setting up the tying field goal kick and overtime.

Chicago wins the coin toss, but is stopped on a 4th and 2 attempt at midfield. One first down later, and my drive stalls at the Bears' 39-yard line. At this point, the similarity to the NFC Divisional Playoff Game is uncanny. Seattle only needed one completion, one more first down, one more big play, to win in overtime in Chicago, but was unable to do so. Josh Brown misses a tough 57 yard field goal, giving Chicago good field position to set up a short drive for their own game winning kick with seconds remaining.

But the Bears miss! Double overtime! Hasselbeck gets hot converting three consecutive passes. With confidence running high inside Chicago territory, I go for the win, running a deep pattern to the inside throwing high to D.J. Hackett only to be intercepted by Charles Tillman! With my heart broken after blowing a second chance to win the game, Grossman drives down the field inside the Seattle 30. But then a similar route results in a Julian Peterson interception! On a fourth and 1 attempt, I call my own number and sneak in for the first down with Hasselbeck who fumbles the ball going down. Can you say TRIPLE OVERTIME!?

My Seattle Seahawks force a Benson fumble and again storm back. With yet another opportunity to win the game, Hasselbeck makes the mistake of throwing to an open Nate Burleson down the middle of the field, only to be picked off by none other than stud middle linebacker Brian Urlacher in an amazing display of his athleticism. At this point I have been on an emotional roller coaster, all the while trying to keep my mind straight enough to stategize efficiently in what has quickly become an intense chess match. Note that nearly all of the overtime periods took place within each 30-yard line, keeping each of us conservative on both sides of the football. After several short passes and running plays, I adjust my defense keeping only one safety back deep. Grossman fakes yet another hand off, playing as the deep safety I bite on the play action just enough so that Rex chucks a bomb to, who else, Devin Hester, who simply cannot be caught up to.

Chicago 37, Seattle 31.

Matt Hasselbeck and Rex Grossman, with four touchdown passes each, finish with quarterback ratings well into the 100s. A combined ten turnovers, most of which coming during the overtimes, offset the miserable defensive performances in the first half when both of our offenses simply went up and down the field at will. I am sure many players have similar experiences, but this was simply one of those insane games that had me going nuts. Every play call, every movement, every execution that all falls on my shoulders, had an enormous impact. I can easily go to sleep tonight replaying the crucial plays pondering the many potential "what ifs." No wonder coaches are so stressed out as their hair turns grey or disappears. It was my own mistakes that narrowly cost me the game, and it is with that knowledge that, even when losing, made it such a great and enjoayable one. This was truly the best game I never won.