Football is a team sport and, in this case, modding is too.
In 1984 the Baltimore Marching Colts (an NFL marching band) were abandoned by their team. In the middle of the night (literally) the then-Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis. Their fans and the Marching Colts were stunned. Team-less, the band continued to practice and play at events, hoping football would someday return to their city.
In 2007, EA Sports decided to discontinue Madden on computers, leaving PC gamers without a modern football title. But, like the Marching Colts, the Madden PC community played on.
It’s people creating a game on top of a game that’s ten years old.
Thanks to the dedicated (and slightly obsessed) Football Idiot modding community, there’s been an updated mod of Madden 08 every year on computers during the 11-year hiatus.
Football Idiot is a blessing for gamers like Danny Beich, who was one of the many users shunned by EA’s decision to cancel the series’ computer releases.
“I had Madden 08 and I wanted to buy the next version. Then I figured out the series was discontinued, and that lead me to find the Football Freaks website,” Beich explains.
Founded in 2004 by former user Mardagg, Football Idiot began as the modding site Football Freaks. The days of the original site are nicknamed by current members as “The Discovery Era.” These founding-users of Football Freaks were responsible for creating the first modding utilities for the game. But the founders didn’t stay long. One by one the “forefathers” disappeared from the community. The torch had to be carried on by user torontogrudlies after Football Freaks eventually shut down. He brought the community back with a new website. With that new site came a new name: Football Idiot.
Football is a team sport and, in this case, modding is too.
Visiting Football Idiot’s website, it’s easy to mistake it for being closed. The site’s homepage is half-finished and most of the links on it are dead. Only after logging onto the forums are there signs of life.
The message boards are filled with active users, including members from outside of the US. The site’s main project is a yearly update: The FF/FI Mod (an abbreviation of Football Idiot and Football Freaks). Users like RevanFan have watched this mod grow since infancy.
“It started in 2008 when a bunch of members on the forum decided to get together and put their works together. Whether it’s rosters, or uniforms, or other edits like that, new coaches and new players, and put them together [to] create this community-driven mod that would update the game to the current season,” RevanFan says.
My dream, essentially, was to recreate every season in Dallas Cowboys history.
“I would describe it as something you’ve never experienced before,” explains user Austinmario13. “It’s people creating a game on top of a game that’s ten years old.”
Hyperbolic? Maybe, but it’s not far off.
“The game is so full that, now, I’m looking at buying Madden 19 but we’re kinda starting clean without all the expansion packs,” Beich jokes. “Now it’s making me think, ‘I’m not going to have all these features that I have in the old one.”
The FF/FI mod includes what you’d expect – new rosters, enhanced graphics – but it’s nothing compared to what else these fans have created.
“My dream, essentially, was to recreate every season in Dallas Cowboys history. That was only possible on the PC version with all the editors we had,” says RevanFan, a user who has been working on a historical Cowboys re-creation for almost three years.
I don’t think we’d have so many amazing mods if it weren’t for the time EA abandoned the game on the PC.
RevanFan didn’t simply re-create the rosters and call it a day. His Cowboys project is so detailed and meticulously researched that it must rank as one of the most impressive modding feats ever achieved.
“I did tons and tons of research for days and weeks and months, trying to figure out exactly who was on each team each season. Who got cut. Who got injured. I looked through old media guides from the 1960s. I looked through team photos. I tried to figure out what each player looked like. I looked up their stats to sort of figure out how they played. I watched historic videos on them. I tried to get to know each team as well as I could,” RevanFan says.
With the assistance of user 1312ohelet, RevanFan even replicated all 85 of the uniforms the franchise has worn. The uniforms are so detailed that the thickness of the stripes on the pant legs is accurate (for those of you who were worried). As amazing as his project is, it’s almost par for the course in this community.
Users have also added in the CFL (Canadian Football League) and the NCAA Football. Another highlight are the authentic broadcast features the modders included, something Madden 19 doesn’t have. These range from ESPN’s Monday Night Football to NBC’s Sunday Night Football. The only thing missing is Carrie Underwood singing the catchy pre-game intro.
“During the 11 year gap, we figured some things out in that time,” Beich says. “We just didn’t have anything else on the PC. I don’t think we’d have so much, so many amazing mods, if it weren’t for the time that EA abandoned the game on the PC.”
Calhoupe’s script program is one of the single greatest things ever made for this community.
“I’ve witnessed it with my very eyes, them breaking the game more and more every year. It’s astonishing what they find,” Austinmario13 recalls.
Football is a team sport and, in this case, modding is too. No one user creates all the content. Every member of Football Idiot has a role. User NickyJ specializes in making updated player portraits. Jaguars fan KeepinItTeal utilizes his skills to make stadiums match their real-life counterparts. Like a solid offensive line, the community plugs gaps where needed. However, there are standouts in the lineup.
If the Football Idiot community is like an NFL team, user Calhoupe would be superstar quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Ask anyone on the forums, and they’ll tell you how much the community owes to Calhoupe. RevanFan certainly agrees.
“If we’re talking about mods I personally love, I think that Calhoupe’s script program, that he created, is one of the single greatest things that was ever made for this community. Because it saved the game from being killed by a Windows 10 update.”
No one is getting paid for any of this stuff, this is labor of love kind of stuff.
After a Windows 10 update, receiving a penalty would crash the game. Modding superhero Calhoupe – whose secret identity is mild-mannered computer repairman Peter Calhoun – saved Football Idiot with his modding prowess and a program he created.
“Any of the Madden series is not mod friendly. We don’t have any access to [the] source code,” Calhoun tells me. Calhoun’s other responsibility is keeping the game’s rules current. Football has yearly rule changes. From a modding standpoint, this is a pain.
“Every year I have to be like, ‘Ugggh, all right, gotta go fix this.’ With last year [it] was the kickoffs. I had five different things I had to code in there, and none of that was very easy,” Calhoun says.
Calhoun’s day job is fixing computer problems for others. It’s fitting that his role in Football Idiot is similar.
“Again, no one is getting paid for any of this stuff, this is labor of love kind of stuff,” he says.
The constant rule changes are a part of the community’s biggest struggle. Madden 08 is 11-years old and – despite Football Idiot’s best efforts – the game shows its age. The fact that Madden 08 isn’t a great game doesn’t help either.
“To be honest, it’s really not that special of a game. It’s not like NHL 94 is being called a perfect game,” Beich says.
No one expected Madden 19 to come out [on PCs].
Old sports titles like NHL 94, NBA Jam, and Tecmo Super Bowl have dedicated online fanbases too, but those games are considered classics. They also don’t have modern counterparts in terms of gameplay. Madden has played (relatively) the same since it went 3D. Why spend years updating a bad game when better versions are available? For some, it’s an issue of money.
“I think cheapness is also part of it. Because, you know [you’d spend] $50, $60 dollars a year for the new edition that comes out every year. Or, you can do the FF Mod and not have to pay a cent after you’ve bought Madden 08 once,” Beich says.
EA’s treatment of the community is another part of the issue.
“One of the reasons why people wouldn’t buy the newer Maddens on consoles is because we thought that EA had abandoned the PC community,” says RevanFan. “We want their sports games on PCs.”
His wish was granted this year. EA called an audible by bringing Madden 19 to the PC. Football Idiot finally has a brand new Madden title to tinker with.
Personally, I will probably never stop playing Madden 08.
“We’re definitely at a crossroads,” says Beich. “I can tell you one thing, no one expected Madden 19 to come out [on PCs]. It seemed like every year we’d get, ‘Oh hey, the next Madden is coming onto PCs,’ and then it never happened. But, now it finally did. I think I can see our website becoming half Madden 08, half Madden 19. [It] depends how well Madden 19 goes over with the fans.”
There is a holdout in the group. After sinking 11 years into modding one title, it’s understandable that users are hesitant to move on, especially when you consider that Football Idiot modders will need to start from scratch on Madden 19. EA doesn’t want people modding their sports titles to begin with and purposely make them tough to crack open. These are all reasons why the community could split in half.
“Personally, I will probably never stop playing Madden 08,” says RevanFan. “I have a franchise that’s been going on for 54 seasons. I’m not just going to drop that when I get [Madden] 19.”
Maybe, at this rate, if we start modding Madden 19, we can improve what EA has already come up with.
Football fans should hope that they do set their sights on the newest Madden. Look at what the fanbase has accomplished working on a mediocre out-of-date title. Imagine the possibilities if they put the same amount of work into the current installment. Beich has certainly thought about this.
“Maybe, at this rate, if we start modding Madden 19, we can improve what EA has already come up with,” he says.
The Baltimore Marching Colts had to wait 12 years for a football franchise to return to their city. Football Idiot’s fanbase has been waiting 11 years for Madden to return to their computers. In 1996, the NFL returned to Baltimore when the Ravens moved to the city, ending the Marching Colt’s wait. In 2018, EA brought Madden back to PCs. Like the members of the Marching Colts, the wait for Football Idiot users is over.
William Barboza is a writer from Kansas City, currently living and working in Los Angeles. He enjoys football and writing about video games nobody plays. Find more of his work on Instagram and Twitter.