Midnight Madness for Madden in Manhattan

It was no iPhone line, but 40 or so fans of the Madden video game franchise lined the sidewalk outside Game Stop in Herald Square on Thursday, awaiting the annual midnight release of the latest Madden game.

From 10-year-old boys to 43-year-old doctors to gift-giving girlfriends, each future Madden 10 owner had a rationale for braving the cool summer night, be it a sentimental tie to the game or a competitive edge.

“I’ve been playing since Madden was on the Atari from CBS Sports before EA even had it, back in 1989,” said Matt Lurin, a 43-year-old emergency room doctor who has already joined an online league. “I’m kinda sentimental to the one on the Sega Genesis. I remember spending a lot of time with my friends back in med school. We played it nonstop.” Lurin has bought nearly every Madden title — Madden 06 is the only one that eludes his collection because it never came out for Playstation 3.

The release of each season’s Madden game comes like clockwork. When mid-August arrives and N.F.L. fans get their first glimpse of each team’s squads in preseason, Madden enthusiasts start to prepare for their own seasons, studying player ratings and getting an early look at team playbooks to prepare for a grueling season in Franchise mode or online play.

For serious Maddenites, as fans of the game occasionally refer to themselves, any second past midnight that they do not have the game in their hands means losing an edge on everyone else who is getting precious practice time in.

“I already called in sick tomorrow to play all day tomorrow,” said Greg Rothman, 24, a Madden veteren of 10 years. “And I figured I might as well get it tonight and play it all through the night, too.” Others, whose real teams of choice haven’t played football in February for decades, use Madden as a way to ease the pain as only a virtual Super Bowl victory in Franchise mode can.

“I’m a New York Jets fan and a season-ticket holder,” said Wes Kaplan, a 29-year-old who has been hooked on Madden since age 8. “So I’m hoping that Mark Sanchez will be in the game, that he’ll be a decent player, and we will be great in Franchise mode.”

These virtual fantasies could have real-life implications. Like real-life athletes whom fans are virtually living through, Madden players could be rewarded for their performance on the pixelated field. Game Stop has set up a national tournament with a $5,000 grand prize, with the first round of the tournament having kicked off two hours before the game’s release.

And if you’re at all superstitious, Madden may have a fairly significant impact on the actual N.F.L. season. Known as “The Madden Curse,” injuries, crimes and other maladies have afflicted those N.F.L. stars whose images have graced the covers of the franchise. Donovan McNabb and Shaun Alexander, who were immortalized on the covers of the Madden 2005 and Madden 2006 editions, respectively, suffered through injury-filled seasons in those years. With Larry Fitzgerald and Troy Polamalu helping to sell this year’s game, Maddenites who double as Cardinals and Steelers fans would probably be lying if they said that they weren’t the least bit concerned.

But for the 40 or so fans lined up outside Herald Square, all that mattered was getting the game. The N.F.L. season is far off. Logistics of working Madden-time around careers and homework can come later. For an E.R. doctor who is working an overnight shift in the next 24 hours, where does Madden fit in?

“When it comes to Madden, hours mean nothing to me,” Lurin said.

I didn’t brave the lines last night but I will try to hustle out and get one today. The hype behind this one seems a bit more substantial than some of the past additions. I am not exactly certain as to how it will be better but I am sure it will be evident early on in my playing experience. http://www.36iso.blogspot.com

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