Mark Sanchez might be on the cover of NCAA Football 10 (PSP), but the Jets new quarterback wants to set one thing straight.
"I actually don't want to be too good at the game," he tells me over a plate of sushi in New York. "I take the approach that it's not a good thing to be dominating video games as a player. If I get too good, then I think there is a problem. I should be studying my playbook."
But that doesn't mean the first round pick Jet fans have already dubbed "Franchez" is about to completely abandon his controller. He has been a Madden gamer for years and says he'll be ready when the locker room competitions heat up during camp.
"I was around at the very beginning of when Madden was getting popular, back with Madden 94 for the Sega Genesis." Sanchez says. "You have to be able to play Madden or you can't show your face in the locker room. I'm what you consider a functional player. By no means will I win a tournament, but I can make it past the first round. You have to be decent at the game if you're a football player but, like I said, you don't want to be too good."
Back when Sanchez was punishing pixels in Madden 94, his favorite squad was actually one of the all-time greats, the 1985 Bears. "Running the ball with Walter Payton was awesome," he says. "You had the ambulance running over players on the field, Madden would shout at you when there was a big hit (Boom!). I love those old games."
And Sanchez admits that while he wasn't the best at NCAA Football 09, everyone in the USC locker room would constantly talk about their player ratings.
"It's like a competition among the players," he says. "It's funny to talk about, but it doesn't really transfer over into real life skills. This year, I'm on the cover of NCAA 10, but I'm not actually in the game. Although I'm really looking forward to seeing how they make me in Madden. It's crazy to even think about being in that game with the history that it has. It's special to me, but I think it's even more special to my family and my cousins who are all going to buy the game. To see them light up and get excited about me being in a game, it means a lot to me."
Sanchez's character will also mean a lot to the thousands of competitors who might try out the Jets in the upcoming Madden Challenge tournament, where one Sanchez throw could help earn a lucky gamer some serious cash and prizes (last year it was $50,000!). "With all that money on the line, I hope they give me some good ratings," laughs Sanchez. "I'd hate to be the one to throw an interception in a game like that."
But a Sanchez pick won't even be the most entertaining turnover in the new game when Madden 10 introduces the nastiness of the fumble pile to gamers. This year, when the ball hits the ground, players will button mash to simulate the scuffle of the real life, anything-goes situation.
Sanchez explains: "When you're coached on it at any school, they call it a dog pile and anything goes -- pinching, scratching, biting -- that's the way it is. And if you're not good at it, then you're not protecting the football, you're not competing to get it back. And then it's about the guys on your team when they know you have it, pulling guys off the pile and stalling the refs so you can get it if you don't have it. There's a right way to go about it, and I think they taught us that at USC."
Will those lessons learned at USC help Sanchez get on the field for significant minutes this season?
"I have a lot of work to get to where I need to be," he says. "But, like I said, that's why I'm going to let my Madden skills slip a bit this year. I need to spend all my time with the playbook. But I'm really just glad the whole draft process is finally over. It was fun, but it was a lifetime of emotions."
Not to mention what must've seemed like a lifetime of interviews.
"I remember one team asked me almost like a speed dating question during one of the interviews," Sanchez says. "They asked me if my house was burning down and your family and your pets got out safe, what do you take with you? I said a photo album. I didn't know what to say."
What about your copy of Madden?
"I'm not in the game yet," Sanchez laughs. "I just hope they give me a strong arm and that I'm quick moving around. But I think a lot of the stuff I bring to the quarterback position isn't really tangible to the video game. It's more about the emotion and the passion and the celebration I take in the game. When I throw a touchdown pass, it's like the best thing in the world, and it's obvious to anyone watching that I'm having a good time.
"I don't know how that would transfer over, but hopefully they just make me nice and buffed."