Want to know who's going to win Sunday's big game? I'll tell you. It's not going to be the Broncos or the Seahawks. It's going to be John Madden.
Not, mind you, the actual Madden - although he did win the Super Bowl in 1976 with the Oakland Raiders - but "Madden" the popular video game franchise. Now in its 26th year, the video game has earned more than $3 billion in total sales, but its real success should be measured not in the marketplace but on the gridiron, where the game has done much to reshape the way modern football is played.
When the Broncos' former wide receiver, Brandon Stokley, caught an unlikely pass and raced down the lines towards the end zone in the first game of the 2009 season, for example, he approached his target and then, with 17 seconds remaining in the game, made a sharp right and sprinted across the field before finally crossing the goal line and scoring a touch down. When "Wired" magazine called to ask Stokley if the move was inspired by "Madden," where it's a common tactic designed to run out the clock, the player was candid.
"It definitely is," he said. "I think everybody who's played those games has done that." He himself confessed to attempting the maneuver on screen "probably hundreds of times" before trying it out against the real-life Cincinnati Bengals. "I don't know if subconsciously it made me do it or not," he said, but it hardly mattered. The influence of the game was there for all to see.
Which is just the way John Madden wanted it. When Trip Hawkins, founder of the video game giant Electronic Arts, approached the legendary coach and announcer in 1984 with an idea for a realistic football simulator, Madden was reluctant at first, and eventually agreed only because he became convinced that the software could one day serve as an effective coaching tool.
Whoever ends up with Super Bowl rings on their fingers, then, they are probably holding a controller right now, playing "Madden," living out in the video game the glory they'll soon know in person.
Liel Leibovitz is a writer for "Tablet" magazine and Author of "God in the Machine: Video Games as Spiritual Pursuit " (2014). Leibovitz is also teaches at New York University and is a video game scholar.