A casual football fan spends the night observing some Madden experts, and lives to tell the tale.

By any measure, the Madden NFL series is a bona fide videogame phenomenon. Since its start on the Apple II way back in 1989, the series has consistently been at or near the top of the year-end videogame sales charts, generating over $2 billion in cumulative sales for publisher EA Sports. The game is a favorite among sports stars and celebrities, who frequently mention it as a favorite time-waster at home and during long road trips.

Madden’s popularity has spawned the Madden Challenge, a nationwide tournament with thousands of Madden players competing in 18 cities for a $50,000 top prize, and “Madden Nation,” a reality-television competition entering its fifth season on ESPN2 this fall. The Madden Curse, an urban myth surrounding the unlucky fate awaiting anyone picked as a Madden cover athlete, has become a household term, and a 2005 deal with the NFL has turned Madden into the only officially licensed version of America’s most popular sport.

This is a game that is almost impossible to ignore. And yet, for most of my life, I have successfully ignored it.

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