In a homage to its namesake, the cover of the Madden NFL 23 video game will have one person on it: John Madden.
Madden, the Hall of Fame coach who died Dec. 28, will be on the cover of all three editions of this year’s game, which will be released in August. It’s the first time in over two decades that Madden will be the focal point of the cover, which has trended toward using current athletes.
“We were thinking about this year’s game and who was going to go on it; it almost became an obvious answer,” Seann Graddy, the executive producer of Madden NFL, told ESPN. “I say that because we really wanted to celebrate Coach in the product this year and what he’s meant to us for the 30-plus years that we’ve been using his name in our game.”
Madden last was the main cover person for the 2000 edition of the game, which was released in 1999. He appeared in a small box in the next four editions of the game with his signature and the All Madden logo off to the side of the main cover athlete before disappearing from the cover for Madden NFL 06, which featured Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb.
EA then pivoted to using current athletes for each year’s cover. Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady shared it last year.
Graddy told ESPN that putting Madden on the cover has been discussed only for this year’s game, but said, “Anything is possible, to be honest,” about putting the former coach on the cover in the future.
The All Madden cover — one of the three covers this year — is reminiscent of the original John Madden Football, released on June 1, 1988. That cover had a young, sandy-haired Madden holding a football and making a hole through a diagram of X’s and O’s on a chalkboard with the game’s name across the top of the box.
The cover for the All Madden edition has a similar-looking young Madden holding a football busting through what appears to be a paper full of X’s and O’s. On the side of the cover, in white lettering, is “Thanks, Coach.”
Chuck Styles, a Philadelphia-based artist who has created exclusive trading cards for Topps in its Project70 release as well as many works depicting NBA players, designed the cover for the All Madden edition.
The other two covers, not created by Styles, look at Madden as a coach and a broadcaster. The broadcasting cover has Madden in a blue shirt and tie appearing to draw on a telestrator, which he was famous for in his career. The coaching cover has Madden, who coached the Oakland Raiders from 1969 to 1978, lifted up by his players after beating the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI.
“The thing that we wanted everyone to take away,” Graddy said, “is that we’re celebrating all three phases of Coach Madden’s kind of legacy.”
Madden was immersed in the game from the beginning, demanding it be 11-on-11 and handing over his old playbook to game developers to create more realism. As the game grew, so did its influence on players. Many current NFL players say Madden was part of their upbringing — Detroit Lions defensive back Jeff Okudah told ESPN in 2020 that he learned football by playing Madden — and that was always a prideful point for the game’s namesake.
“That gives you the satisfaction that you’re doing something worthwhile,” Madden told ESPN in 2021. “You and everyone involved are putting in the time, and it works and influences people to not only enjoy the game but to be able to play the game.
“It helps them become better players. And I think that’s true of high school, college and the pros. There’s a real satisfaction that you see when someone brings it up.”
While many of the gameplay features for this year’s edition haven’t been announced, Graddy said the opening experience will have two versions of Madden from the 1970s coaching against each other — one leading an NFC All Madden team and one an AFC All Madden team — at the old Oakland Coliseum.
“It’s just kind of a fun fantasy experience where it’s Coach Madden vs. Coach Madden,” Graddy said. “With a callback from the All Madden teams that he used to create and that we used to have in our game, a mix of both legendary players and current-day players.
“Honestly, the thinking of why we wanted Coach vs. Coach is we want Coach to win.”
During that experience, Graddy said, there will be lines spoken by Madden interspersed throughout the commentary about some of the players on the All Madden rosters.
As part of the cover announcement, EA announced its $5 million donation to the John Madden Legacy Commitment to Education will be split, with $2.5 million going to nonprofit organizations College Track, Girls Who Code, StreetCode Academy and Mission Bit to support five years of programming in the science, technology, engineering, art and math space. The other $2.5 million will help create the EA Madden Scholarship, which will work with the United Negro College Fund to provide scholarships for students at 12 Historically Black Colleges and Universities.