Madden Football History and EA’s Other Notable Genesis Football Games

Presented by Gunstar Green

In honor of sports making their way to our Together Retro Game Club, the start of the NFL preseason, and the launch of Madden 20, I’d like to talk about one of the most important, and in modern times often derided, sports franchises of all time. Madden. The very name is a punchline to gamers who aren’t into sports as well as many who are who have grown numb to the yearly updates and the decaying of gameplay modes.

But this is retro sports month so we’re going to talk about the pioneering days when things weren’t quite so cynical. John Madden Football first appeared in 1988 on the Apple II, C64, and PC. It was the product of Trip Hawkins’ intense desire to create an accurate football simulator and the demands from the retired NFL coach John Madden (who they got to endorse the product only after their first two choices fell through) to make the game as realistic as possible. [ this story was also detailed in a interview with Trip Hawkins on the Acquired podcast]  This meant 11 on 11 player football or he would refuse to allow them to use his name. Of course in ’88 this was an extremely demanding task and the resulting game is more about strategy and only sort of resembles the one we’ll come to know. Nevertheless the game was a hit, but for most people familiar with the franchise, this isn’t where the story starts.

John Madden Football on the Sega Genesis would make the early franchise synonymous with the Sega Genesis, helping to draw a niche of older sports oriented gamers to the console, where it would remain supported until 1997 with the release of Madden NFL 98. It’s difficult say which of these games is the “best” as most of them have their own specific appeal and everyone will have their personal nostalgic bias to lean on as well. What follows is an overview and personal ranking of each Madden game for Sega’s blast processing wonder in the hopes that it will help you find the Madden that’s right for you. [If you would like to explore more sports games on Sega’s 16 bit platform, check out our guide to The Best Sports Games on the Sega Genesis].

John Madden Football

When bringing their football simulation to home consoles EA’s first hurdle was to make the game faster and more arcade-like while retaining the simulation elements that set it apart from its competitors. EA contracted Park Place Productions for their work on the computer game ABC Monday Night Football and the result was fantastic for the time. The tilted field and sprite scaling gave an illusion of depth and the play calling was more developed than its competition. The game was one of the biggest sellers of the console’s early years and was even awarded game of the year by some publications.

Looking at it through 2019 eyes, it’s a different story. The game is still fun and easy to pick up and play, possibly making it a good choice for someone who’s not very familiar with Football. Playing against the AI can be a little too easy as breaking tackles is simple and players can make superhuman dives for several yards. The game would introduce “pass windows” so that you could see the players down field and know if they were open or not but they made it impossible to determine their position on the field or if they were being covered making it essential to remember the routes they were running. This would remain a part of the franchise until the ’95 iteration.

The first three games noticeably lack NFL licensing and this game only includes 16 of the 28 teams in pro football at the time. The gameplay and presentation is pretty bare bones and in the wake of what was to follow, JMF did not age very well despite its historical importance to the early success of the Sega Genesis. But hey, that grindy title theme by legendary C64 maestro Rob Hubbard kind of rules!

EA and Sega had a tumultuous introduction that seems strange when you consider how important EA was to the Sega Genesis. EA was displeased with Sega controlling cartridge production, especially how much they charged per cart, not unlike the debacle between Namco and Nintendo which resulted in Tengen. Similar to that instance, EA had reverse engineered Sega’s technology and were able to produce their own cartridges. Fortunately this ended more amicably than what happened with Tengen, with Sega agreeing to EA’s terms as long as they didn’t share the reverse engineering with other companies. Early EA in turn became dedicated to growing the influence of Sega’s Genesis.

While EA was hard at work making this game, Sega hit a snag with their own celebrity endorsed football title, Joe Montana Football, and offered to buy Madden from EA so they could convert it to Joe Montana and get it out in time for the holiday season. EA, not wanting to give away what they correctly predicted would be their golden goose, instead took a omission from Sega to develop Joe Montana Football using Madden as a base.

EA purposely left out some of Madden’s more impressive for-the-time features like the game’s tilted field, larger playbook and better passing system. The end result was a faster playing, more arcade-leaning experience that is arguably more fun to play in 2019 than the original John Madden Football. However publications at the time didn’t see it that way, praising Madden’s “realism” over Joe Montana’s more video-gamey feel. On top of that it still missed the all important holiday season and released in January though the game managed to do well regardless and see yearly sequels that would evolve into Sega’s NFL series. Bizarrely EA was effectively competing against itself in the opening salvo of what would become one of the biggest rivalries in sports video games.

  • Good introduction for the football illiterate and introduces the timeless, fun gameplay the early entries are known for.
  • Bare bones and not as mechanically polished as what will come next.
  • Overall Rating: C+
  • Recommended for: People who value its place in sports game history.
  • Find Madden Football on eBay

John Madden Football ’92

(Gunstar Green’s Favorite Award)

I always compare this game to Road Rash II in that it does everything the first game does, but better. JMF ’92 improves the controls, shows your player’s numbers when selected (so you can match them up to the 1992 NFL roster if you’re so inclined) and adds a pre-season mode that lests you play with the play-clock disabled. This is great for newbies learning how the interface works. Speaking of which, the user interface is much cleaner this time around though play calling operates the same as the first game. You choose which set of players you want on the field (your fast guys, guys with good hands, your normal formation and your special teams) and it takes a bit for them to run out in the huddle which is a little annoying.

Other tweaks to the gameplay added to the strategy and realism. More audibles are able to be called, you’ll get a penalty called for a late hit if you tackle an already downed player (something that was removed in later entries for some bizarre reason), you can replace your quarterback with the backup if he’s sucking, instant replays are now a thing, all 28 NFL teams are represented (with the Jets as “New Jersey”) as well as an “All-Madden” team of the best players, and weather conditions have been added to spice things up. Most importantly players can now be injured!

This leads to the most legendary aspect of JMF ’92, the WHAMbulance! When a player is injured an ambulance comes screaming out of nowhere onto the field, violently running down everyone in its path. It’s glorious and was unfortunately removed in later entries (though it appeared in the ’93 game on SNES).

JMF ’92 might be my personal favorite to play today as it took the arcadey fun of the first title and gave it some much needed polish in every category. It’s certainly not perfect but it’s a well deserved classic and my recommended starting point for most people as long as you’re not turned off by the lack of licensing.

  • An improved version of the original in everything from the presentation to the gameplay. Still simple and fun but with fewer problems.
  • Fewer features than the next title despite it being pretty much the same game.
  • Overall Rating: B+
  • Recommended for: People who are just looking to have a fun and arcadey gameplay experience without needing to know too much about football.
  • Find Madden Football ’92 on eBay

John Madden Football ’93

There are two ways to look at JMF ’93, the first is cynically as it’s basically a “roster update” game and you wouldn’t be wrong for thinking that way. ’93 is for the most part the same game as ’92. Blue Sky Software was brought on to handle the development which is somewhat interesting as they would end up taking over most of the competing Sega Sports franchises after this.

JMF ’93 however is objectively the most polished and developed of the original three games as it retains the same excellent gameplay and continues to build upon it. Many of the changes are simple such as the coin toss at the start of each game. The no-huddle offense is one of the biggest changes mechanically along with the ability to spike the ball. Many new animations were added giving the game a more lively look and finally there are actually people in the stands when you kick a field goal (though they don’t look great). All the unlicensed NFL teams return alongside the “All-Madden” team as well as eight legendary teams from football history and an “All-Madden Greats” team that draws from those players. You can now also use the replay to overturn bad calls from the referees but it requires the other player to consent and well, that probably won’t ever happen if you’re playing with someone. There’s now a battery save instead of a password system for the playoffs and player stats are tracked.

One final addition is this is the first game to include voice samples of John Madden himself during gameplay. They’re… not so great and don’t really add a whole lot but it’s worth mentioning. This will continue throughout the rest of the series and improve along the way. It’s a long way from Sega’s impressive, if a little robotic, “Sports Talk” commentator. This is also the year Sega would strike hard against Madden, obtaining the NFL license first for NFL Football ’93 Featuring Joe Montana, though it seemed to do little to slow this series.

While JMF ’93 is in a lot of ways just a minor upgrade to ’92 it’s probably the “one to get” for most people who are looking for the fun of the earlier games’ engine in its most complete form. I still have a soft spot for ’92 though.

  • The most fully featured of the pre-NFL Madden games.
  • No Ambulance, making ’92 the one to buy if you want the ambulance! Much less of an upgrade to ’92 than ’92 was to John Madden Football. The small range of Madden quips gets old fast.
  • Overall Rating: A
  • Recommended for: Anyone who asks “What’s the one old Madden game I should buy?”
  • Find Madden Football  ’93 on eBay
  • Find Madden Football  ’93 on Amazon

John Madden Football ’93 Championship Edition

What’s this now? Why is the year still ’93? Championship Edition was an exclusive rental game making this easily the rarest and most expensive Sega Genesis Madden game, especially with the box and manual since those were often lost or tossed by the rental places.

So what is this game? Well. It’s JMF ’93, but with a very different roster. Instead of using the teams for the 1993 season the game takes Super Bowl championship and runner-up teams from 1966-1991 an stuffs them into one game. This allows you to pit legendary teams against each other which would have made for a great title to rent and play with your friends back in the day. It also means that the computer teams are all very skilled making the game’s playoff mode much more challenging than the stock ’93. Other than that it’s the same exact game as ’93 with different teams which means it’s still really good.

  • A cool concept that expanded on what ’93 already started and would be featured semi-regularly in future games. A great game for lovers of ’93 who find the AI teams too easy.
  • Not really worth what people ask for it these days, especially when you can just get ’93 for a buck or two and the teams featured here are also in the next game.
  • Overall Rating: A
  • Recommended for: Collectors. If you see a Madden game with a gold box sitting with a bunch of cheap sports games, buy it before they realize the mistake they’ve made.
  • Find Madden Football ’93 Championship on eBay

Madden NFL ’94

1993 would see the Madden franchise finally begin to evolve into something more recognizable to modern gamers. Madden NFL ’94, as the title implies, was finally able to secure the rights to the actual NFL teams. Unfortunately the game was still missing the NFL Player’s Association license meaning the players continue to only be identified via only their uniform numbers. Sega would continue to make a nuisance of themselves as they manage to obtain the NFLPA license this year and Blue Sky Software crafted their best Football game yet, the classic NFL Football ’94 Featuring Joe Montana.

’94 is a well loved title for plenty of reasons. It’s the first year that the now (in)famous “EA Sports” (It’s in the Game!) came into existence after ESPN threatened legal action over EA’s previous “EASN” moniker. The presentation is nice, even better on the Super Nintendo where this will be first Madden game for that console that’s not awful. This is thanks in no small part to Visual Concepts’ programming prowess with the console over EA Canada who delivered the choppy ports of the earlier games to the SNES. Play calling has been simplified and improved, including things like the ability to “flip” plays, which speeds up the pace. You can also finally set your own audible plays. As for the gameplay on the whole, the arcade style of the older games is for the most part intact.

Player sprites are larger and your mileage may vary on whether or not you like their appearance. They’re well animated regardless and were reused for Bill Walsh College Football and the superlative Bill Walsh College Football ’95 (more on those later). This does make the hitboxes a little weird at times and the gameplay just doesn’t feel quite as tight and refined as JMF ’92/’93’s. Sprite flicker isn’t uncommon and I’ve caused the game to glitch out and crash on both hardware and emulators.

A season mode is FINALLY included instead of just single games and the playoffs so you can finally take a team through an entire season and on to the Super Bowl. All 28 NFL teams are here again plus 38 Super Bowl teams, 12 all-time teams and the familiar two Madden teams bring the roster to a whopping 80 teams, dwarfing the previous games.

This was the first Madden game to be programmed by Visual Concepts and High Score Productions, the former would go on to create Sega’s 2K sports games (that seems to be a pretty common pattern with ex-EA contractors), including ESPN NFL 2K5 which is still considered by many sports gamers to be the greatest gridiron game ever made with possibly only their final American Football title, All Pro Football 2K8 improving upon its gameplay but losing its incredible list of features and unmatched atmosphere.

Early versions of Madden NFL ’94 accidentally swap the rosters of the Giants and Jets. Later prints apparently fixed that.

  • Finally licensed by the NFL. A season mode and lots of content. Still pretty actiony.
  • Gameplay and overall programming quality is not quite as good as last year. Crackly sound design.
  • Overall Score: B
  • Recommended For: Someone looking for a compromise between arcadey gameplay and official NFL licensing.
  • Find Madden NFL ’94 on eBay

Madden NFL ’95

(Gunstar Green’s Favorite Runner-up Award)

’95 is the installment where everything came together and marks the first step towards a Madden recognizable by modern gamers. The NFL license is joined by the NFLPA license (only on Genesis) which finally lets the game show you the player’s names. Fox Sports is also featured here and the game proudly blares a 16-bit rendition of its iconic music. This ambiance helps to make the game feel like you’re actually watching football on TV, well, it did in 1994 at least. You’ll just have to trust me on that. I especially love all the little score-board style animations alongside the official whenever something major happens.

The game also takes a stronger turn towards simulation with gameplay that is more challenging along with an improved playbook. The players are a bit smaller and more realistic looking than ’94’s and don’t move with quite as much hustle, nor are they quite as adept at shaking off tackles or making insane dives for yardage. The “fun factor” of all this will come down to personal taste as opinions on this game vary from it being the high-water mark of the 16-bit franchise to one of its more forgettable entries. For me it’s the former.

Player stat tracking returns after it was mysteriously missing from ’94 and the most important feature of them all, the elimination of pass windows, is finally implemented! The field has been tilted enough so you can see far enough to view where your receivers are and judge if they’re open making the passing game much less of a crapshoot. You can re-enable them in the options if you want, but holy crap you won’t want to.

This is also the year that saw the NFL adopt two-point conversions and as such, it was added to the game and honestly it’s one of its bigger issues because they’re way too easy to pull off. There are no longer any Super Bowl or all-time teams to be found in this installment, possibly because of concerns involving the Player Association and perhaps not wanting to simply give those teams numbers alongside of teams with full names. In any case it’s not a major loss but it is certainly disappointing after ’94’s immense, but nameless, roster.

  • Great presentation. Nice graphics. Smarter AI opponents. Fully licensed.
  • Far fewer teams than the previous year. Not as “fun” as the old games.
  • Overall Rating: B+
  • Recommended for: People looking for something more on the simulation side with a nice NFL on TV-styled presentation.
  • Find Madden NFL ’95 on eBay

Madden NFL 96

1995 was a trying year for the Madden franchise and it produced one of the most unique games in the 16-bit series. I’ve seen very split opinions on ’96 ranging from it being the absolute best 16-bit Madden to the absolute worst. While I don’t think it’s that bad, I am biased more towards ’95. I suppose it comes down to what you expect from a Madden game or rather what you want from one.

Visual Concepts was tasked with designing the next generation Madden NFL ’96 for Sony’s PlayStation while Tiburon Entertainment, a team formed from ex-Visual Concepts employees would handle the 16-bit versions. The next-gen game however was plagued with delays due to overestimating what the PlayStation could handle and a lack of technical support from Sony. It ultimately cancelled. An early version was leaked to the Internet but boy is it rough.

In any case, this suddenly promoted the 16-bit game to the primary version of Madden NFL ’96 once more and granted it the title of final 16-bit exclusive Madden. The Genesis ’96 carries over some of the look and innovations of the canned PlayStation title. One of the most apparent things is that every player now has their actual number on their jerseys which is pretty cool to see on the Genesis. This unfortunately also means the player sprites are pretty huge in comparison to the field and on top of that they move lightning fast. I’m not sure how intentional this was as the play-clock also seems to move way faster than it should.

For some people this insane speed is a plus, making the game fast and furious, others will just see it as kind of a mess. There are other cool innovations though, like create-a-player, something that they’d been wanting to add to the franchise since the original computer game in 1988 (John Madden apparently didn’t like the idea back then). Create-a-player features scouting combine mini-games that decide your character’s attributes. It’s also the first year that allows you to trade for other players. There were more firsts such as being the first Madden game to have fair catches and for what it’s worth, left-handed quarterbacks. The classic teams even return albeit needing to be unlocked with a code this time.

’96 also has arguably the best sound design in the series thanks to Tommy Tallarico. The NFL on Fox theme sounds almost like the real thing and all of the samples are crystal clear. This is the final year that Madden will be a starring attraction for the Genesis and while I think it could have been better, there was clearly effort put into it and it has its fans.

  • Great sound. Numbers! More features than ’95.
  • Insane pace that makes the gameplay unwieldy at times. Players are too huge.
  • Overall Score: B-
  • Recommended for: People who want to experience Madden ’95 on cocaine.
  • Find Madden NFL ’96 on eBay

Madden NFL 97

(Best EA Football Simulation Award)

After last year’s disappointing cancellation, the franchise finally made a successful jump to 32-bit consoles with Tiburon’s in-development 32-bit college football title impressing EA enough to modify it into their first next-gen Madden, is there a point to this installment?

At first glance most things seem to have taken a hit. The graphics, while clean and crisp looking, are not quite as flashy as the previous installment. The sound design is also not terrible, but definitely way worse than last year. On the plus side, the players are now a reasonable size and speed even though it comes at the cost of their numbering. They claim to be motion captured like the ill-fated 32-bit Madden NFL 96, and they might be since the animations are all smooth and nicely done.

Create-a-player returns and the roster editing is much more fleshed out. The playbook has gotten another big update and there are more innovations like a 5 receiver passing mode and custom leagues and ornaments (finally). More realism is added to the game with player fatigue and random penalties like holding and facemasks. Fox Sports was dropped which hurts the “TV feel” presentation, but John Madden and Pat Summerall are at least there providing commentary. There are over 100 contemporary and classic teams to choose from and the gameplay is about as smooth polished as you could hope for. In a way it truly does feel like the culmination of years of experimenting and iterating to produce Madden’s most “complete” 16-bit version of football.

Maybe it’s because I’ve played way too many of these games but 97 can at times come off as sort of stale despite being one of the most complex and balanced 16-bit versions of the game. A lot of that has to do with the scaled back presentation. I’ve heard many people say that ’95 or ’96 was the last great Madden on Genesis, but don’t overlook this one if you’re a Genesis fan and a football fan, it may surprise you and become a favorite.

  • The most fully featured 16-bit Madden game and one of the best football simulations for the console, if not the best. Sega Sports NFL 98 fans can chime in and disagree.
  • Can feel a little dull compared to some of the others. Maybe not great for beginners.
  • Overall Rating: A-
  • Recommended For: Anyone looking for the best simulation experience.
  • Find Madden NFL ’97 on eBay

Madden NFL 98

Oh dear, it has begun. This game is literally just Madden NFL 97 with a worse user interface, right down to the freaking title music and playbook, and for some reason it’s even missing features like the custom tournament. It’s very obvious that this game was nothing but an afterthought to cash in on the folks who were slow to upgrade to next-gen consoles. It’s the very definition of a mishandled roster-update. To be fair there are some new “features” like getting to play a few previous Super Bowls and teams having stat altering “hot” and “cold” streaks depending on their performance, but nothing that adds any real substance or any argument for upgrading from 97.

It’s still a good game at its core but only in the sense that it’s LITERALLY just 97 with some names and uniforms changed. Just do yourself a favor and stick with the more commonly found 97 cartridge. There’s absolutely nothing new to see here.

Tiburon abandoned development of the 16-bit games after the success of the next-gen Madden NFL 97 over Sega’s weak effort with NFL 97 on the Saturn, though Sony had emerged as a new competitor with their NFL GameDay franchise and EA had a lot of catching up to do. This earned Tiburon the job of Madden developer for the rest of eternity and the company would be acquired by EA a year later.

Meanwhile EA gave the 16-bit Madden publishing rights to THQ and the development was handed off to Tiertex explaining why this was pretty much just a repackage. EA didn’t even have an interest in releasing it themselves. It’s hard to blame everyone involved for wanting to make a quick buck but it’s a shame because if they had just taken the same game as 97 and improved the presentation it could have been a great final edition for the console.

Perhaps it’s worth noting that this year’s game in both its 16 and 32-bit forms would be the final Madden to use 2D sprites to represent the players. Madden Football 64 on the Nintendo 64 would also come out this year and was the first game in the series to use 3D players.

  • Uh… did you like Madden 97? Good! Here’s more of it but kind of worse!
  • A rehash in the most literal sense. Arguably the most unnecessary 16-bit version on either the Genesis or the SNES.
  • Overall Rating: D
  • Recommended for: No one except collection completists really. The only Madden of this generation that I really don’t see an audience for. Even if you’re for some reason obsessed with the 1998 NFL season, just get the PlayStation version or NFL GameDay 98.
  • Find Madden NFL ’98 on eBay

BONUS: EA’s College Football Games!

Bill Walsh College Football

After the success of the Madden series and their other sports titles, EA realized they could stretch their assets and programming further by branching out to collegiate sports. As such they sought the endorsement of legendary Super Bowl and Pac-10 conference championship winning coach Bill Walsh in the hopes that they could emulate their older pro franchise. This was made even more obvious by the fact that BWCF is basically Madden NFL ’94 in a new pair of shoes for better or worse, complete with the game having a playoff system like the pros.

Like the older Madden games BWCF has no licensing to speak of meaning a lot of teams are named for their locations instead of being named after the schools. There are 24 teams represented here along with 24 historic teams in a similar vein to most Madden games. It’s a good game with a lot of charm but it was made immediately inferior by its sequel. Still, it’s one of the first college football video games, with only the obscure 1991 DOS title All-American College Football beating it out.

There’s also a Sega CD version which replaces the menu music and crowd noise with CD quality audio, videos of Bill Walsh himself discussing strategy and from what I can tell, nothing else. It’s a bizarre and unnecessary upgrade.

Bill Walsh College Football ’95

(Overall Best EA Football Game Award)

This is one of those cases like JMF ’92 where the second game is very similar but positively builds and improves on the original in just about every way possible. One thing that was interesting about these college games is they seemed to test out new ideas that would then get worked into Madden. In this case it was the first game to get rid of the passing windows and it’s a glorious improvement.

The game speed, hitboxes and other things have been tweaked, the sound has been improved and in a lot of ways it feels like Madden NFL ’94 and a half, taking the best aspects of the ’94 and ’95 entries and molding them into something better than the sum of their parts. BWCF ’95 is an enormous amount of fun and is held in high regard by sports game fans as possibly the best 16-bit football game available.

While the historic teams are gone and the game still doesn’t have the NCAA license, they did manage to secure the rights to use 38 Division I-A schools, six more than Sega’s competing product. The playoffs remain but you’re also given the option to do bowl games which have fictional, unlicensed names. New college-level plays and formations were added that aren’t available in the Madden titles which adds to the fun nature of the game.

From the refined gameplay to the colorful college football atmosphere there’s not much bad to say about this title other than I wish it had more teams! This is a must have for retro football fans.

College Football USA ’96

Deciding it wasn’t worth it to shell out the money for the Bill Walsh endorsement anymore, EA dropped him for this more generically named title. This is the first EA football game with the NCAA’s full endorsement (the series would finally just change its name to NCAA Football for the ’98 season on PlayStation) and it includes 108 Division I-A schools and uses real bowl names this time.

The game itself is fine. The Madden NFL ’94 sprites of the previous 2 games have finally been retired but there’s something not quite as endearing about the new ones. Instead of copying this year’s Madden it’s more of a stripped down prototype of Madden NFL 97 featuring similar graphics, gameplay and features (like having 5 recievers, record saving and random penalties). There’s not much else to say other than it lacks the fun factor and je ne sais quoi of BWCF ’95, and much like the original BWCF it would be made entirely obsolete by its successor. You can skip this one. In fact, it’s the only game in this list I don’t own.

College Football USA 97: The Road to New Orleans

If ’96 felt like a prototype of Madden NFL 97, this game feels more like its equal as it’s more fully featured, including the “create-a-player” that was missing from last year. 111 Division I-A schools are present this time around. Other than that it’s basically a polished roster update though unlike Madden NFL 98 it’s at least a good one that makes it worth choosing over its predecessor. If you like Madden NFL 97, you’ll like this and might consider it the best College Football or maybe even the best Football simulation period for the Genesis. It’s certainly one of the most complete packages. I still like BWCF ’95 more, strictly as a video game.

As previously mentioned the series would continue to thrive alongside Madden on later consoles as yearly updates of NCAA Football. Unfortunately a lawsuit by the NCAA over player likenesses would cause the series to end with NCAA Football 14, leaving the future of college sports video games in limbo.

BONUS Overtime!

Mutant League Football

Up high on the list along with NBA Jam for the people who go “I don’t like sports games but…” is Mutant League Football. Taking their winning Madden formula and adding a humorous post apocalyptic spin with violent monsters as your players. Don’t like the play calls or want to cheat? Kill the ref! Don’t feel like playing football at all? Kill enough of the other team’s players and they’ll be forced to forfeit! Even the field itself is full of death traps that can quickly turn a big play into a funeral.

It’s a great parody of NFL football with monsterized names of famous players. The team names are also great for a laugh. Despite the free-for-all violent nature it’s still a surprisingly deep game that’s a ton of fun. A spiritual Sequel titled Mutant Football League came out not too long ago and is definitely worth checking out for fans of the old game.


Well, that pretty much covers EA’s American Football games for the Sega Genesis.  Retro sports games don’t often get the attention they deserve anymore, so this has been a fun topic to explore.  If you’re interesting in digging into some similar content, check out these posts from our archive: The Best Sports Games on the Sega Genesis ,  The Rarest and Most Valuable Sports Games  and perhaps the Games that Defined the Sega Genesis/Megadrive.

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Mark says:

With the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis Mini on the horizon (and my full intention on hacking it and adding some old sports titles) this is exactly what I’ve been looking for!

As a kid I mainly bought games from the used section and, here in the UK, used Gridiron Football games were super rare to come by, especially the good ones.

Not counting Mutant League, SportsTalk 93 was the best I owned and my only Madden was the original. I missed out on a lot of classic football games – not just Madden.

This is a big help. I won’t be able to hack every single Madden onto the Mini, so choosing just one or two plus a college edition is difficult! I found a few good opinions here and there but nothing this in-depth. Great article!

racketboy says:

Thanks! Yeah I personally enjoyed reading this too. I was always a bit biased for Sega Sports in the past. After listening to the recent interview with Trip Hawkins, I really wanted to dig into the Madden stuff and then Gunstar Green put this guide together — such perfect timing.

I was also a much bigger sports fan in the 90s in junior high/high school and then tailed off after that. So I’m actually naturally inclined to lean towards retro sports games both for the gameplay/style and the rosters 🙂

Mark says:

Haha I’m the complete opposite! I’m a much bigger fan now, and it’s probably thanks to the Mega Drive titles exposing me to US sports that I’m still a fan today.

And they kept me interested and a fan as a kid; there were hardly any other ways to stay in touch with them here apart from playing the games. That could be another reason I still like the retro titles (aside from the classic 3-button simplicity), the chance to experience all the old teams and players I only ever heard brief things about as a kid that were gone by the time I finally could watch and follow the leagues myself

GunstarGreen says:

Glad it helped you out! My favorite years for Sega’s competing games are 94 and 98, their two college football games are good too. I prefer 94 and the first “College Football’s National Championship” though because I’m nostalgic for the SportsTalk announcer and those are the best American Football games to still have it.

AngrySquirrel34 says:

This is exactly what I’ve been looking for with respect for retro sports games (especially football and hockey, sports where I like the digitized versions more than the real thing). Love the detailed descriptions and the perspective of someone who’s clearly spent a lot of time with multiple iterations of the various franchises. Great job!

Looks like I will go in for some Madden ’92, the better of ’95 and ’96, the best Bill Walsh game, and of course, Mutant League to start with.

GunstarGreen says:

Thanks for the kind words, I had a lot of fun putting it together.

Jason B says:

Really enjoyed this article. I still remember waiting for the first Madden to come out on the Genesis. When Madden first arrived it was a rather slow time for new games on the Genesis and this was a must buy. My friends and I spent many hours on this and then later versions, great memories.

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Get a nice roundup of new retro gaming content once or twice a month.