The Holy Grail of Madden Football Games

December 23, 2011 at 12:19 am | Posted in Reviews | 13 Comments
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Pre-owned Madden football games are everywhere.  When you have a series that has been churning out a title every year for twenty years, there are a lot of discarded games to be peddled.  The picked-through seller at the flea market is guaranteed to have a stack of PS2 Madden titles to sift through.  Your neighbor’s garage sale is going to have recent versions for next-to-nothing prices since everyone only wants to play the most recent iteration.  With a massive supply built across almost every console for gaming generations now, the previous editions of Madden football have an almost nonexistent resell value.  Outside of this mass production, there is one title that is not common and is one of the few sports titles that hold value for collectors.  John Madden Football Championship Edition was a rental store exclusive released in 1992 for the Sega Genesis and it is the Holy Grail for retro sports gaming collectors.

For the first time you could play as some of the all-time great teams

John Madden Football Championship Edition has the same game engine and cover design as John Madden Football ’93.  The big difference here is the gold color on the cover art, as opposed to the standard blue of the ’93 version. The gold really jumps out next to other games and I really like the choice given the exclusivity of only being a rental game and the subject matter itself.  Championship Edition boasted an increased difficulty from the CPU and was comprised of 38 classic teams from 1966 to 1991.  The game also introduced the first All-Madden teams, with one made up of all-time players and the other of honored current players (in 1992).  You can play your standard exhibition games and also set up an all-time tournament, which pits 16 teams in a playoff bracket, similar to NHL Hockey or earlier Madden titles.  Oh yeah, and there’s that epic “demo” or “watch” mode that plagued sports games back then.  Thank goodness we have moved on from that.

You had a number of personnel options when picking your play

Also notable is that John Madden Football Championship Edition is the last Madden game with “John” in the title.  Earlier John Madden titles had a number of memorable staples in design and game play.  Before each play on offense you made choices like “Hands”, “Normal”, “Big” or “Fast” to dictate the package of players you’d run the play with.  Pretty cool, but they did away with this extra pre-snap step soon thereafter.  With passing, it’s hard to forget passing windows, where you could see your “A”, “B”, and “C” options, and they would raise their hands like they were open, only for you to dart a pass in and have the CPU pick it off.  Thankfully, by 1995’s Madden game this was long gone and we had the blueprint for what we still work with today, just with many more buttons and therefore more receiving options.  The playbook is bare bones compared to even later 16-bit Madden games but, given the time period, one can hardly complain.  One of my favorite finds was the old in-game scoreboard, where during halftime and after the game you would get the score updates for other games going on, like in the all-time tournament for example.  Sure, they are completely random (Come on, the ’85 Pats blowing out the ’85 Bears?), but this was one of the first TV-style presentation examples in a sports game.  Sadly the infamous Madden ambulance does not make its way over from the original Madden game, but watching videos of it taking out players on YouTube is still worth seeking out.

The gold spine really stands out on the shelf

The biggest challenges in collecting a John Madden Football Championship Edition game are the condition of the cart and finding a complete copy.  You know how you just hate finding old Blockbuster stickers on the back of your retro games?  Every John Madden Football Championship Edition had stickers on it by default.  I would imagine most of the carts had a sticker over parts of the label also, making it a very delicate situation when trying to keep the label intact.  Because of this, your mileage is really going to vary copy-to-copy when it comes to condition.  Not surprisingly, there was little anticipated demand around the future rarity of the title back in the ‘90s.  When video stores pushed out their Genesis and Super Nintendo games to make way for PlayStation and Saturn titles, the Championship Edition was lumped in with the rest of the lot.  My copy still has a small sticker and barcode under the front plastic that indicates the game was once sold for $2.95.  Three dollars!  When it comes to finding a complete copy today, there are always your high “Buy It Now” prices on eBay, which can skew the market, and the majority of the offerings are without a manual.  I’ve seen manuals go for $15 alone and stand-alone carts for around $15-$20 if they are in great condition.  Complete copies of the game can range from $25 to $50 on eBay, depending again on condition and also if the seller knows what they have.  There can be some luck involved as someone may list a very reasonable “Buy It Now” price without researching that past auctions went well into the $40 range.

“Rental Store Exclusive” is right on the cart

I have only seen John Madden Football Championship Edition in the wild once, and my purchase resulted from flipping through a large pile of Genesis carts at a flea market.  There was no gold spine to lead the way on this hunt, but I quickly recognized the label and since the game was lumped in with a number of other old sports games, the transaction was quick and reasonable at $2.  The seller didn’t know what he had, which can be typical given the one-off nature of the game.  I did strike gold (pun intended) when I stumbled across a seller online that had a long list of games for sale and mixed in with other Madden titles for the Genesis was “John Madden Football Championship Edition – Cart okay, Case in good shape – $7”.  I was a little skeptical that I was really going to get the Holy Grail of Madden football games for less than ten dollars but the transaction went smoothly and the description of the game was pretty accurate.  The game itself saw a nasty break-up with whatever sticker once occupied it, but the case is an 8.5 out of 10.  Sometimes you have to piece together a set from different sales so my flea market find of the game was a nice swap.  Despite not being perfect or complete (I still need the manual), John Madden Football Championship Edition stands out around its peers on my Sega Genesis shelf.  Next time you’re out digging through old Genesis games at the swap meet, make sure you do a double-take if you see the gold John Madden title.  You’ve found the rarest and most valuable Madden game.



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  1. Huh, I had no idea you ran a blog about old sports video games.

    Awesome stuff, man. I don’t really play sports games, although I loved Double Dribble, and NBA Jam as a kid. I do love to read about rare things, so this Madden article was great.

    Say, you ever watch The Angry Video Game Nerd?

  2. Hey CW – I’ve watched AVGN, there are a couple guys I subscribe to on YouTube. I really like the Game Collectors videos from swap meets / flea markets. Finding the rarer stuff is really intriguing.

    Thanks for checking out the site and commenting.

  3. […] that hold value for collectors.  Learn more about the rarest and most valuable Madden title at Retro Sports Gamer World. Advertisement GA_googleAddAttr("AdOpt", "1"); GA_googleAddAttr("Origin", "other"); […]

  4. what a fascinating article! I have to admit that I didn’t play Madden at all (spending all that sports gaming time with various NHL Hockey games instead). John Madden Football for the Apple II was around in 1988 (the link is to an out-of-stock listing) and that game is a little more uncommon than the standard Madden Genesis game. (Excepting the Championship edition you detail above.) Cool stuff!

    • I’ve played the Apple II version from ’88. I had high hopes because I was desperate for a good football game for our IIGS or C64. It had lofty ambitions but certainly not like the Genesis games from ’91.

  5. Reblogged this on Recycled Thoughts from a Retro Gamer and commented:
    Sports games were never really my thing (excepting hockey games, that is!), so finding out that John Madden Football had a rare Genesis variant was quite a surprise!

  6. […] Reblogged from Retro Sports Gamer World: […]

  7. I just was in a local thrift store today and picked up a mint copy of this game with no stickers on the case or the cartridge. I only payed $5 hoping I got a good deal on it!

    • Wow – that’s a great deal. Did it come with the manual? Regardless, really nice find for $5!

      • yes manual is in mint condition. i was pretty excited to find it. its on ebay right now!

  8. I found another loose cart of John Madden Football Championship Edition at a flea market this summer. It was scattered across a table with other Genesis carts and was in slightly better shape than the one I already owned. I gave the sellers the $2.00 they were looking for!

  9. with enough prep-time to re-familiarize myself with the game itself and the ’85 bears (it’s been 20 years), i will take on anybody in the world with any other team from this game. this is a standing challenge. i’m dead serious.

  10. Great article, great site. Makes me feel like much less of a nerd knowing other guys are as nerdy as I am!

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