EA Sports managed to give me two more reasons to put off my homework, avoid the gym and generally waste my life. This column wasn’t turned in until way after the deadline because I couldn’t tear myself away from the PS2. Those reasons are simple: Madden 2004 and NCAA Football 2004. They are, quite simply, the greatest football games since Tecmo Bowl for the Nintendo.

NCAA features hundreds of college teams, including some I-AA teams. While Georgetown is not yet featured, it’s only a matter of time, so long as they buck the trend started by the basketball team and actually win a close game or two. The graphics are also better and the control is improved. Just like last year, I continue to spend hours battling my friends in epic contests. And, in one of the new features, the designers added a ranking system that rates the greatness of the game you just played.

My friend Pat and I play the Greatest Game Ever. We play as the colleges from our respective states: I was Minnesota and he was Oklahoma State. This game has everything – an interception returned for a touchdown; a drive that ends with an incomplete pass in the end zone at the end of the half; not one, not two, but three drives that result in touchdowns in the last two minutes, including the tying touchdown with no time remaining. The Gophers pull it out in the end and, lo and behold, it gets crowned the Greatest Game. Ever. It’s the highlight of my day. It may be pathetic – and I’m a loser – but until you’ve been locked in an epic struggle for state pride (OK, so I know Jersey kids will never know this feeling, but the rest should) you can’t judge me.

NCAA is distraction enough, but add in Madden and its cover athlete, Michael Vick, and doing something productive requires the willpower and concentration of a Jesuit. Honestly, I’ve spent more time this year practicing the use of the Playmaker controls than Father Pat did learning the faces of the entire freshman class.

Madden, however, presents a dilemma: Michael Vick. This wouldn’t be a problem if I were a Panthers or a Cowboys fan, but I’m a Vikings fan. I have to choose between keeping Dante Culpepper or trading him for Vick. Now that seems like an easy choice, but there’s something enjoyable about having a QB that is bigger than the tight end and can run over a nose tackle. And Culpepper and Randy Moss are the next great receiver-quarterback tandem. Moss has the potential to be the best receiver besides Jerry Rice. In his first five years, he caught more catches for more yards than any other receiver did over that same period (that includes Rice, who played in the West Coast offense, where the emphasis is on ball control through short passes) and only Rice had more touchdowns.

On the other hand, there’s Vick. The only comparison is ichael Jordan when he was winning titles with the Bulls. And I do mean the real Jordan. Vick can do anything he wants – within the realm of physics.

The only video game football player who’s better is Bo Jackson from Tecmo Bowl. Bo was unstoppable. Vick is almost as good. But the two come from different eras – it’s like comparing Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds.

So, if you see me in class, there can only be one reason: my PS2 broke. The sirens’ call emanating from Madden and NCAA is too much for me to resist.

And if you need me, I’ll be in my room. Stop by, don’t call – the ring throws off my game.

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