There is an unwritten collection of rules for gentlemen who play video games together. In “Goldeneye 007,” no one respects the sneak who chooses Oddjob as his character. Similarly, when playing “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles,” the player with less health gets to eat the pizza.

During “Street Fighter” and “Mortal Kombat,” it is important to resist the temptation to use the same cheap leg sweep over and over again. Most importantly, when you die playing “Contra” or “Smash Brothers,” you never steal your teammate’s lives.

Sports video games, especially “John Madden’s NFL Football,” carry with them their own unique gentlemen’s agreements. Unless it’s reasonable (read: less than one yard in most situations), don’t go for it on fourth down. Refrain from unnecessary fake punts and field goals, and only try for a two-point conversion or onside kick when an NFL coach might realistically do so himself.

A good example of this is my roommate Rich, a skilled Madden player who has the uncanny ability to block your punt every single time you attempt one. Instead of exploiting this flaw, which was unfortunately overlooked by the game’s creators, Rich lets the game proceed as most NFL games normally would. Contrast this attitude with another of our roommates, Mike, who has been known to go for it on fourth and ten and onsides kicks against girls playing the game for the first time.

Some might shamelessly disagree, but the point is that codes of honor in Madden exist in an attempt to maintain the integrity of the game, and to enable it as closely as possible to mirror an actual NFL football experience.

Sadly, the NFL’s integrity took a bit of a hit recently when one of its dearest darlings, Peyton Manning, performed the adden equivalent of (a third consecutive) unnecessary onsides kick. In case you missed it, after his team’s disappointing loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC’s Divisional Playoffs, Manning was quoted in the post-game press conference saying, “I’m trying to be a good teammate here. . Let’s just say we had some problems with protection.” This effort to be a good teammate was surely made in the same good faith as the guy who “mistakenly” tells his friend who has never played the video game before the wrong buttons.

There is no doubt that Manning possesses football talents far beyond the realm of anything we normal folk can ever conceive of, but his uncanny football acumen and golden right arm should no longer serve as an excuse for his overly inflated ego and childish behavior.

Manning’s linemen missed a few blocks, but considering Steelers’ coach Bill Cowher and his Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau devised a clever scheme which involved sending extra blitzing rushers on almost every pass play, that sort of thing was bound to happen. It was a classic football chess match, and anning’s move should have been to get the ball out of his hands more quickly by hitting the hot route receiver or dumping the ball off to his running back.

Instead, he would frequently spend an extra 20 seconds at the line of scrimmage trying to diagnose the play and often cause his linemen to nervously commit false starts, so before he knew it he found himself facing yet another checkmate.

Not every great quarterback wins an NFL championship – my own football hero, Dan Marino, comes to mind. Never before, however, has there been a great quarterback (Manning) paired with an astoundingly talented running back/wide receiver duo (Edgerrin James and Marvin Harrison), who have played together for a total of seven years and still failed to win even a conference championship. Especially this year, when a talented, opportunistic defense caused many, including myself, to place the 2005 Colts in the conversation for greatest team of all time, it was still not enough to get them past the second round of the playoffs.

At this point, Manning is essentially running the Colts on his own. Not only is he granted autonomy in terms of playcalling, but apparently he is also allowed to overturn the head coach’s decision and waive off the punt team whenever he feels that he has a better idea in mind. And in some respects, that’s crazy, but it’s fine. I’ll be the first to tell you that sports are about results, and Manning did manage to convert a few key first downs.

The problem, however, is that when you take responsibility like that upon your own shoulders, you can’t shrug it off when things don’t go your way. You can’t take the credit for a few good decisions, but still place the blame for the loss on the guys trying their hardest to keep you on your feet.

I’ve never sat down for a game of Madden with Peyton Manning, and the truth is that if he ever reads this column, I probably never will. Madden may be just Madden, but anning’s life bears an eerie similarity to the game. He seems an awful lot like the guy who blames his interceptions on a “sticky controller,” or insists that he really did push the button – but the guy on the screen didn’t do what he was supposed to.

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