Despite playing full-time in the NFL, Willis McGahee is an avid gamer and he spoke to The Escapist about playing when he was a kid, who is the best digital football player, and how he won the Madden Bowl in 2008.
Willis McGahee rose to fame while playing at the University of Miami, where he was a member of the championship team of 2001 and played in the National Championship game in 2002. After suffering a terrible injury in the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, he eventually entered the NFL with the Buffalo Bills in 2004, rushing for 1,128 yards and 13 touchdowns his rookie season. He was traded to the Baltimore Ravens in 2007, and during this year's playoffs, McGahee led the team in its defeat of the New England Patriots in the Wild Card round before eventually falling to Indianapolis.
But through it all, Willis McGahee is a gamer. "Since I was a kid, I can remember playing Nintendo," he told me.
McGahee is just as skilled with the controller as he is on the field, winning the Madden Bowl in 2008. The Madden Bowl is a tournament of NFL players playing the latest Madden game held on Super Bowl weekend for the last 16 years. Despite not competing this year, McGahee is keeping quiet on his tactics. "I can't give away my secrets!" he said.
McGahee is in the rare position where he can play as himself in Madden. How does the digital version of himself match up? "There is nothing that is the same as the real deal, but I have to say sometimes my rep in Madden is better, but then sometimes the real life version is better! Just depends on what happens that day."
I showed McGahee the video in which Denver Broncos wide receiver Brandon Stokely appeared to use a strategy straight out of playing Madden. Here's what McGahee had to say about Stokely running along the goal line to eat up time:
Brandon Stokley is a great NFL player; he gives his team his all. To be able to do what he did on Madden takes half the skill though. What really counts is how many times a player can do that on the field.
I'm not surprised [that Stokely did it]. I take my real life tactics into the gaming, but once in a while the opposite happens and then it's interesting to see the virtual world coincide with the real world.
After pressing him on the subject, it's clear that the NFL player makes a distinction between what he does on the screen and what he can do on the field. "In real football you're using your whole body, but in video games, you're just using your thumbs," McGahee said. "Obviously, that really changes the dynamic, but it is a great way to practice some strategies in a virtual way."
The love that McGahee has for games goes beyond just football. Among the games he enjoys playing are D.C. vs. Marvel, Uncharted, Halo, Ghostbusters, Wolverine, Red Dead Revolver, Mafia, Max Payne and even Mirror's Edge. Modern Warfare 2 was his favorite game of 2009 because, "the graphics and effects are so realistic, and the game is such a challenge even for an experienced gamer like me."
He also doesn't understand the the flak that videogames get from critics for containing violence and corrupting our youth. "I believe that everything in life is good in moderation," he said. "Parents should censor what they want their children to be exposed to, but I also feel most children can separate fact from fiction."
Finally, I asked Willis McGahee who the best player was in all of the football games he has ever played, to the point where you'd always want to play his team because the digital player was so overpowering. Many people think that the crown would go to Bo Jackson in Super Tecmo Bowl for his ability to zip by defenders with unrealistic ease. But McGahee disagrees.
"Of course I have to vote for myself as the best digital athlete!"