Former Super Bowl champion Brett Favre was back on the football field wearing his No. 4 jersey and throwing touchdowns in front of a packed crowd of cheering fans. But while his fans from Green Bay, New York and Minnesota will be able to see him in action at 8 p.m. ET August 26 on NBC, he's not making yet another comeback to the NFL.
Favre was on the field in Grant Park in downtown Chicago recently with other NFL greats such as Jerry Rice, Michael Irvin, Deion Sanders, Marcus Allen and Barry Sanders, playing in the annual EA Sports "Madden NFL 13" Pigskin Pro Am flag football game. Favre said he was happy to be back on the gridiron in organized play.
"It's kind of exciting," Favre said. "Obviously, it's different. Some of these guys I've played against and had some battles (with) over the years, but it's always nice to regroup and swap some old stories. It's always fun to play football."
Before the high-scoring affair, which included video game-style gold balls for 12-point scores and special bonuses for touchdowns thrown in certain spots in the end zone, the 11-time Pro Bowler wasn't promising a return to his glory days.
"I wouldn't expect too much, but we've got a lot of pride. No one's an athlete like Deion (Sanders); he's in a class by himself. The rest of us are just trying to show we still have a little bit of skills," he said.
Favre was gunslinging against veteran quarterback Donovan McNabb, who's not ready for retirement yet. The annual event, which also featured celebrities such as Josh Henderson ("Dallas"), Terry Crews ("The Expendables 2"), Jesse Williams ("The Cabin in the Woods") and singer Nick Jonas, helps drum up awareness for what gamers believe is the true start of the new NFL season -- the launch of EA Sports "Madden NFL 13" on August 28.
"I hope EA doesn't judge us off of today," Favre said jokingly. "The kids I work with back at the high school back home, they were giving me a hard time. They said I'm real slow on Madden. I'm hoping to change that today."
Favre played video games back in the day such as Pong and Pac-man, but he says he's seen gaming come a long way since then. And he believes video games such as "Madden" can help aspiring quarterbacks.
"I think it's beneficial," Favre said. "I also think that kids should get out and play, actually get out and do some physical stuff. I think Madden does teach them a lot about the sport. The fan base that video games have reached is amazing. The advancements that they've made are just unbelievable. I think in a lot of ways it's good, as long as the kids will get out and participate in some of the things that they're playing (onscreen)."
Favre was on the cover of "Madden NFL 09" back in 2008, which marked the 20th anniversary of the bestselling game franchise. Favre was originally seen in his Green Bay Packers uniform, but Electronic Arts changed subsequent cover art to reflect his New York Jets uniform after he came out of retirement to play again.
"I wasn't jinxed (being on the cover); I wouldn't say that," said Favre, referring to the "Madden Curse" that has seen more than its fair share of cover athletes suffer injuries or other mishaps the season after they appear. "I consider it a huge honor."
Detroit Lions wide receiver Calvin Johnson graces the cover of the new "Madden NFL 13."
Electronic Arts says it has completely overhauled the game, making the most changes to the franchise in its history. One of the additions is a new online mode that allows players to take former greats all the way to the Hall of Fame. When asked what it's like to remain in the Madden franchise after retirement, Favre replied, "It's nice to know I'm alive and kicking, let's just put it that way."
Another new feature that armchair quarterbacks will be happy with is that the new Madden game allows players to lead the receivers -- just like Favre did during his career. When it comes to technology and video games, Favre has no idea what's next for "Madden NFL 14" or beyond, he said.
"I don't even want to guess," Favre said. "Just when you think you've seen it all, something else comes out. I think that as great as it is now, the advancements that have been made; I just think it's going to grow tremendously."
While Favre is from the original generation of arcade gamers, today's NFL players have grown up with controllers in their hands.
"They play video games all the time," said Hall of Famer Jerry Rice, who was also on the field with Favre. "They play Madden more than they want to practice for the real football game. It just shows that it's a great game and that you can get consumed by it. You've got to be smart, make decisions, and do all of that stuff, but it's an unbelievable game."
One current player, and the coach of one of the two Pigskin Pro Am teams, said that he doesn't play as much any more.
"I used to be really big into Madden, but it's gotten kind of complicated now," the Chicago Bears' Lance Briggs said. "When you're getting skunked by some of your friends, teammates and peers, it's not as fun as it used to be. So I watch and buy the game so that I can find out what my rating is. I'm either cursing out Madden for my rating being too low, or I'm semi-happy because they raised it up a little bit."
With real playbooks featured in Madden and constant input by John Madden himself, the 'x's and o's' of football are being taught to the next generation of gridiron greats.
"What I love about Madden is that it teaches kids like my sons Michael and Elijah how to read man in zone defenses at an early age," Hall of Famer Irvin said. "I'm taking them on the field now and explaining things, and they're like, 'Yeah, I understand, Dad.' I say, 'That's right, from the video game.' It really is amazing how much the game teaches."
Technology is advancing to the point where the new Madden game on Xbox 360 will allow players to design custom calls on their tablet and import them into the game. Kinect owners will also be able to call audibles using their voice.
"In a few years, if the players in the video game aren't speaking and disagreeing with their coaches' calls and things like that, I would be really surprised," Super Bowl Champion Marcus Allen said. "It has advanced that far. You can be a general manager, a coach or a player. You can do just about anything in the game."
And the Madden game still has enough pull to bring former NFL greats back to the field to play the sport they continue to love, even if these days they're only making those amazing highlight reel plays virtually.