I Played “General Manager Mode” in Madden NFL 12—Here’s How I Fared

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I realize the audience for this specific post is tremendously low, but this is something of a journey that I’m quite pleased with. After watching Jon Bois and Kofie Yeboah destroy the NBA with horrible players, I was inspired to do something similar, but without the intentional sabotage. Playing Madden 12 for as long as I have, it finally clicked upon watching the aforementioned video: I like playing football, but I love creating football. I love assembling the teams, creating the scenarios, and doing all I can to improve every position. Think of it like those auto-chess games, where you establish the setting and plan for what’s ahead, then let the AI handle all else. I did just that, only with Madden 12.

For those unaware of football terminology, allow me to explain a nutshell version of what it means to be a General Manager of a team. A General Manager is one that oversees a lot of a specific team’s football operations, as well as plays a large role in drafting, developing, communicating, and dealing with players. The title explains quite a bit; GMs are basically a very powerful, high-up position on a team’s list of executives. In Madden 12, I employed this the best I could: I did basically everything except play the games. I attempted to put my teams in the best position to succeed, then let them go for it. Every game was simulated. I played zero football. I played everything GM. Here’s how the journey went.

Cincinnati Bengals – Positive Mediocrity

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Note: These images are not mine.

Year One was technically Year Two. You see, when one starts a Franchise Mode in the Madden series, they skip everything up until the Preseason. Therefore, one doesn’t get the chance to scout/draft anyone, sign anyone, or whatever else. I didn’t like that, so I simply skipped the first year without doing anything. If I was to be the General Manager, I wanted to have the full experience, which the game wouldn’t provide in the first year. My decision to pick the Bengals wasn’t one I thought very hard about. Playing this game years ago, I had a Bengals franchise at one point, and during my NFL fan infancy, I liked the Bengals. I just chose them for the hell of it. Fond memories.

Another common tendency of new GMs, with exceptions to those who win, is to replace the current Head Coach of the team they’re employed by. At this point, Marvin Lewis was still the coach for the Bengals, but I decided to give him one last shot after the team went 6-10 in 2011 (the starting year). After a 7-9 2012 campaign, I let him go. I replaced him with Jack Del Rio. Why? I always thought Jack Del Rio got the short end of the stick as a head coach in the real-life NFL, especially with the Raiders. 2013 didn’t fare any better or worse, as the team went 7-9 again in his debut season. My heart rate began to increase.

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Here’s a (small) ruleset I made for myself prior to starting this:

  • Three straight losing seasons means being fired from the team. Anything below 3-13 is an automatic firing.
  • Cannot edit players’ ratings (I cheated this very occasionally, but not by huge margins).

With 2012 and 2013 both ending in 7-9, I was a year away from being fired just three years into my first GM gig. Looking at it realistically, what prospects would I have that would make another team want me? a 14-18 record as GM? That’s just ludicrous. There have been bad NFL GM hires, but on some random dude like me who hadn’t done anything? I was very concerned. I needed a winning record. Something. My quarterback, Mr. Andy Dalton, was a 93-94-rated quarterback (max is 99), and I had numerous 90-somethings on the roster. My draft picks, while not all great, were developing into dependable players. I could understand why I wasn’t 0-16 every year, but how much did I have to improve to get over the hump? 2014 would be a make-or-break year.

I made it. The team went 9-7, won the division, and made the playoffs. The team finally had a winning record and was ready to take on the rest of the NFL’s powerhouses. Wild Card Round proved fruitful, as the team won. Unfortunately, they lost in the Divisional Round, yet it was a defeat worth cherishing. I took my team to the playoffs and they won a game. I was proud. They followed it up the next year by going 6-10. God damn it. 2016 was a wild year. The team again went 9-7, and they became a playoff Cinderella story. Every game on the road leading to the Super Bowl, they took down three teams with better records on their home turf, including a 14-2 Patriots team. My Bengals had made the Super Bowl for the first time in franchise history.

They lost.

In 2017, the team went 7-9 yet again. In 2018, they were a league-worst 4-12. I was let go.

Miami Dolphins – Further Ascent

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This image is just ironic.

With this franchise, I’m going to be a tad more general. My memory was more blurred with this franchise as I was more focused on players’ performances and the constant (as I’ll note) quarterback issues that plagued my time in Miami.

2019 onwards, I became the General Manager of the Miami Dolphins, who had had two winning seasons since the time I became GM of the Bengals. So did I, but we’re going to focus more on the fact that I made it to the Super Bowl. My task was to make the Dolphins respectable again, and boy did I do a middling job. But not at first! In my first season with Miami, I went 10-6, my personal best as a GM. Starting in the Divisional Round, my team won, making them one step away from Super Bowl glory. They would not get there, as they lost in the Conference Championship. Even so, it set an immediate precedent that my hiring was a good idea! That’s when, in 2020, the team went 8-8.

The next few years were a back-and-forth seesaw ride. Another winning season, another 1-1 record in the playoffs, then a losing/8-8 season to follow it up. Eventually, in 2022-23 (can’t remember which), I fired the incumbent Head Coach and hired a surefire improvement: John Harbaugh, who randomly was not head coach for many years prior to that season. He was available, and I, liking John Harbaugh for no reason, decided he was my coach. For a while, it turned out to be a pretty good hire.

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To sidetrack the progression just a tad, I found that I enjoy employing former players. This will happen for the rest of the “experiment,” but if I saw a former player of mine from the Bengals while on the Dolphins, I would likely sign them and keep them on the team for however long it felt worth it. You actually see this behavior sometimes in the real-life NFL, where former Head Coaches/GMs will bring in players they have history with to help with the team. That familiarity resonated with me greatly during my time with this.

The Harbaugh-led Dolphins were an annually decent force. While a few 8-8 seasons persisted, he almost never had losing seasons, while keeping Miami as semi-consistent playoff contenders. That being said, despite many appearances, my Dolphins could not make the Super Bowl. Despite year after year of 11-5 or 10-6 records, they just couldn’t reach the doorstep to the biggest game of them all. With the expectations constantly mounted high, the Dolphins posted a 5-11 season (which was shockingly a league-worst) in 2028, my tenth year as the General Manager, and I felt it likely that they would fire me.

My time with the Dolphins was far more profitable an experience for me than with the Bengals. With Miami, I drafted numerous players that would go on to have Hall of Fame careers, with some retiring while I was still working. I carved an identity out of the players I drafted for the team and it seemed to respond well later down the line. The only thing that made things immensely stressful were my quarterbacks, who had a horrible case of the injury bug. I literally had my starting quarterback go down with a season-ending injury in the preseason two years in a row. No matter who I drafted, no matter who I signed, they’d finish the season injured or be injured for a large portion of the season. It’s a testament to how well I managed the rest of the team that they almost never had a losing season, for which I’m immensely proud of. I really wish I could’ve gotten that team a Super Bowl, but it wasn’t meant to be.

San Diego Chargers – Patience is a Virtue

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The San Diego Chargers, a team that had five or six losing seasons in a row prior to 2029, hired me upon the success I had with the Miami Dolphins. It was no longer a case of “Oh, I had a little success here and there,” like my time with the Bengals. I had a track record of improving teams, and my teams won far more than they lost, including the postseason (granted with zero Super Bowls but whatever). It was an easy choice for them, but not so much for me. A few other teams seemed more appealing—Texans, Lions, Titans, but the Chargers felt the most desperate, so I took them under my wing and was ready to get to work immediately.

The turnaround was a quick one. In my first year with the Chargers, they went 9-7—their first winning season in forever—though just missed the playoffs. The following year, they went 9-7 again, this time making the playoffs, and once again my team went 1-1 in the postseason for the billionth time in my career. One thing I didn’t mention with Harbaugh is that he rarely went more than 1-1 in the playoffs under me. He went 2-1 once, but for the rest of the playoff runs, he went 1-1. His career playoff record as a Head Coach was at .500 for a long while.

Then came 2031, the year I will probably remember for the rest of my life. The situation with my team did not make me optimistic. I hired a new Head Coach after the incumbent “retired” (his name literally just disappeared from the game’s memory); I felt pressured into drafting a rookie quarterback in the early rounds as my team had little alternative, but he ended up at just a 79 overall (which is barely starting level); my drafting thus far had become more suspect, and wasn’t as rewarding as my years in Miami. I held the tape for as long as I could, covering every crack in the team as possible. For this particular year, I was restless.

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While browsing for Free Agents prior to the Regular Season, I happened upon a chance encounter: the Chicago Bears released their aging star quarterback, who held a 91 rating. I scooped him up in an instant and made him my starter. While I was there, I also signed the best available kicker (who was also ancient) and a few other would-be starters on the offensive line. Feeling more confident, I simulated the regular season, hoping for the best. 12-3-1. The best regular season record a team of mine had ever posted. Completely floored, I was so excited to see how they fared in the postseason. Divisional Round, they won. I expected as much, history has shown I always win the first match in the postseason. Then came the Conference Championship, the game I always lost. Out of, like, six appearance prior to that year, my teams were 1-5. I made the Super Bowl once with the Bengals, never with the Dolphins. This was my first shot with the Chargers. Letting the game decide my fate, I simulated the game… and won.

My second Super Bowl appearance would come sixteen years after my first. I was on my third team since I started as General Manager in 2012—twenty seasons prior. My team consisted of many borderline Pro Bowl players and a few starters that also played for me in Miami, specifically at outside linebacker, wide receiver, and cornerback. Before I even simulated the Super Bowl, I looked at how far these players had come. How many years they spent toiling at a trophy they couldn’t quite grip, despite numerous chances. The great numbers they put up, the games they impacted, and the value they had to the team year-in and year-out. I was immensely proud. They finally got to taste what it was like to play in the biggest game of them all. Win or lose, they would always be champions to me. With a deep breath, I simulated the Super Bowl, the words “Please Wait” serving as a reminder of how long I had waited for this moment to come again.

And when the simulation ended, the final score was 21-38. The Chargers won. I finally did it. The quarterback I signed prior to the regular season didn’t miss a single game and threw two touchdowns in the Super Bowl. The kicker I signed attempted and made five field goals. The cornerback who played for me in Miami had a few batted passes. All three of them retired following the end of the season, riding off into the sunset as heroes. I thank them for their contributions and their tenacity. We couldn’t have done it without them.

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The image is blurry because I’m crying.

I pondered just ending it there. How could I top that? To have all the pieces come together in the most unexpected of fashions, and to win after waiting so long for another opportunity. I was satisfied. Yet, the fire to win more burned brighter than my desire to leave. Carrying on as usual, the offseason came with some large holes to fill, but I thought I did a decent job. Decent ended up being the appropriate word, as in 2032, the team went 9-7, thanks in part to yet another season where my starting quarterback went down injured early on. Still, it was enough to reach the playoffs, which was surprisingly weak this specific year. The Wild Card match was against an 8-8 team, and the Divisional Game was against a fellow 9-7 team, both of which we defeated. Alas, the Conference Championship Game, where my playoff woes historically punted me in the face, was where the team lost, just short of a second-straight Super Bowl berth. And then things just went haywire.

In 2033, the team went 5-11, the first losing season since joining San Diego. The quarterbacks (both of them, as they had similar overall ratings) did not play well. The offensive line played putridly, giving up 40+ sacks and limiting the effective of the running game as a result. Only defensively did the team have a decent stronghold, but that wasn’t enough to pick up the offense’s slack. It was a dismal season just two years removed from Super Bowl glory. It also had me sitting in the hot seat going into the next season. Thankfully, it wouldn’t get to that point.

2034 was a complete turnaround season. My team’s record from the previous year was flipped, ending at 11-5 and steamrolling into the playoffs in a return to form. I won the Divisional bout, and when faced with the accursed Conference Championship round, I conquered that again, as well. After a two-year absence, my Chargers were back in the Super Bowl. The confetti would fly for a second time for San Diego, as they won their second Super Bowl title in franchise history and within a four-season stretch. After waiting for my teams to bring it all together in Cincinnati and Miami, my San Diego teams have won me not one, but two Super Bowl trophies.

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Pic unrelated, but you should read Yugami-kun regardless.

Following the second title, the quest for a third was well underway. The next year, my team finished with the same record, 11-5, and squeaked through each playoff game until, what do you know, they were in the Super Bowl again! Two years in a row! I couldn’t believe how amazingly lucky I’d been. Deep down, though, I began to feel a manner of complacency. I had accomplished so much, drafted so many good players, and spent a large portion of my time dedicated to the game of football. My time with the Chargers alone is likely HOF-worthy. Going into my third Super Bowl appearance in just five seasons, I was comfortable, not nervous. It was another game. A big one, of course, but it didn’t have the same feeling of elation to it, that even being there had five years prior. Again, I simulated the match-up, and to my surprise, we lost. Not only that, we were destroyed, 24-45. I guess complacency got to the players, too.

That feeling of lethargic satisfaction carried onward to 2036. The team finished 6-10. Super Bowl one year, losing record the next. It was almost fitting that all the luck I had accumulated the years prior would come back to hurt me in my twenty-fifth season as a General Manager. Upon seeing the team struggle, despite having relatively the same roster as the year prior, I felt something I hadn’t prior: hesitance. That feeling of “Here we go again,” partaking in the same format to fix the team and hope for the best the next season, all in the pursuit of Super Bowl glory, which I’d already feasted upon twice. 6-10. That would be it. I saved my franchise and closed out of it, likely for the last time. My story would be that I “resigned” with 25 years of service, four Super Bowl appearances (and two victories), and a handful of Hall of Fame players drafted with numerous other Pro Bowlers. It was fun, just no longer filling.

Overall, I’m glad I did it, and I’ll probably do it again. Maybe with created franchises, though, as I don’t want to tarnish the memories I have with the real life teams too much. The journey to the top and the lengths it took to get there was immensely rewarding and I feel accomplished with what I was able to do. I hope for those still reading that this entertained you in even a fraction of what the actual experience did for me. When it comes down to it, I just love organization and the constant pursuit of perfection. I’m more of a football strategist than a football player.

Thank you for your time. Have a great day.

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