With the NFL's biggest game of the season comes the end of a long fall and winter of excitement and, largely, disappointment for 31 teams other than the one that wins it all. Then, to the joy of the spouses of some, the offseason cometh.
Whether or not you follow the NFL obsessively, there are plenty of other ways to exorcise your football demons and get your fix on virtually, be it on your phone, PC or game console. For fans of downtrodden teams like some of us, it's the only way to ease the pain. Our three favorite ways:
PC: Quick Hit Football
If Madden Football is Josh Cribbs juking on a kick return, Quick Hit is John Madden relaxing on a giant leather sofa. This completely free armchair-quarterbacking sim lets you create your own team and logo and call plays head-to-head against other live opponents. The actual players can't be controlled in your game--you call plays only, so while it takes some clever change-up thinking, most of the experience transpires as casually and passively as real football itself. Long-term playing nets team power-ups, strength upgrades and the ability to add one of a small handful of random NFL superstars. It's a fun way to pass more than a few Sunday afternoons on the long road back to next September, and costs you nothing except the time spent sitting through ads between plays--although we'd gladly pay a few bucks for an ad-free iPhone/iPod/iPad version should they ever make one (hint hint).
Console: Madden Ultimate Team (PS3, 360)
Madden Football is always a no-brainer for football simulation, but a new addictive wrinkle adds a new way to play. Ultimate Team generates random player cards that comprise your NFL squad: more playing (or, for the impatient, micro-purchases) unlock coins to buy new and better packs of player cards, turning an NFL season into a harder-hitting version of Pokemon. While the actual games still play just like Madden, the team management and online player rankings--and the auctioning of rare cards--could be perfect for an OCD sports nut, and another way to slice the infinite pie that is the Madden NFL franchise. We advise not spending a dime on any of the "freemium" booster packs: Ultimate Team is a free upgrade to Madden 10, and with enough games under your belt, you'll earn coins slowly but surely. After all, it builds patience.
Phone: LED Football 2 (iPhone/iPod Touch)
The iPhone and iPod Touch have a number of surprisingly decent handheld football games, including Madden and NFL 2010. None, however, recaptures youth like LED Football 2. A complete recreation of the Mattel handheld games from the very early 1980s, the beeping minimalism of this lovingly crafted simulacrum is like the electronic version of finger football. You need not know a single thing about actual football, hence making this a more party-friendly icebreaker than ol' Madden. All you have to do is tap to run or pass, and watch the glowing red dots go. The virtual buttons even virtually wear down with extended play, although thankfully that can be reset.
Extra point: Madden 10 for PSP
Yes, we said three, but what the heck. It's a boring pick, but for those who haven't tried it, Madden 10 for the PSP simply blows away any other handheld football options. Closest in feel to Madden for the PS2, the game's loading speed and response time has been improved in recent iterations, plus there's a franchise mode.