Ravens Take on Fans in 2009 Madden Challenge

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Ravens fan John Wood grabbed a controller, looking for the team he would choose to take on his opponent, Baltimore Ravens safety Ed Reed, in NFL video game Madden 2010.

The 15-year-old from Loch Raven High School could have chosen his hometown team, the Ravens. Instead, he picked the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I thought it would intimidate him," Wood later lamented.

Reed shot Wood a look before dishing him a 44-7 beating with the Atlanta Falcons. To top off the win, Reed – of course controlling the safety himself – intercepted his fourth pass of the game and took it to the end zone, lateraling the ball to a teammate along the way.

Much to the chagrin of Wood, Reed replayed the touchdown on slow motion for teammate and 2009 Madden Challenge host, wide receiver Mark Clayton.

"What did you expect?" Clayton said, laughing uproariously. "That's what he does!"

Saturday was full of challenges accepted and mostly won by Reed and Clayton at the inaugural Madden Challenge, an event benefitting the Mark Clayton Foundation, which supports children and families living in foster care.

"You think about events and raising money; everybody has something, like hosting golf tournaments or basketball," Clayton said. "For me, Madden is it. I've been doing this since 1990. This is what I know."

Overall, 256 Madden mavens came to Power Plant Live in Baltimore for their chance to prove their video game prowess. The winner, James Lowe of Baltimore, 27, who goes by the name "Big Game James," received two Super Bowl tickets and a trip for two to Las Vegas.

Clayton had a feeling he was going to get "smashed" by some of the gamers, some of whom spend eight to 10 hours a day playing the video game. The Ravens wideout finished sixth overall.

Clayton is, however, the Ravens' unquestioned Madden team champion. In 2006, he finished second to quarterback Alex Smith of the San Francisco 49ers in the Madden Bowl, a video game tournament amongst NFL players.

He is so good at Madden that EA Sports, the maker of the game, flew Clayton to their headquarters several years ago to get his take on the teams' playbooks and other modifications. They are still often in touch about how to improve the game.

The fifth-year receiver plays Madden like he plays real football. There's no trash talking or showboating. He is intently focused.

High school friend Tori Humber, who flew into Baltimore from Texas for the event, is one of Clayton's long-time Madden adversaries. He and Clayton were a fairly even match back in high school, but Clayton all of a sudden got extremely good, Humber said.

"I don't know if EA gave him tips or super-blitzes or what," Humber said.

Clayton said he plays the game an average of five or six hours a week with a spike during training camp when players are holed up in Westminster, Md., with plenty of free time.

Like any "true" Madden player, Clayton plays with any team in the game. He sometimes uses the Ravens, but his favorite teams to select are the Philadelphia Eagles, because all their receivers have high speed ratings, and the Chicago Bears, because their linebackers are fast.

Clayton wouldn't divulge the one blitz play he constantly uses on defense. He did, however, admit that he likes to air it out.

"I only run like twice a game," he said with a laugh, though he expressed a fondness for using Tennessee Titans running back Chris Johnson.

Clayton claimed to be satisfied with his own character in the game, despite having a rather average rating of 77 out of 100. Clayton's character has an 86 speed grade and an acceleration of 92. What hinders his overall rating is his injury risk, which is a 94. In real life, Clayton is currently trying to recuperate from a hamstring injury.

"Just being in the game is a blessing," Clayton said. "If I had no rating I'd still be in awe."

Participants were so eager to stay on the gaming floor amongst the Ravens' stars – and get another shot at glory – that a buy-back bracket was formed for those who had been bounced early from the tournament.

After being handed a humbling loss, Wood decided not to re-enter but still left in good spirits.

"The score was horrible, but it was fun," he said. "I was actually playing football with Ed Reed, just non-contact."

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