By John Gaudiosi
NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - They have yet to play an NFL down, but a trio of 2013 NFL draftees defeated three current league rookies in a virtual showdown between the San Francisco 49ers and Atlanta Falcons before more than 5,000 football fans on Thursday night.
Florida State quarterback E.J. Manuel, Oregon running back Kenjon Barner and Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson are all expected to be part of the 2013 NFL rookie class, but they managed to become the first draftee team to win the Madden Bowl in its 19-year history. The score was 21-7, at the EA Sports event held at the New Orleans Bud Light Hotel.
"We had one of the greatest teams," said Manuel. "We had a great play caller. We had great play makers. It feels good to win."
The annual video game tournament, which kicks off a host of parties and special events leading up to Sunday's Super Bowl XLVII, featured four teams of three football players each playing "Madden NFL 13" on Xbox 360 consoles.
The NFL Draftee team's road to victory started with a narrow win over the Home Town Heroes team, which featured New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, running back Mark Ingram and tight end Jimmy Graham.
"The Madden Bowl is a pretty big deal because, obviously, a lot of guys play," Brees said. "There's some healthy trash talk and you get a big Madden trophy that your name goes on. So a lot of pride is taken in that."
Taking out the reigning Madden Bowl champions -- and Super Bowl XLVI winners -- was no easy feat, said Barner.
"That first game was a little more stressful," he said, referring to the 21-20 contest that came down to the wire. "It really felt like a real game. You just weren't getting hit."
The Young Guns Team featuring Tampa Bay Buccaneers running back Doug Martin, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green and Cleveland Browns running back Trent Richardson eliminated the NFL All-Stars Team, made up of Houston Texans running back Arian Foster, New York Giants wide receiver Victor Cruz and New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, to reach the finals.
"'Madden' is so popular among NFL players," said Martin. "I tell some of my teammates, 'Guys, you play the real game. Why do you want to play the video game?' But they live and breathe it."
Millions of football fans across the country do as well. The market researchers NPD Group said Electronic Arts sold over 5 million copies of "Madden NFL 13" in 2012, second only to Activision's "Call of Duty: Black Ops II." The new edition "Madden NFL 14" will be released in August, marking the 25th anniversary of the series.
Two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning, who, along with other celebrities, is working with NFL Play 60 and Xbox 360 Kinect to get kids to stay active, believes part of the appeal of "Madden" among NFL players is its realism.
"When I was in college, I would get frustrated because I knew what play I was running and I knew the coverage, and then the game would play out and my tight end wouldn't be open," said Manning. But now "the formations and coverages are all accurate. 'Madden' is more realistic."
That realism has allowed "Madden" to successfully predict the winner of seven of the last nine Super Bowls. This year the simulation picked the Ravens over the 49ers, 24-17.
According to EA Sports Football General Manager Cam Weber, the Infinity Engine, which uses physics to replicate how players move and come in contact on the field, helps drive authenticity, as do thousands of hours of NFL films that the EA Tiburon development team watches throughout the season.
(Editing by Chris Michaud and Gunna Dickson)