In the most anticipated mad final in recent years, Johnson was blessed with his biggest victory of his career.
With 44 seconds remaining in the Madden 23 Ultimate Kickoff final and Johnson watching a 21-17 deficit, he took over on his own 25-yard line. A long completion from virtual Jerome Bettis put him 37 yards from victory, and a completion from Randy Moss moved him to 11 from Leverette. Johnson was little more than a first down after completing a legendary final drive.
It ended in disappointment.
With no time out and 15 seconds remaining, Leverette sent the blitz, forcing Johnson to quickly deliver the ball down the middle to Justin Jefferson. He connected with the star, but was tackled short of the end zone, allowing the clock to expire just 3 yards out. mad glory.
“It was everything you wanted, not just a mad game, but a game of football in general,” mad play-by-play broadcaster Nick Mizesko told me.
“Do you have to bring her?” Johnson said with a reluctant smile. “(Kicks me) right in the chest.”
Johnson’s loss to Leverette meant he would not win his third title belt. Instead, Leverette won the battle of numbers 1 and 2, claiming the $250,000 cash prize and the indisputable bragging rights that come with joining the rare group of mad players who have a trio of belts.
“It’s always fun to play against him because I just have this competitive drive where I don’t want to play against someone who’s not as good,” Johnson said. “I love challenging myself and playing against him – obviously it didn’t end the way I wanted, but you know.”
Wood sees Leverette and Johnson as the LeBron James and Kobe Bryant of madtwo competitors at the top of their game who hope to meet again soon.
“He’s fierce. He likes to talk a lot,” Wood said when describing Johnson. “You hear it through every stream. Their rivalry, even though we haven’t seen Kobe and LeBron in the (NBA) Finals, that’s kind of where it’s at.
“Kobe had no expectations. No one thought he was going to be Michael Jordan or anything. He didn’t have the pressure of LeBron. But Kobe still had a very successful career, one of the greatest players of all time. playing, and I think it’s the same with Noah. No expectations, he’s worked his way to the top and he’s won a lot. He’s not going anywhere no more.
Mizesko agrees with Wood’s assessment, mostly because he sees the same work ethic — the “Mamba Mentality” — that Bryant became famous for.
“His hard work, his mentality, that’s what made (Bryant) great,” Mizesko said. “I think it’s Noah. Noah is always in the lab, always trying to find the best strategies, always trying new combinations. He’s going to outplay just about anyone. That’s his #1 goal. If he loses a tournament, it happens. But if he loses a tournament because he didn’t prepare well enough, it will bother him more than anything.”
Much like James and Bryant did at the height of their careers, Leverette and Johnson share a mutual respect.
“I always tell people if I had to pick someone who I think is right there with me, I would always say Noah,” Leverette said. “I know I did pretty well, but Noah did extremely well too. He’s in the finals, he just won a belt last year, he’s done pretty much every tournament too. … Noah doesn’t can’t play for a week, and he’ll go out there and be the best player. He just has that dog in him, man. He knows how to make it happen.
Time will tell if Johnson will eventually take his place as mad king, a title that currently belongs to Leverette. For perhaps the first time in his life, Johnson has been forced to battle some adversity on the virtual gridiron, which could be just what he needs to reach new heights.
The second half of 2022 has been something of a heartbreaking season for Johnson. The defeat in the Ultimate Kickoff final was the first blow. Not making the last eight of the Ultimate Thanksgiving live event didn’t help, nor did a narrow loss in the LevelNext Collegiate National Championship Finals, ending his title defense.
But Johnson is far from done – and he has already made an impact by proving that a future in esports is within reach for ambitious young gamers, a reality that seemed all but possible just five years ago.
“When you can go to school and you charge your school to play mad, what separates that from (traditional) sports?” Wood said of Johnson. “You’re as valuable as a (traditional) athlete. That’s why I say the sky is the limit. We are just getting started. Esports exchanges, they haven’t been around that long. This is a good sign for the future.
… “They honored you for a halftime, not a basketball game, not softball, not baseball – in a football game. It’s the mecca of college athletics. … For them to honor him there just shows what they see in him and what they see in those esports stars.”
The next checkpoint on Johnson’s road to glory is simple: get back to a live final eight and race for a title. He can expect to meet a number of worthy competitors along the way, but the goal remains the same no matter who he faces on the other side of the screen: to become the best player in the world. .
He can do this by winning another belt – especially the most coveted of them all.
“Madden Bowl is our Super Bowl in Madden,” Johnson said. “That’s the one I’m super locked on because if you win the Madden Bowl, it shows you’re the best player of the year.”
The journey won’t be easy, and after missing the last eight of Madden’s Ultimate Wild Card tournament, he’ll have to keep working for another shot at Madden’s professional glory.
Leverette may be waiting on the other side to meet him again, and he’s far from the only elite player to stand in Johnson’s way. If Johnson finally defeats his familiar foe when it matters most, there’s no telling what his future may bring.
“He wants to finish his career being the best Madden player there has been,” said Rob Johnson. “His focus is, I can tell, that’s what he wants to be.
“(To get there, he has to) keep working hard and accepting his downfalls to come, and keep fighting. And he will get there.”