In essentially the most anticipated Madden last lately, Johnson had an opportunity to attain his biggest victory of his profession.
With 44 seconds remaining within the Madden 23 Final Kickoff last and Johnson looking at a 21-17 deficit, he took over at his personal 25-yard line. An extended completion to the digital Jerome Bettis put him 37 yards away from victory, and a completion to Randy Moss moved him to Leverette’s 11. Johnson was just a little greater than a primary down from finishing a legendary last drive.
It resulted in disappointment.
With no timeouts and 15 seconds remaining, Leverette despatched the blitz, forcing Johnson to rapidly ship the ball over the center to Justin Jefferson. He related with the star, however was tackled in need of the tip zone, permitting the clock to run out simply 3 yards from Madden glory.
“It was all the things you needed in not only a Madden sport, however a soccer sport normally,” Madden play-by-play broadcaster Nick Mizesko instructed me.
“You gotta convey it up?” Johnson mentioned with a begrudging smile. “(Hits me) proper within the chest.”
Johnson’s loss to Leverette meant he would not take dwelling his third title belt. As an alternative, Leverette gained the battle of Nos. 1 and a couple of, claiming the $250,000 money prize and the indeniable bragging rights that include becoming a member of the uncommon group of Madden gamers who personal a trio of belts.
“It is at all times enjoyable enjoying in opposition to him as a result of I simply have that aggressive drive the place I do not need to play in opposition to somebody that is not nearly as good,” Johnson mentioned. “I simply love difficult myself and enjoying in opposition to him — clearly, it did not finish the best way I needed it to finish, however you recognize.”
Wooden sees Leverette and Johnson because the LeBron James and Kobe Bryant of Madden, two rivals on the high of their sport with the expectation they will meet once more earlier than lengthy.
“He is fierce. He likes to speak so much,” Wooden mentioned when describing Johnson. “You hear him speaking via all streams. Their rivalry, regardless that we did not see Kobe and LeBron within the (NBA) Finals, that is type of the place it’s.
“Kobe did not have expectations popping out. No one thought he was going to be Michael Jordan or something popping out. He did not have the stress LeBron had. However Kobe nonetheless had a really profitable profession, one of many biggest gamers to ever play, and I believe that is the identical factor with Noah. No expectations, clawed his solution to the highest and he is gained so much. He isn’t going anyplace, both.”
Mizesko agrees with Wooden’s evaluation, primarily as a result of he sees the identical work ethic — the “Mamba Mentality” — for which Bryant grew to become well-known.
“His arduous work, his mentality, that is what made (Bryant) nice,” Mizesko mentioned. “I believe that is Noah. Noah is at all times within the lab, at all times looking for one of the best methods, at all times attempting out new mixtures. He’ll outwork nearly anyone on the market. That is his No. 1 aim. If he loses a match, that occurs. But when he loses a match as a result of he did not put together effectively sufficient, that is going to trouble him greater than something.”
Very like James and Bryant did on the peak of their profession arcs, Leverette and Johnson share mutual respect for each other.
“I at all times inform individuals if I had to decide on anyone that I believe is up there with me, I might at all times say Noah,” Leverette mentioned. “I do know I’ve finished fairly effectively, however Noah’s finished extraordinarily effectively, too. He is within the finals, he simply gained a belt final 12 months, he is making just about each tourney as effectively. … Noah cannot play for every week, and he’ll go on the market and be the highest participant. He simply has that canine in him, man. He is aware of how you can get it finished.”
Time will inform at as to if Johnson finally ends up seizing his place because the Madden king, a title that presently belongs to Leverette. For maybe the primary time in his life, Johnson has been pressured to battle via some adversity on the digital gridiron, which is perhaps precisely what he wants to succeed in new heights.
The second half of 2022 was one thing of a season of heartbreak for Johnson. The defeat within the Final Kickoff last was the primary blow. Failing to qualify for the Final Thanksgiving live-event last eight did not assist, nor did a slim loss in the LevelNext collegiate nationwide championship last, ending his title protection.
However Johnson is much from completed — and he is already made a mark by proving a future in esports is attainable for youthful aspirational avid gamers, a actuality that appeared something however potential even 5 years in the past.
“When you’ll be able to go to highschool and also you’re getting your faculty paid for for taking part in Madden, what’s separating that from (conventional) sports activities?” Wooden mentioned of Johnson. “You might be as priceless as a (conventional) athlete is. That is why I say the sky is the restrict. We’re simply getting began. Esports scholarships, they haven’t been round that lengthy. That may be a good signal for the longer term.
… “They honored you throughout a halftime of not a basketball sport, not a softball, not a baseball — at a soccer sport. That is the mecca of school athletics. … For them to honor him there, that simply exhibits what they see in him and what they see in these esports stars.”
The subsequent checkpoint on Johnson’s highway to glory is easy: Return to a live-event last eight and make a run to a title. He can anticipate to satisfy various worthy rivals alongside the best way, however the aim stays the identical, no matter who he is dealing with on the opposite aspect of the display: Grow to be one of the best participant on the earth.
He can achieve this by successful one other belt — particularly essentially the most coveted considered one of all.
“Madden Bowl is our Tremendous Bowl in Madden,” Johnson mentioned. “That is the one I am tremendous locked in on, as a result of in the event you win Madden Bowl, it exhibits that you are the finest participant that 12 months.”
The journey will not be simple, and after falling in need of Madden’s Final Wild Card match last eight, he’ll must preserve working towards one other probability at skilled Madden glory.
Leverette simply is perhaps ready on the opposite aspect to satisfy him as soon as once more, and he is removed from the one elite participant standing in Johnson’s method. If Johnson lastly defeats his acquainted nemesis when it issues most, there isn’t any telling what his future could convey.
“He desires to finish his profession as being one of the best Madden participant that there was,” Rob Johnson mentioned. “His aim is, I can inform, that is what he desires to be.
“(So as to get there, he should) frequently work arduous and settle for his downfalls which can be going to come back, and proceed to attempt. And he’ll make it.”