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Jim Pollauf wasn't really expecting to win the whole thing yesterday, especially since he had just purchased the EA Sports Madden Football 2005 video game the night before.
But the 47-year-old salesman from Toledo decided to don his Cleveland Browns jersey, brave the snow, and go to the Main Toledo-Lucas County Public Library in downtown Toledo for Madden Madness 2005.
Sponsored by the library and local businesses, Madden Madness 2005 is an independent local version of a nationwide craze. It brings football fanatics and video game amateurs together in one of PlayStation 2's most popular games.
Sixty-four contestants participated in the daylong event that netted winner James Mann, 24, of Toledo a trip to the Bahamas. His Minnesota Vikings beat 28-year-old Kyle McClure's Philadelphia Eagles, 48-21.
Last year's national EA Sports winner, Eugene Williams of Washington, won a $50,000 prize.
"I think this was great. They should have more," said Mr. Pollauf, whose New England Patriots lost in the first round. "This was actually my first time in the library, too."
Games were set up on four televisions on the second floor and on a 24-foot screen in the McMaster Family Center for Lifelong Learning. The rules were simple - lose a game and you were out.
Guys ranging in age from 10 to 53 swarmed around the televisions, while no women signed up for the games, said Chris Kozak, a library spokesman who helped organize the event.
Damion Powell, 26, of Toledo said he has been playing Madden Football for the past decade. Yesterday he won his first-round game against Jack Melton, 50, using the strategy of picking his team after his opponent. Because Mr. Melton chose the Green Bay Packers, a strong team offensively, Mr. Powell chose the Carolina Panthers, whose record showed them to be a strong defensive team.
Admitting that the video game is a "big boy's baby sitter," Mr. Powell explained that the lure of Madden Football is its realism. "Everything from penalties to the uniforms to the celebrations, EA Sports does an excellent job of taking what's on the field and putting it into the game," he said.
It's the closest thing to playing in the pros without having the talent or the bruises, said Ray Paige, 27, of Rossford. After winning his first round with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Mr. Paige watched other players take to the virtual field. He was particularly interested when 11-year-old Nick Switala of Toledo beat an older opponent. "The kids are the ones you have to worry about," he said only half-joking. "They do their homework, and they do Madden. That's it."
Nick, who entered the competition with his father, Todd, 38, said playing the Madden game, complete with color commentary from ABC's John Madden and Al Michaels, fills in when there are no games on.
Mario Duncan, 33, of Toledo did not have as much luck in his first round. Using a foot control instead of a hand-held joystick, Mr. Duncan, who has cerebral palsy, said he has played video games since he was 8 years old. And as long as his toes can move, he plans to keep on playing.
"You have guys who are not as talented, and this gives them a chance to play," said Mr. Duncan, a motivational speaker and coordinator at the Ability Center of Toledo. "I have a disability, so I can't go out and play easily. Video games, they give me a chance to play."