At this point, I highly doubt my blog is breaking news to anybody, but yesterday, Hall of Fame Head Coach, the only man to broadcast a game for all four major networks and the face of one of the most popular video games of all time, John Madden passed away at the age of 85.
There have been countless deaths of people I never got a chance to meet throughout the history of DOL, but I don't think any impacted me quite like John Madden. He's the most significant sports personality of all time. Football is my favorite sport, and John Madden lived the perfect football life. I've spent unmeasurable hours listening to him and other legends instead of sleeping.
His episode of "A Football Life" needs to get reposted too!
He's one of the game's greatest contributors, and even though he's gone, he'll live on forever in Canton, OH, in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, where he so famously said during his 2006 enshrinement that the busts talk to each other at night once the building is empty (clearly a Toy Story reference by the coolest football guy ever).
If you polled people about how they know John Madden, you'd likely get a different answer depending on their age. To anybody around my parent's age or above (let's call it late 50s +), they were likely introduced to John Madden as the charismatic, demonstrative, and often disheveled coach of the Oakland Raiders.
Coach Madden got his coaching start as his playing days came to a close. An injury in 1958 ended his career as an offensive lineman, but he spent that season watching film and learning the game with Eagles great Norm van Brocklin. He then coached at Allen Hancock College and San Diego State in the 1960s, until Al Davis hired him in 1967 to coach the Raiders linebackers. That year the Raiders lost Super Bowl II to Vince Lombardi's Packers in what ended up being his final game as the Packers head coach. That's how far back Madden's professional football days go.
Two years later, at just 32 years old, Madden became the youngest coach in the American Football League, where his Raiders went 12-1-1, but lost the final AFL Championship Game to the eventual Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. That became a theme of Madden's coaching career. Before winning Super Bowl XI, his Raiders lost 5 AFL/AFC Championship Games to the eventual Super Bowl champs.
Despite all the close calls, Madden's coaching style made him beloved by his players. He loved riding the sled and let his characters be characters. In an era where coaches like Hank Stram wouldn't allow sideburns, Madden was on the other end of the spectrum. He considered his players artists and didn't want to inhibit them with arbitrary rules that don't affect the boxscore.
His Raiders were on both sides of some of the most infamous games in NFL history "The Sea of Hands," "Ghost to the Post," "The Holy Roller," but none changed the course of NFL history quite like the "Immaculate Reception." From what I've watched over the years, I can say with confidence that Madden never got over that one.
In 1977 (1976 season) Madden and the Oakland Raiders finally won the "big one" over another 70s power house that couldn't get the monkey off their back, the Minnesota Vikings. That was Madden's Raiders finest hour, winning 32-14 highlighted by one of the great clips in NFL Films history that I'm sure will be blocked on this site. Old Man Willie!
In 1977 the Raiders lost the AFC Championship to the Denver Broncos. The following year, the Raiders went 9-7 and missed the playoffs for only the 2nd time in his career. After the season ended, the NFL was shocked by the news that at just 42 years old, a burnout John Madden was retiring. In his speech, he said that he was never going to coach again, and I'd imagine people didn't believe it at the time, but it was the truth.
John Madden still holds the highest winning percentage of any coach to coach at least 100 games in NFL history (.750% or .759% without ties). He never had a losing season in Oakland and went 103-32-7 in 10 seasons and 9-7 in the playoffs, highlighted by a victory in Super Bowl XI.
For a slightly younger generation (let's say 40+), their first memories of John Madden are likely as a TV broadcaster and pitchman for brands like Miller Lite, Tinactin, Rent-a-Center, Outback Steakhouse, Verizon, and others.
John Madden spent the bulk of his broadcasting days at CBS (1979-1993) paired with Pat Summerall from 1981-1993, where their contrasting styles paired beautifully like a chocolate-covered pretzel. Madden became a fan favorite for his energetic breakdowns and descriptions using everyday language and his famed telestrator to teach the game to millions of fans. Plus, as a former offensive lineman, he credited the big uglies that made everything on the field possible.
When CBS shockingly lost their rights to broadcast NFL games, Madden became the most sought-after free agent in television history. He'd reunite with Summerall calling games on Fox from 1994-2001. Personally, their final game together is my favorite.
Then from 2002-2008 he worked with Al Michaels at both ABC calling Monday Night Football (2002-05) and NBC calling Sunday Night Football (2006-2008). His final broadcast was Super Bowl XLIII, one of the most thrilling Super Bowls of all time.
His third significant contribution to the game, Madden Football, or simply Madden, might've had the most enormous reach. Everybody knows the "Madden Curse." I've spent more hours of my life playing that game than I've spent reading, having s*x, and working combined. I can remember watching Madden on TV, but this game introduced the Madden name to people around my age. I used to play Madden 2001 on a PS1 with my dad, but for me, Madden 2004, the first football game I got for PS2, changed everything. IMO it's the best sports video game of all time.
John Madden was larger than life and made football fun and accessible for literally millions of people. He made cameos in movies, stopped in thousands of small towns across the nation on his Madden Cruiser, got to see the fabric of our country, and was simply beloved by everybody who ever encountered him. Hell, he even made light beer cool.
Even at 85, the news was crushing. It's sad that he's gone, but talk about a life well-lived. I'm just glad he got to live for another Christmas and see the incredible documentary about his football life that debuted that same day. My thoughts and love are with his wife Virginia, their sons Joe and Michael, and the rest of his family. There will never be another John Madden. His impact will be felt for generations to come. Rest in Peace, coach. The great game of football is better because of you.