This is the article that I have dreaded writing for years because it means that the inevitable has happened; John Madden has passed away at the age of 85.
As the news broke on Tuesday night, fans all across the league were hit with a dagger in the heart. Madden was an icon for years in professional football. Heck, John Madden was football. The Packer fans of the 90s were especially fond of Madden, having heard him call many games for the Packers in that decade.
Madden first crossed paths with the Packers in Super Bowl II as he coached against his hero, Vince Lombardi. When Madden recalls that game, his eyes light up as if he were coaching in it all again;
“…I glance across the sideline, and I’m looking at Vince Lombardi..” is how he put it. Madden was especially fond of Lombardi after hearing him speak at at clinic over Lombardi’s staple play, the power sweep:
“I went there cocky, thinking I knew everything there was to know about football, and he spent 8 hours talking about this one play. I realized then that I actually knew nothing about football.”
Madden went on to be one of the greatest coaches to ever grace the sidelines in professional football. Over his 10 year career, Madden ended with an impressive record of 103-32-7, a winning percentage of .759, and a Super Bowl win over the Minnesota Vikings. He stated that he left football due to stomach ulcers as well as the incredible stress that goes along with coaching a team like he did.
Following his coaching career, Madden joined CBS as a broadcaster which turned out to be another extremely successful career for him. Many of us, myself included, remember hearing Madden’s voice fill our living rooms every Sunday afternoon. His voice was synonymous with football.
“Boom! Whap! Doink!”
John worked with so many incredible announcers, but none like Pat Summerall. John and Pat were the guys who you let in to your living room every Sunday afternoon. There are some duos that are great, but these two were the best.
Madden and Summerall even changed the way that America celebrated Thanksgiving. Madden lived for Thanksgiving. Many television shots would show him carving up is infamous turducken or six-legged turkey. John would love to present these to the players of the game soon after the final whistle.
There are so many memories of him calling notorious Packer games, including Super Bowl XXXI. The game which resonates with me so clearly is when Madden joined the Monday Night crew and teamed up with Al Michaels. The two called the game following the death of Brett Favre’s father, Irv. It was only fitting to have him be apart of that moment.
Madden had a way about using his infamous telestrator to draw on players and teach the game of football. The thing that made Madden so unique is that he could teach the game to anybody. He had such a special way in making football understandable for every fan. He didn’t have to use terms and language that made the game foreign. As many people so frequently describe his broadcasting style, “It felt like he was sitting on the coach beside you, talking about the game.”
That “down to earth” style is how Madden operated every single day. One thing that made Madden famous was his love for taking the train or bus to every game he broadcasted, due to his fear of flying. There are many stories of Madden talking football with train passengers in the dining car on his way to a game, or when he would purposely have his bus stop in the smallest towns possible because “they have the best people and the best food.”
There was a famous story about Madden having his bus stop in Beaver Creek, Nebraska so he could use a payphone. Once stopped, as Madden recalls, the “whole town” came out to see him. He told about people bringing him rhubarb pie, torts, and all sort of baked goods. He even received a key to the city. That was just John. A humble, down to earth guy. Although he was loved and adored by football fans worldwide, he would take time out of his cross country trips to NFL games to talk with a butcher, farmer, carpenter, steel worker, and janitor. He wanted to see life through their perspective.
One of Madden’s most memorable moments came when he was inducted in to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. You could see the smile on his face for months. The pure joy, love and enthusiasm that John had for football resonated everywhere he went. It was infectious. If there was anyone who deserved to be in the Hall of Fame, it was Madden. He easily could have went in on the accolades of any of his football careers.
What really summed up that day, to me, was the introduction given by the late great Al Davis
I would like to echo the words of Al Davis…
Let’s sit around our television sets one last time. One more time, let’s turn on our favorite game and see you so vividly drawing up plays, teaching us the game we all love. Let’s hear about your love and passion for the game of football, highlighting your favorite players, who usually are the unnoticed offensive lineman.
Let’s turn on our video game consoles and play our favorite game of Madden, the game which so easily captured the hearts of many football fans.
Let’s watch those old Oakland Raider games and see you storming on the sidelines. Watching your Raider players hoist you up on their shoulders with a grin from ear-to-ear.
Let’s see you in one more commercial in typical Madden fashion; bursting through signs while you rave about how “Miller is the beer that doesn’t fill you up!”
Let’s treat each other with respect and dignity the way you did for your entire career.
That’s just the Madden way.