In a football life like no other, the late John Madden was a giant of a man. Massive in his physicality, personality and popularity. Massive in his domination of every platform he walked on, be it coaching or broadcasting or gaming or pitching products on commercials. He was both an everyman, and one of a kind.

And when Madden died Tuesday at age 85, we can take measure and view him as the last of his kind. The way he looked. The way he talked. His style, his demeanor, his intelligence and the energy that surged from his being.

As New England coach Bill Belichick observed in a recent Fox Sports documentary on Madden’s life: “First of all, when you look at John, you don’t mistake him for anybody else. You can see this guy a mile away — from the front, the side, the back. He just had a very unique profile.”

Indeed. There was one John Madden, a singular presence. And there will never be another. Madden filled vast spaces, and you couldn’t miss him: A former offensive lineman with the brownish-reddish muss of hair, the beefy forearms, the plump cheeks, the smiling eyes and a voice that conveyed an endless sense of wonder.

Madden was a humble man who understood – every day – just how much he’d been blessed. And he wanted to share those blessings with anyone that encountered him. Maybe that’s why he was so nice to people.

Madden was your gregarious next-door neighbor, flipping the burgers, filling the backyard with smoke from the grill and the jolly laughter from his belly. He was the guy on the next barstool, telling funny and fascinating stories. He was the football buddy that you wanted to hang with – more than anyone else – on NFL game day.

You wanted to hear the “Boom” and “Doink” and the “Whap” and his colorful expressions. There was a touch of Yogi Berra in Madden, like the time he proclaimed, “Hey, the offensive linemen are the biggest guys on the field. They’re bigger than everybody else, and that’s what makes them the biggest guys on the field.”

His enthusiasm raised your enthusiasm. His excitement raised your excitement. His love of football made you love football more than you did before. And maybe, just maybe, you loved it a little less after Madden retired from broadcasting.

Madden was on your TV set – and therefore your home – every Thanksgiving, handing out the Turducken and the sides and sharing the warmth and joy of the day. On this great American holiday, Big John was always your favorite guest.

Madden stopped flying because of claustrophobia, and tried to travel by train for a while – but that didn’t help much. He still felt boxed in. So to reach the destination of his next game broadcast, he bought Dolly Parton’s former tour bus and made it his own.

Perfect. Instead of flying above and over America, the bus put him on the ground, with the people, and that only strengthened a unique bond that no broadcaster has fostered before or after.

The Madden Cruiser became a movable tourist attraction, a moveable feast, rolling through every region of the map. It was a big deal when the huge bus pulled into your town – or into the parking lot of an NFL-team practice facility.

It was a coast-to-coast journey lined with diners and gas stations and tales from the past. The itinerary was highlighted by the countless, unplanned meet-and-greets with a nation of adoring fans … people that thought they knew him, and knew him well. And they did – even when meeting him for the first time.

Madded talked to you from a stadium, broadcasting from a booth high above the field – but he never talked down to you. He could explain football in a simple way that was easy to understand, and never turned it into a lecture at an analytics conference. He made the Telestrator famous, but instead of sketching complex diagrams to show off, intelligence, he’d catch your attention by writing in swirls and circles and squiggly lines – this real-life animated figure on the mic, educating through football cartoons that made us laugh while learning a lot about the game.

Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman Howie Long had an interesting perspective on Madden’s influence.

“When CBS lost the (NFL) package and Fox got football, it was basically a blank sheet of paper,” Long said on Green Line, the podcast done by his son, the former St. Louis Ram Chris Long. “And it was (known as) Fox Sport. At that point, what was Fox famous for? It was the Simpsons, and cartoons. And what John brought was instant credibility from a football standpoint to Fox Sport. And I think John redefined the way games are done, and the way pregame shows were done.”

Madden’s success was incredible, and that’s no hype.


As head coach of the Oakland Raiders from 1969 through 1978, Madden compiled the best winning percentage in NFL history (.759) among those that had at least 100 games during their head-coach careers. Madden reached 100 career wins faster than any coach in league history, led the Raiders to the playoffs eight times in 10 years, competed in seven AFC Championship games, and won the Super Bowl at the end of the 1976 season.

Madden was only 32 when Raiders owner Al Davis made him the head coach – then the youngest HC in league history. That’s more reaffirmation of Madden’s special coaching career.

In Madden’s regular-season matchups against 10 future Hall of Fame coaches from his era, his record was an excellent 36-16-2 (.685). Madden’s postseason record (9-7) wasn’t as luminous, but the challenge isn’t supposed to be easy when you’re going against Chuck Noll’s Pittsburgh Steelers or Don Shula’s Miami Dolphins. Five of Madden’s first six losses in the postseason came against teams that proceeded to win the Super Bowl.

The players were loyal to Madden, who had three rules: (1) Be on time, (2) Pay attention and (3) Play like hell when I tell you to.

He let them be themselves, with their eccentric ways, the outlaw image, the cavorting at night, the grungy looks – with the beards, mustaches and flowing locks.

Raiders players affectionately called Madden “Pinky.” Why? Because “you could always tell he was mad when his face got red,” Hall of Fame linebacker Ted Hendricks once said.

There’s another thing we should mention. Madden was Oakland’s coach for some of the most unusual, wacky and famous games in NFL history, which made his career even more notable and important. If you aren’t familiar with these games, Google them.

  • The Heidi Bowl
  • The Holy Roller
  • The Immaculate Reception
  • The Ghost to the Post
  • The Sea of Hands

(And add the George Blanda games to the list.)

When the Raiders routed the Minnesota Vikings for Madden’s only Super Bowl, the players carried the hefty coach off the field in celebration … well, sort of. They could only go so far.

“I was told it took like five or six guys to lift me up, then they dropped me,” Madden once recalled. “But that’s OK, because that was me and that was them. You carry him off for a while — boom! — you dump him on the ground. It was the happiest moment of my life.”

After a curiously long waiting period, Madden was voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. I was proud to be a member of the selection committee that voted him in.


Madden made his debut as a game analyst and commentator with CBS in 1979. His boisterous, spontaneous style and hilarious personality was a popular change from the usual blandness in the booth. Madden won 16 Emmy awards, and to this day is the only broadcaster to have worked the Super Bowl game for four different networks. How valuable was Madden? As part of landing NFL rights in a bidding battle with CBS, Fox signed a four-year contract for $32 million.

Yes, that was more than any player was making at the time. But Madden was worth every dollar. How could Fox launch the NFL showcase without the No. 1 broadcast team of Pat Summerall and Madden? The duo was a substantial part of the entertainment. And Madden made a profound historical impact on how NFL games are presented. When Madden moved into the booth it evoked memories of the early seasons of the rollicking “Monday Night Football” vehicle.

Only he was authentic.

Unlike the early MNF crews, who soured into cynicism over time, Madden loved what he was doing, and truly enjoyed the colleagues he worked with. It took a long time for someone to shake up NFL broadcasting, and then Madden came along. His force of personality became a cult of personality.

“John was different from the conventional view of what a broadcaster was supposed to sound like, and look like,” Howie Long said. “(Before Madden) it was more traditional and straightforward. There wasn’t a lot of personality. There wasn’t a lot of humor. It was very bland and straightforward in calling the game.

“John came in and he might have had a stain on his shirt from a hot dog … he was like “I’m going to do this broadcast thing and I’m gonna talk about big fat offensive linemen and look at the rear end on that guy and go “boom” and all that stuff.

“He didn’t start at the top and he worked his way up and very quickly John redefined the way game broadcasts were done. And you knew that when John came to town, and if you were a player, when John came to town it was The Game. It was the most watched game. And when John had a conversation with you, whatever he said was significant to you. Just a brilliant guy. A great coach. Obviously an incredible personality, a visionary on how to broadcast the game.”


All you need to do is ask this question: “Hey, do you wanna play some Madden?” And chances are people of multiple generations will instantly know what you’re talking about. And many will say, “yes, let’s play Madden.”

Those of us who are 50+ years old are familiar with Madden’s coaching prowess and his famous Raiders teams stocked with colorful characters.

That generation – and a new generation – grew up watching Madden on TV, and his popularity reached a higher scale and it had little to do with his coaching career.

The youngest generations probably weren’t old enough to watch Madden’s games on Fox or NBC. But they know all about playing Madden’s game on the xBox.

“I would sit in my room for hours, playing Madden ‘94, dreaming about the NFL,” tweeted Greg Olsen, a good tight end who played 14 NFL seasons before retiring earlier this year. “John Madden voiced countless childhood memories and helped cultivate my love of football. Now I make new memories with my boys playing Madden. I never met John Madden. But I feel like I knew him.”

The “John Madden Football” video–game enterprise debuted in 1988. According to the Wall Street Journal, 130 million copies of the game have been sold through 2020. And the 2021 Madden is No. 1 in sales this year. Needless to say, it’s one of the most popular and best-selling sports games of all time. It is beloved by a whole generation of kids that only know Madden through the game. And they like him just as much as those of us who have great appreciation for his coaching and broadcasting.


Madden mastered another medium: TV commercials. A partial list of his notable endorsements would include Ace Hardware, Miller Lite, tough-actin Tinactin, Outback steakhouse, and Rent-a-Center.

Madden’s wide popularity in the culture led to him hosting Saturday Night Live, guesting on The Simpsons, appearing in music videos by Paul Simon and U2, and a best-seller autobiography.

And don’t forget the All-Madden Team.

When players were named All-Madden, by Madden, the honor was just as prestigious as being named All-Pro. And perhaps preferable to be chosen All-Pro. That was an indication of the respect he commanded in the game.

As NBA Golden State Warrior Draymond Green tweeted Tuesday night: “RIP to the legend Coach John Madden! I never heard of ALL-PRO teams during my childhood. It was all about the All Madden team!!”

In the Hall of Fame selection meeting that put Madden into the Hall of Fame, many voters stood and spoke on his behalf. A significant point of emphasis was Madden’s overall influence in the NFL over several decades.

He was the coach with the No. 1 winning percentage of all time. He was the broadcaster with shelves full of Emmys. His distinctive voice, charming mannerisms, and hulking presence attracted an ever-expanding audience, drawing more viewers to NFL games. He was the developer of the nation’s most popular sports game that appealed to kids who in turn became NFL fans at a young age.

I sincerely believe that Madden had the greatest, all-encompassing career in league history. There were better coaches who won more Super Bowls — but Madden’s career and success and in enhancing all things football didn’t end when he stopped coaching at age 42. He kept going for 43 more years.

There are many sensational players that stand among the greatest of all time – but in retirement, they weren’t able to influence the league the way Madden did for decades. When they stopped playing, they became statues that we honored, and heroes that gave us a chance to relieve glories and precious memories.  Madden? He kept going, doing his part to make the NFL the powerhouse of all professional sports leagues. And by sharing his good cheer in a number of ways.

Retired superstars and retired coaching legends couldn’t give young and impressionable sports fans a reason to become devoted NFL fans. No. They didn’t produce the Madden NFL game.

No individual grew the popularity of the game as much as Madden did. No individual used the power and influence of multiple high-profile platforms to elevate the NFL in the cultural zeitgeist.

Three NFL commissioners regularly called him for advice on important matters. NFL coaches from several eras will tell you that Madden always returned their calls when they sought counsel for handling tough situations. Athletes from other sports played his video game and loved Madden as much as football people loved Madden.

After his retirement from broadcasting, Madden was asked to assist the NFL office at a time when the league needed to address the issue of player safety. Madden was pumped by the assignment — because player safety was an important issue to Madden. (He was forever haunted and troubled after being on the Oakland sideline, coaching, when Raider safety Jack Tatum left Patriots wide receiver Darryl Stingley paralyzed with a legal but unnecessarily vicious hit.) Madden quietly pressed for changes that would reduce head injuries and gratuitous, violent hits on quarterbacks. So there you go — an extension of Madden’s lifelong impact on this league.

The tributes for Madden may break Twitter today.

The Madden Cruiser took the NFL on a ride, took its players on a ride, and the fans merrily tagged along as every positive indicator concerning the sport went higher and higher.

In that context, I laugh at the overused term “Influencer” in the modern vernacular. Hell, Madden was the most prominent “Influencer” in sports in America — right there with Michael Jordan — long before social media came along. And he was still very much influential on the day he died. And his influence still will be there after his passing from this earth.

Madden – the biggest wheel of them all – ended his journey on Tuesday, but he’ll never be silent.

As Madden said during his classic Hall of Fame induction speech: the busts of the Hall of Famers in Canton have eternal conversations.

“I think over in the Hall of Fame, during the day, the people go through and look at everything,” Madden said. “And then at night, there’s a time when they all leave. The fans and the visitors leave the Hall of Fame. And then there’s just the workers, and the workers start to leave. And then it just gets down to one person. And that person turns out the lights and locks the door.”

And then, when it’s dark and still and quiet …

“I believe that the busts talk to each other,” Madden said. “We’ll be talking forever and ever and ever. And that’s what I believe. That’s what I think is going to happen, and no one is ever gonna talk me out of that.”

Thanks for reading …


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