When a figure can be remembered for multiple ventures, you know they are special. John Madden was one of those figures in history; and he was larger than life.
Madden, the football coach, the broadcaster and the face behind the EA Sports video game, passed away on Tuesday. His passing came three days after Christmas Day, the day that his TV special, All-Madden, premiered.
In his 85 years of life, Madden would leave behind a legacy which revolved around the game of football. His iconic moments would be remembered on and off the football field. To fellow coaches, he is looked at with high regard. A winner and a champion beyond measure, winning over 75% of his games when he was head coach of the Oakland Raiders. An NFL record.
As a broadcaster, he is remembered by fellow journalists as well as viewers for breaking the mold. He made broadcasting fun and allowed viewers to feel as though they were watching NFL games with Madden next to them on the couch. To gamers, his name is familiar to them on the iconic EA Sports video game, Madden Football, a franchise with 44 games and counting (if you count arcade adaptations). Madden was a renaissance man in the world of professional football. In each venture he stepped foot in, he not only was successful, but was regarded as one of the very best.
While Madden was a pro football success, he had humble beginnings throughout his youth.
Growing up in Daly City, California, Madden was a star offensive lineman at local Jefferson High, earning a scholarship to the University of Oregon. After one year with the Ducks, Madden would transfer around numerous schools before settling at Cal-Poly in San Luis Obispo. There, he would not only continue his collegiate football career, but also find his love for teaching, earning a bachelor's and master's degree in education.
Following a career ending knee injury in the NFL, Madden's teaching would be put to use as a coach. In 1960, Madden would be hired as an assistant coach for Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. By 1962, Madden would be promoted to head coach. In 1964, Madden would continue his college career at San Diego State University, this time as a defensive coordinator. In his 3 seasons with the Aztecs, Madden was paired with coach Don Coryell, a legendary football figure known for the creation of the offense, "Air Coryell," a game changing deep passing attack. Madden credited Coryell many times as a major influence for his coaching career.
In 1967, Madden would make his final stop in Oakland as the linebackers coach for the Raiders. After 7 seasons as a collegiate coach, Madden finally had his shot in the NFL.
Joining legendary owner Al Davis, Madden helped the Raiders win the AFL in his inaugural year. Oakland would then play in Super Bowl II, falling to Vince Lombardi's Green Bay Packers, 33-14. After another year as linebackers coach, Madden would be promoted to the head coach in 1969, once again proving his worth in a short amount of time.
At the age of 32, Madden was the league's youngest head coach. Age didn't matter, however, as the Raiders were the league's winningest team, never having a losing season under his watch. During his time with the Raiders, Madden coached and helped develop numerous Hall of Famers. Names like Ken Stabler, Fred Biletnikoff and Dave Casper along with legendary Raider linemen like Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw and Art Shell. Madden's teams were known for their hard-nosed and aggressive ways of playing. Numerous outcasts like Jack Tatum (The Assassin), Ted Hendricks (The Mad Stork), Phil Villapiano (Foo) and Skip Thomas (Dr. Death) found their best brand of football came in their rough style of play.
These players and outcasts each followed Madden's three rules. Rule number 1, Be on time. Rule number 2, Pay Attention. Rule number 3, Play like hell when I tell you to. Rule number 3 was followed to a tee by the men coached by Madden.
Despite numerous winning seasons, Madden never seemed to be able to win a Super Bowl, always falling to great teams in the AFC Championship. From 1969-1975, the Raiders played in five conference championship games, losing in all of them. The Raiders fell to strong teams in Miami and Pittsburgh, each who won multiple Super Bowls in the 1970s. The talented Steelers in particular would defeat Madden's Raiders in the playoffs in 1972, 1974 and 1975.
Madden's coaching career would be remembered for the wacky games his teams were part of in this time. The famed "Immaculate Reception" game, a 1972 playoff loss to Pittsburgh; the "Sea of Hands" game, a 1974 playoff win over Miami; the "Ghost to the Post" game, a 1977 playoff win over Baltimore; and "The Holy Roller" game, a 1978 regular season win over San Diego. I highly recommend watching the endings of each of these games on YouTube. Instant classics.
In 1976, Oakland was finally able to put everything together. Madden's finest team would go 13-1, but an AFC Championship and a Super Bowl still eluded them. Meeting the Pittsburgh Steelers for the third straight year in the conference championship, Madden's team would take the monkey off their backs, dominating in a 24-7 win. Following the game, Madden's players were so happy that they celebrated by taking him underneath a shower head and spraying him with water. Despite the excitement, Madden still proclaimed, "we haven't done anything yet," referring to the last game they still had to win.
If the '76 Raiders were Madden's finest team, Super Bowl XI was Madden's finest moment. Facing the Minnesota Vikings in Pasadena's famed Rose Bowl, the Raiders would dominate 32-14. The game was cemented after Raiders Hall of Fame corner Willie Brown returned an interception 75 yards for a touchdown. John Madden would be lifted up by his team as the clock struck zero, and he would be carried off as a large grin sprung upon his face. His team could finally call themselves champions.
Two years after his Super Bowl win, Madden would announce his retirement from coaching, at the age of 42. Madden cited exhaustion, lack of motivation and a wanting for time with family as the reasoning. In his announcement Madden proclaimed he was retiring for good and would never coach again. In 10 seasons with the Raiders, Madden would be the youngest coach to 100 wins, holding an overall record of 103-32-7, good for a 75% winning percentage (NFL record).
In 1979, Madden was approached by CBS with a chance to announce NFL games. Madden initially declined, as he had little respect for journalists. After some consideration, Madden took the job, realizing that the offer could be off the table in the future.
For the 1979 and 1980 NFL seasons, Madden worked with many notable broadcasters like Vin Scully, Dick Stockton and Bob Costas. Throughout this period, Madden was able to find his voice and really develop into his new career. He also became fully aware of his fear of flying and claustrophobia, declining to fly to games he was supposed to call. Trains would be Madden's main vehicle of transportation for years until The Madden Cruiser was developed, an icon in its own right.
In 1981, the broadcasting move of the century was made. Pat Summerall, a long time play-by-play analyst for CBS and former kicker in the NFL would be paired full time with Madden. The two were different, but worked perfectly together for the next 20 years. In their inaugural year together the pair would call Super Bowl XVI between San Francisco and Cincinnati. It would be the first of eight Super Bowls the two would call together.
For the next 25 years, Madden became larger than life. His iconic voice would become known in every household. Madden and Summerall's style made it seem that the viewer was watching the game and sharing a beer with the two. The telestrator would be made famous by Madden, as he would use the tool to draw over and dissect plays. Often times it would look like a jumbled mess to the casual viewer.
Madden also became a big character in advertising. Many people may remember him running through walls in order to fully promote a product. Throughout this advertising came Madden's revolutionary game, Madden football. The game would bring true 11-on-11 football to gaming consoles all across American homes. When the game was first pitched to him, Madden insisted that the game should represent every position so that it could be a genuine representation of NFL football. Since the game's creation in 1988, over 40 Madden games have been made, making over $7 billion revenue.
Summerall and Madden would continue to call games together throughout the 80s and 90s, transitioning from CBS to Fox in 1994. Their last game called together would be in 2002 during Super Bowl XXXVI, the birth of the Patriots dynasty. After Summerall's retirement, Madden would then join legendary analyst Al Michaels on ABC until 2005, and then NBC until 2009. Madden and Michaels would call three Super Bowls together, Madden's last game coming after Pittsburgh's victory over Arizona in Super Bowl XLIII.
In these final years, Madden achieved ultimate football glory when in 2006 he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. In his speech, he stated: "I believe that the busts talk to each other. I can't wait for that conversation. Vince Lombardi, Reggie White, Walter Payton, all my ex players, we'll be there forever and ever talking about whatever. That's what I believe. That's what I think is going to happen, and no one's ever going to talk me out of that."
Now John Madden, the coach, the broadcaster, the video game creator, is with other football legends having those same conversations he once spoke of. He left behind a strong legacy full of many high achievements many could only dream of. His football mind was unlike any other as he lived and breathed the game.
With the many titles the man held, Madden was once asked what he would want to be remembered as the most. He responded saying he always would want to be remembered as a coach. A true teacher at heart.