In a shocking development, the great John Madden passed away this past Tuesday morning only days after the documentary on the man aired on Fox.
I wrote about him in November 2019, and in celebration of the 90-minute program, I reprinted the column.
I share so many memories of having known him and now they will be etched forever in a special way, now that he is gone.
The introduction to the original column follows, with my thoughts of him expressed more than two years ago:
A 90-minute documentary on John Madden aired on Fox last week and it lived up to its advance billing.
It was titled “All-Madden”, and it chronicled the man, now 85, who jumped from being one of the more successful NFL head coaches into a legendary figure that transcended his role as a television expert-analyst.
He was the best ever, in any sport, and while TV is a subjective business, those who watched him are in agreement.
His reach went beyond talking about football with his long-time partner Pat Summerall.
He instituted the All-Madden team which every player longed to be a member.
His video game still flourishes.
The big question going into every season remains,
“who’s going to be on the cover of the All-Madden game?”
He was special.
His approach was unique and never equaled.
He was one of my closest friends.
I wrote about John in November 2019.
In celebrating the documentary, which will be available beginning January 3rd via streaming, here is a reprint of my column on John Madden.
There are hundreds of expert-analysts on TV in various sports but only one is regarded as the best of all-time.
Whenever his name comes up people say there was none better and they are right on.
Imagine, Madden retired from broadcasting after the 2008 season and no one out there can approach his unique style, entertaining manner of presenting the game of football, and his personality.
He was one of a kind and know him well.
CBS hired the former Super Bowl-winning coach of the Oakland Raiders and while he wasn’t immediately installed on the number one team at the network, he was a hit from the start.
Madden worked with a number of play-by-play announcers when he began, including myself, and I have one lasting memory of one of the few games we worked together.
It was a game in Tampa, and it was not so much the contest on the field, as it was an event that led to a practice he carried for most of his post-coaching career
Looking back, I believe that game involved the last time John Madden ever flew to an assignment.
My recollection is that following our game, Madden took a flight to Houston, en route to his home in Oakland.
When he reached Houston, he vowed never to set foot on an airplane again. John was claustrophobic and hated heights to the extent that he always stayed on a low floor in every hotel he visited.
At first, Madden traveled by train.
Then he figured the best way to get around was by bus.
He had a bus designed for his comforts. A king-size bed, adjacent to another bedroom, a full kitchen with all the trimmings, and several large screens to watch television, and to view videotape featuring teams he would be covering.
He hired two drivers, so they could switch on and off and drive through the night.
He had three headquarters. One was the famed Dakota Apartment in New York City’s west side. He owned that one. And it served as his base whenever he was assigned games in New York, Philadelphia, Washington etc.
If Madden were broadcasting a game involving the Packers or the Bears, for example, you could find him at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Chicago.
He still lives in Pleasanton, California, outside Oakland, and he would go home if he worked games in San Francisco or Los Angeles.
During a period in the 80’s and early 90’s, John and I would speak on the phone almost daily, and visit for lunch or dinner at least once a week, maybe more, when he stayed in New York.
We would talk the NFL, of course, but I will never forget his approach when he spoke on a Monday after a game.
He would ask about my assignment the following week and he would talk about his upcoming contest.
He would declare what the keys to the matchup would be, and would repeat the same idea throughout the week.
Then, on Sunday, the first words out of his mouth would be precisely what he had told me on Monday. by repeating his thoughts daily, he reinforced what his opening comments would be for his game.
It never failed.
When I visited him at his apartment, we would walk to a restaurant, and on the way, passersby would yell his name and shout their hellos.
John was equally as friendly, and return their greetings.
He loved experiencing this feedback, and even in the restaurant, we would sit at the window so those walking by could wave.
This had nothing to do about ego , since I have always believed this man was humble, but he adored the attention and thrived on it.
In preparation for a game, Madden would view tape of the team he would cover. But in addition to looking for the pure football aspects, he would try to notice individual players and how they were different. Some star wide receiver would wear long socks, a linebacker’s jersey was exceptionally tight. A running back’s face mask was different.
In the two hour period before kickoff, Madden would look for unique things. The cameramen, instead of preparing for their assignments when the action started, were on a constant lookout for the unusual.
That’s why there has been no better broadcaster when a game is out of hand and the contest becomes a blow-out.
Madden and Summerall
That’s when John Madden rose to the occasion.
You really got the best of Madden’s humor when the game on the field was not longer an issue.
Two moments stand out.
Once during a Giants-Vikings playoff game, Madden noticed an assistant on the Minnesota sideline with a tray of Gatorade, passing them out to the players. But John saw more. He saw the assistant putting his thumb in every cup as he handed them out.
He used this shot to draw on his telestrator how the thumb was dipping into the drink. It was good use of a technique which normally was used to diagram plays.
Another time, before halftime, he noticed the band that was to perform at intermission, sitting on chairs on the perimeter of the field.
Some were lying down, others had the head-dress of their uniform off, and he had some humorous comment on the preparation of those getting ready for the halftime show.
There were so many examples of how John looked at a game he was covering. And it always involved more than just the game.
John Madden was a teacher. He would repeat things several times during a game. Instead of tiring of hearing the same points, you felt he was reinforcing his analysis. He was always authoritative. He was believable. He was special.
Today, Madden conducts a seminar on Sundays for groups viewing all the games being played. He has at least one sound stage where he resides.
Consider this: Over a decade after he’s left the scene, the most popular video game is the Madden game. Current NFL players fight to be represented, and to be featured.
Kids love it. So do grownups.
The name Madden lives on.
For good reason.