The Great Gridiron in the Sky is Gifted a Legend

BOOM! With crazy-ass Al Davis, getting a great coach and keeping them is pure luck. He rolled 7’s to get John Madden. Madden was first hired as the Raiders Linebacker Coach then two years later moved up to the head coaching position to become – at the time – the youngest head coach ever at 32. He lasted 9 seasons with Al Davis, and took the Raiders to a Super Bowl, winning Super Bowl XI against the hapless Vikings 32-14 (yes the Vikings are hapless. They are the Bills of the NFC: 4 trips and 0 trophies).

During his ten-year head coaching tenure, the Raiders won 76 percent of their games, and overall – in spite of the Raiders collective performances in the playoffs losing six AFL/AFC Championship games – he is the second winningest coach in NFL history in terms of overall winning percentage. I know that’s pretty damn hard to fathom if you are a Bears fan but I’ll do the math for you – in his era the seasons were 14 games. That’s approximately 11 victories a season. Yeah, he was that good at motivating players.

Former Oakland Raiders head coach John Madden waves to the crowd before the AFC-NFC Hall of Fame pre-season game in Canton, Ohio, August 6, 2006. REUTERS/Matt Sullivan/File Photo

But not in motivating my mother. I grew up in Denver and as a Bronco fan, she hated him. Every Bronco-Raider game (including the 1977 AFC Championship game won by the Broncos) she used to yell at the TV “there he is that big fat slob, he’s disgusting! I hate him!” But that was when he was the Raiders head coach. Back in those days we didn’t get sideline reporters interviewing coaches. Hell, we never saw a press conference.

Hating the Raiders for any Bronco fan was pretty normal. Not as much as hating the little Indians of Kansas City, but the Raiders were hated for their swagger to the point that if the Broncos would either be eliminated or exit the playoffs, we’d end up rooting for the men in black. How could we not? They were pirates for fuck’s sake and they had hard-partying men on their team – Kenny ‘the Snake’ Stabler; Dave “Ghost to the Post” Casper; Ted “The Stork” Hendricks; and the man who looked like his side hustle was as a cashier at an all-night liquor store, Fred Biletnikoff.

But we really appreciated Madden once we heard his voice and him gab about the game. His Act II put him behind the mic for color commentary. He took to that job like a Raider takes to pillaging and plundering. His zest for the game aided by his partnership with the velvety voice of Pat Summerall and the creation of the Telestrator (he was the first to use it and made very unique shapes) made for TV football magic. In the 30 years he commentated (and he did it on all 4 major networks – CBS, NBC, ABC and Fox), the man did eight Super Bowls and took home 16 Emmy awards for his unique insight as a football genius, and for his unique insights on the turkey for those legendary turkey leg giveaways to the MVP of the Thanksgiving game.

WHAM! He was, simply put, bigger than life and companies couldn’t get enough of him. Over his broadcasting career, he pitched Ace Hardware, Outback Steakhouse, Verizon, Rent-A-Center, Miller, Lite, Toyota, Sirius Satellite Radio and Tinactin.

He hosted Saturday Night Live. He appeared on The Simpsons. He made a career for Frank Caliendo. He was a quote machine, some enlightening, some nonsensical.

“The fewer rules a coach has, the fewer rules there are for players to break.”

“If you see a defensive team with dirt on their backs they’ve had a bad day.”

“The road to Easy Street goes through the sewer.”

“Don’t worry about the horse being blind, just load the wagon.”

“It takes about three times as long to explain to someone why you won’t give them an autograph as it does to actually give them an autograph.”

He became a football celebrity in his own right just by being himself. Colorful, loud, funny, larger than life, John Madden had the ability to make Bronco fans – hell, fans of any team – smile regardless where he had come from or what was going on during the game. His appreciation for the players via his All-Madden team was fantastic.

To add more to his quirkiness, he traveled by bus from game-to-game – the Maddencruiser to be exact. He hated planes and hated heights. Bus traveling became a celebration so much Outback Steakhouse became the sponsor of the Maddencruiser.

What do you do for Act III while still in Act II? Madden was just out of coaching and teaching an extension class for football fans at the University of California and was showing them game films. His thought was to write a textbook, but Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins came to him about making it a computer game. Thus, Madden NFL was born. Madden’s thought was, and he was right, this game was a “way for people to learn the game by participating at a fairly sophisticated level.” Madden NFL has become so popular there are people playing it who have no idea about John Madden as coach or commentator. Even the revered Washington Post’s headline touts it in their obit headline “John Madden, NFL Hall of Famer and video game icon, dies at 85.”

BOOM! WHAM! Now you’re gone. Farewell John Madden.

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