The death of an Icon: John Madden The Enlightened Spartan: The death of an Icon: John Madden

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

The death of an Icon: John Madden

 Coach John Madden. The GOAT – Greatest of All Time.

I loved this roly-poly Teddy Bear of a coach. John Madden, R.I.P. He was the greatest of all time.

Today was supposed to be the ES Preview for the Peach Bowl matchup vs the Pittsburgh Panthers.  Instead, its been interrupted by devastating news. 

Rarely has the ES cried over the death of any celebrity.  Johnny Cash was one.  But, this was the big one.  John Madden has passed on. 

No one person has ever had such an instrumental impact in my love for football than Coach Madden.  As a little tike, I first was exposed to football attending a Michigan State -Ohio State stint in 1975 at Spartan Stadium (OSU won, 21-0).  I began to love the spectacle. Soon after, I moved to Northern California, as an Air Force brat, just about 30 miles outside of Oakland.  My mom attended the University of California for her masters degree, and my first ever season tickets were to the lean years of Joe Kapp and the Cal Golden Bears (1975 – 1982).  

But, what captured my love was not Cal.  It was the misfit ragtag mean-as-hell team of the Oakland Raiders, with its iconic fun, roly-poly heavy, very humorous, and talented coach John Madden.  It took all of my first year of 1975-76 watching the NFL to fall in love with football, and Madden.  His team, the Oakland Raiders, was tough, crazy, wild, and played their asses off for Madden.  I fell in love with Cliff Branch and Fred Belitnikoff at WR, Kenny Stabler at QB, Jack Tatum at DB, and the stork, Ted Hendricks at LB.  But, most of all, the sideline antics of John Madden, who lived and breathed the passion of football, caught my love and attention.  I purchased a 1976 Super Bowl pennant when the Raiders beat the Vikings, and have proudly hung it up on my walls ever since.  I even had a Raiders helmet that I wore until I grew out of it.

When he retired from the Raiders, I cried.  I was only 10, but it hurt. He was everything to me.  Then the traitor-Raiders left for LA, and I became a 49ers fan. My dad said “Well, the Raiders are gone, so I guess we’re 49ers fans now.” That’s San Francisco, the closest nearby team, with OJ Simpson playing his last year for the struggling Niners before their glory decade of the 1980s. 

Madden in the booth was GOD.  Everything he said was right.  And, he was entertaining as hell.  Just like on the field.  Madden made football easy to understand the complicated game as I grew into it.  I was a computer geek, and he led me to create my first ever computer program on a TI-99, which was a NFL-prediction program in BASIC language.  Even if the program used stats from the “Scoreboard” of the San Francisco Chronicle and punched out an odd Miami 77-25 prediction of a matchup against the New England Patriots, I would listen intently to Madden every week, watch Monday Night Football, and adjust that damn computer program accordingly. It was never accurate, but sure as hell was fun. 

The greatest broadcasting team in the history of sports. Summerall and Madden.

The John Madden-Pat Summerall duo was the best football broadcasting team in history.  The straight man, Stan Laurel (play by play) of Summerall was instantly a perfect match for the humorous and clumsy Oliver Hardy (color commentary) of John Madden.  It worked to perfection every week for 30+ years, even when Madden moved to FOX and instantly created FOX as a meaningful fourth-tv network in the early 90s, with the addition of the NFL.  It was Madden who made football easy to understand and to love. 

When Madden retired from the booth in 2009 (, I cried again.  Here it was, my football idol of all time, leaving the game, this time for good.  Tough to live a football life without Madden in it. But, then Madden video games kept his name alive, even for generations of youngsters who never had the chance to hear or see his enthralling, boisterous years live on the gridiron or in the booth. Who is this guy, bigger than football?

Of course, Madden isn’t bigger than football.   The NFL, and college football lives on.  But, Madden WAS football.  No-one contributed more to the game than John Madden. If you named the 10-most influential people in this history of the sport, John Madden would be each spot in the top 10; everyone else was #11 or lesser.

Goodbye, Coach.  You were and are the GOAT – The Greatest of All Time. A tear of joyous memories, and your loss is football’s loss.  I’ll never forget you.  Thank you for all you’ve done for my life.