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NFL Legend And Broadcasting Great John Madden Is Dead At 85

John Madden interviewing Eddie Murphy on Saturday Night Live.
(Image credit: Saturday Night Live)

Aspiring player turned coach turned broadcaster turned namesake of a video game empire, John Madden reinvented himself numerous times and in doing so, became one of the most important people in the history of football. Even more than a decade after his retirement from the commentator’s booth, his shadow hung over the game he loved so much. Madden passed away this morning at the age of 85.

John Madden started his career as a football player. He attended college at Cal Poly before being drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in 1958. During his first training camp, he blew out his knee, which gave him an opportunity to sit in the film room and work with the coaches. He loved it immediately and got a job coaching in college. Within a decade, he worked his way up and was hired as the linebackers coach of the Oakland Raiders. By 1969, he was the head coach at just thirty-two years old. He coached the team for ten seasons and even won a Super Bowl in 1976. 

If he stopped there, it would have been a tremendous career, but in 1979, he took a job with CBS as a color commentator for football games and was amazing almost immediately. Within a few years, he was the other half of CBS’ top broadcasting duo with Pat Sumerall. The two had a spectacular run together for decades until CBS lost the rights to the NFL. So, he moved on to FOX and later to ABC, where he did Monday Night Football opposite Al Michaels. He later ended his career working for NBC and doing Sunday Night Football.

Once again, that would have been enough to boast a tremendous, almost unmatched career in football, but the above is only part of John Madden’s legacy. He also, of course, was the namesake for the Madden NFL video games. Altogether, the franchise has sold more than 250 million copies and is widely regarded as one of the greatest video game series in history. In fact, I was watching an NFL game just the other night and the announcers were discussing how many younger quarterbacks in the NFL now credit playing Madden growing up as a huge help in teaching them how to read defenses.

Madden was, by all accounts, a magnetic personality and a true original. He refused to fly and took either a train or a bus (which is now in the Hall of Fame) to all of the games he provided commentary on. When he hosted Saturday Night Live in the mid-80s, they actually recorded his journey and turned it into a sketch. He’s also widely credited for popularizing the Turducken, as well as the telestrator, two very different things that he seemed to love in equal measure.

John Madden was a football guy to his core, and he was somehow good at everything he tried. He was an excellent broadcaster because he brought the passion of a fan, the intelligence and knowledge of a coach and somehow put it together in a really easy to enjoy package. He made loud exclamations and hooped and hollered at times, but it never overwhelmed the product or seemed like he was trying too hard. And he was a Hall of Fame coach. His run with the Raiders was excellent. They made the playoffs 8 of the 10 years he was the coach and went 103-32-7.

Madden was married to the same woman, Virginia, for 62 years. He also had two sons, Joseph and Michael, who played football at Brown and Harvard. Our thoughts go out to them, as well as everyone else who was touched by his life. He was an absolute legend on the sidelines, in the broadcast booth and on video game consoles the world over. He will truly be missed.

Mack Rawden

Enthusiastic about Clue, case-of-the-week mysteries, the NBA and cookies at Disney World. Less enthusiastic about the pricing structure of cable, loud noises and Tuesdays.