John’s Final ‘Boom!!!’

By Lloyd Vance
Updated: April 18, 2009

PHILADELPHIA— For the last 30 years, America’s gregarious uncle or grandfather John Madden came into our living rooms every NFL Sunday or Monday with his one of a kind fascinating view of football. But on Thursday April 16th, the man that made the term “Boom” an adjective decided to step away from the broadcast booth leaving NBC’s football coverage in the middle of a six-year deal.

It is sad to believe that Madden will not be in the booth come this fall — NFL football just won’t be the same without his rambling musings. But at age 73, Madden decided that he didn’t want to spend another year taking weekly cross-country bus trips (not a fan of flying) on the Madden Cruiser to call games away from his family. Madden said of his departure, “I still love every part of it … but I know this is the right time,”

Madden deciding to leave football broadcasting created a second huge void for America’s Game as just a couple days earlier we learned that the voice of NFL Films, Harry Kalas, had passed away. Thankfully, unlike the untimely loss of the Kalas, at least Big John was able to leave sports broadcasting on his own terms plus you know he will be around for a visit or two in the fall.

To me the loss of “John Madden” as an NFL analyst will be profound, because his passion for football will definitely be irreplaceable. But John Madden the football broadcaster was only a small part of this eclectic marvel as he is much more than the sometimes over-the-top ultimate fan analyst of the game or the name of a popular video game. To put it succinctly, Madden is truly an American Icon that has spanned generations on multiple levels.

The first chapter of the book of ‘Madden’ was in coaching the game of football that he so loved. After growing up in the Northern California area, Madden after leaving little school Cal-Poly found out early in his professional football playing career with the Philadelphia Eagles as a chubby lineman that he better find another calling within football.

After bouncing around in college and professional football coaching ranks, Madden landed on the Oakland Raiders staff serving as linebacker’s coach. Raiders’ team architect Al Davis saw the passion in the young, but knowledgeable and enthusiastic assistant coach.

Madden seemed destined to lead the Silver-and-Black as he made a meteoric rise from being an assistant coach, who couldn’t believe that he was on the opposite sideline as Green Bay Packers coaching legend Vince Lombardi in Super Bowl II to the head coach within just two years at age 33. That’s right Madden along with Don Shula were the NFL’s first set of youthful geniuses long before recently anointed “prodigies” Eric Mangini, Raheem Morris, and Josh McDaniels.

Under Madden, the Raiders posted the best overall record for any NFL team in his eight seasons, 83-22-7, including seven playoff trips in eight seasons. However as great as Madden and his merry bunch of renegade footballers were, they could never get passed 70’s juggernaut teams, the Miami Dolphins and Pittsburgh Steelers (Immaculate Reception).

The Raiders were eliminated in all six of their playoff appearances in Madden’s first seven years coaching the team including five losses in the AFC Championship Game. Finally everything came together for Madden and Raiders in 1976 as the young coach, who worked himself tirelessly, built a team with speed, power, and an attacking defense. Led by names like Stabler, Casper, Branch, Shell, Upshaw, Hendricks, Sistrunk and Tatum, the Raiders had a magical 13-1 ride through the regular season easily winning the AFC West crown.

In the playoffs, everyone wondered if Madden’s team could get over the hump, but this was different group beating the Patriots (24-21) and their nemesis, the Pittsburgh Steelers (24-7) to reach the Super Bowl for a second time. Super Bowl XI was a culmination for Al Davis’ team as the Raiders after getting through the AFC playoff gauntlet easily defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Pasadena, CA.

The moment of the game was the gun sounding to end the game and the Raiders’ players carrying their hefty 40-year old head coach off the field as he smiled the whole way. The moment was classic Madden as he playfully spread affection amongst his guys, who a lot of people gave up on.

However the moment soon faded as Madden burned out on coaching the game he loved, leaving the sidelines at age 42 years old. Even though he left coaching for good, Madden left an indelible mark as he set an NFL record of a 76% winning percentage (record of 103-32-7 in 142 regular season, 9-7 in 16 playoff games, and made the playoffs 8 out of 10 years).

After a brief period of self-reflection, Uncle John with his knowledge and charisma seemed a natural to paint the picture of football games on television. Starting in 1979, Madden joined CBS first working lower tier game for two years then moving up to the network’s number one team with broadcasting veteran Pat Summerall in 1981.

The team of Madden and Summerall became an instant hit with NFL fans, as the two men genuinely seemed to be two friends sitting on bar stools watching the game together. Summerall would feed straight-man lines to Madden and the former coach would go on rambling tangents that somehow made sense of the complicated game of football.

The tandem was a Sunday afternoon staple so much so that they worked eight Super Bowls together on two networks (five for CBS and three for FOX). Thanksgivings were also a special tradition for the pair as Madden always loved America’s holiday due to his and everybody else’s affinity for filling-up on Turkey and all of the sides.

At the end of the Thanksgiving games broadcasted by the duo, Madden would always give the player of the game a turkey leg for their excellence cut from his personal bird that had been prepared by the Madden Cruiser’s chef – Madden even later introduced the country to something called a Turducken (part turkey and part duck).

Madden in 1984 created his own All-Star team called the “All-Madden Team” made of tough guys, who usually had been overlooked in Pro Bowl balloting. The act of John Madden never got old as he packed-up his telestrator and bag of Madden-isms (“Boom”, “Doink”, “Whap”) going from CBS to FOX to ABC Monday Night Football (working w/ Al Michaels) to finally NBC (working w/ Al Michaels again) with his loyal followers continuing right along with him.

Fans didn’t even seem to mind when he gushed over his favorite players like former Packers quarterback Brett Favre and former Cowboys running back Emmitt Smith. Madden piled up sixteen Sports Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Event Analyst over his television run and he also was honored by the Pro Football Hall of Fame with their Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2002.

You could not write any retrospective on John Madden without mentioning his ever-popular EA Sports John Madden Football videogame. What started out as a reluctant endorsement deal by Madden with the small company Electronic Arts in 1989 has grown into a global phenomenon.

Madden as it is simply called, is played every where from NFL Locker rooms to Church Basements to College Dormitories and of course people’s homes. Every year the release of the new version Madden is a holiday called “Maddenoliday”.

The event is a feeding frenzy like no other seen as an eclectic group of people — some of whom don’t even know that John Madden is a real person let alone that he is a Hall of Fame coach — line up at midnight to seize their coveted copies of Madden.

There are Madden specific gaming groups, worldwide tournaments (The Madden Challenge), and a community where fans are connected by the internet via DSL lines. EA sold 7.4 million copies in North America in 2006, including 2 million in the first week. As of 2006, EA has sold more than 60 million copies and generated over $2 billion in retail sales in Madden’s first 17 years on the market.

Madden was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006 by the veteran’s committee for his coaching exploits, but I truly believe part of his enshrinement had to do with him being the ultimate ambassador for the game of football.

Over 40 years in the National Football League, Madden truly was one of the NFL’s treasures. When Madden and Summerall did their last broadcast for CBS at the NFC Championship Game on January 23, 1994, Madden said, “At least (we) have the memories” and that is way many fans feel today. Fittingly our final memory of John Madden the broadcaster will be Super Bowl XLIII.

The game was Madden’s 11th big game broadcast and he was his usual hearty and insightful self. The battle between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Arizona Cardinals that Sunday night in Tampa, Florida was a “Classic”, just like John Madden.

When the Steelers dramatically won their sixth Lombardi Trophy in the thrilling closing minutes with Ben Roethlisberger hitting Santonio Holmes in the back of the endzone to seal a 27-23 come-from-behind victory over the Cardinals, you knew play-by-play man Al Michaels was cool and calm.

But Madden being Madden had his suit jacket off and tie loosened while gleefully describing the action with the line , “This is one heck of a football game!!”

Uncle John, you truly are an iconic figure and football’s greatest broadcaster. So for all the millions of NFL fans out there, I say “Thanks for the great memories and enjoy riding off into the sunset in the Madden Cruiser”.

Lloyd’s Leftovers

— NBC and NFL Network analyst Cris Collinsworth seems to be the logical choice to replace Madden as he filled in last year for one game. The other candidate that comes to mind is former FOX analyst and Detroit Lions GM Matt Millen, who worked for NBC during the Super Bowl.