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Madden, John Earl

MADDEN, John Earl

(b. 10 April 1936 in Austin, Minnesota), head coach of Oakland Raiders from 1969 to 1978, winning over a hundred games in ten seasons and a Super Bowl championship; also an Emmy-winning sports commentator.

Madden was the eldest of three children born to Earl Madden, an auto mechanic, and Mary O'Flaherty Madden. The family moved to Daly City, California, when Madden was six, and he began playing football and baseball behind the family's house in a vacant lot and working as a batboy at the Sarto Athletic Club. He befriended John Robinson, who would later serve as head coach to the Los Angeles Rams, in the fifth grade at Our Lady of Perpetual Help School in Downey, California, and considered him as close as a brother. Madden later fondly recalled the two friends hitching rides on trolley cars to San Francisco, where they would sneak into Seals Stadium and Kezar Stadium to watch baseball and football games. Madden played several sports at Jefferson Union High School, but excelled at baseball. In his senior year, the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox approached him to play in the minor leagues.

Madden hesitated. While working as a caddy at the San Francisco Golf and Country Club, he noticed one thing that most successful people had in common—a college education. In 1954 Madden enrolled at the University of Oregon on a football scholarship, but after a knee injury he returned to California to attend the College of San Mateo. He attended Grays Harbor College in Aberdeen, Washington, for a semester and then enrolled at California Polytechnic State University where in 1957 and 1958 he played baseball (catcher) and made all-conference tackle. Madden received a B.S. in education from Cal Poly in 1959. While at Cal Poly, Madden had met Virginia Fields; they married in 1960 and eventually had two sons.

In 1959 the Philadelphia Eagles recruited Madden as a guard in a twenty-first draft pick. After injuring his left leg in a scrimmage game, Madden began to think seriously about a career in coaching. While recovering, he learned the ins and outs of football by watching game films and listening to analysis from quarterback Norman Van Brocklin. Madden returned to California Polytechnic, received an M.A. in education in 1961, and started his first coaching job at Allan Hancock Junior College in Santa Maria, California.

Madden served as Hancock's line coach from 1960 to 1962, then as head coach from 1962 to 1964. After working as a defensive coordinator at California State University from 1964 to 1966, Madden was recruited by the Oakland Raiders as linebacker coach under John Rauch in 1967. The Raiders compiled the best American Football League (AFL) record (13–1) in the 1967 season, leading to a match-up against the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II, which Oakland lost 33–14. When Rauch suddenly departed to the Buffalo Bills in 1969 because of conflicts with team owner Al Davis, Madden became one of the youngest head coaches in the league.

Madden may have considered himself only a coach in training, but the Raiders chalked up an impressive 12–1–1 season in 1969, winning the AFL's Western division. He began the practice of holding preseason training camps for the benefit of rookies, but also as a method to learn more about coaching. As Oakland became successful, Madden received several offers from teams like the New York Jets, but he turned them down, preferring to work with Oakland owner and friend Al Davis. The Raiders won their division championship five out of six times between 1970 and 1975, but the American Football Conference title escaped them. In 1972, for instance, the Pittsburgh Steelers beat the Raiders with a deflected pass, later called the "immaculate reception," in the last twenty-two seconds of the game to capture the title. A furious Madden argued that a Steeler had illegally tipped the pass before it was caught, but a television replay proved inconclusive. This may have been the first time instant replay was used to review referees' calls.

Madden and Oakland's luck changed in 1976. Their 13–1 record placed them at the head of their division, and they defeated New England 24–21 in the first-round playoff game. Many expected a difficult challenge in the followup game against the Steelers, the defending champions, but the Raiders won a decisive 24–7 victory. On 9 January 1977 eighty-one million television fans watched the matchup between Oakland and the Minnesota Vikings at Super Bowl XI in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. The Raiders came out strong, scoring on three successive drives and leading Minnesota 16–0 by halftime. Although the Vikings scored a touchdown in the third quarter, two fourth-quarter touchdowns by Oakland gave the team a 32–14 victory in their first Super Bowl title. It would be four more years before the Raiders returned to the Super Bowl.

On 5 November 1978 Madden won his 100th coaching victory and had done so within 10 years. His win percentage of .790 was the highest of any National Football League (NFL) coach who had won 50 or more games. Despite these successes, several incidents left Madden demoralized and feeling burned out. On 12 August 1978 during an exhibition game against the Raiders, New England Patriot Darryl Stingley's neck was broken, leaving him paralyzed. Madden visited Stingley daily, but he was disappointed that more people did not seem to care. Madden was also troubled by a conversation with his wife about the age of his son: she had to correct his assumption that his son was twelve when he was really sixteen. With a stomach ulcer and a less than glamorous 1978 season, Madden announced on 4 January 1979 that he would retire.

Madden quickly found activities to occupy his time during retirement including teaching, writing a newspaper column, and acting in commercials. He became widely known, more so than in his days as a coach, from his appearances in Miller Lite beer commercials. He continued to love football and follow the season, eventually joining Columbia Broadcasting System's CBS-TV as an analyst in 1979. Madden's ability to balance technical information and colorful, entertaining reporting made him a popular commentator. By 1981 and 1982 he had won television Emmys for his work as a sports analyst and was covering the Super Bowl alongside broadcast veteran Pat Summerall. Madden is well known for his fear of flying and use of his private bus (called the Madden Cruiser) to travel to games. In 1998 Madden received a $40 million contract with Fox to continue as a lead football analyst. Madden's achievements as a coach, his books, and his continued involvement as a commentator, have left an unforgettable mark on the sport of football.

Madden's Hey, Wait a Minute (I Wrote a Book!) (1984), One Knee Equals Two Feet (1986), and Hey, I'm Talking Pro Football! (1996), offer anecdotes and reflections on the sport of football. For a lengthy account of Madden's career, see Current Biography (Aug. 1985). For a brief overview, see David L. Porter, ed., Biographical Dictionary of American Sports: Football (1987).

Ronnie D. Lankford, Jr.

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