Madden, John (1936—)

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Madden, John (1936—)

John Madden is easily identifiable to several generations of football fans. To those who grew up watching football in the 1960s and 1970s, John Madden is best remembered as the fiery, extremely successful coach of the Oakland Raiders. To those who first began watching football in the 1980s, John Madden is the colorful commentator who can explain the most complicated football in layman's terms. To children of the 1990s, John Madden is the name behind a popular football video game. But John Madden has been more than a coach-turned-broadcaster-turned promoter; he has literally taught the game for the last thirty years.

Born on April 10, 1936, in Austin, Minnesota, Madden and his family moved to the San Francisco suburb of Daly City, California, when John was five. In high school, he excelled in baseball and football. He played the latter as a two-way tackle at California Polytechnic College, San Luis Obispo (1957-58), earning all-conference honors. Drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 21st round of the 1958 NFL draft, Madden's playing career ended shortly afterwards with a knee injury. Rather than immediately returning to California, Madden remained in Philadelphia where he learned the basics of football from the Eagles' Hall of Fame quarterback, Norm Van Brocklin.

Madden eventually returned to California, where he earned a Bachelor's degree in 1959 and a Master's degree in 1961 from Cal Poly. From 1960 to 1963, he coached at Hancock Junior College (CA), first as an assistant and then later as head coach. From 1964 to 1966, he served as defensive coordinator under famed coach Don Coryell for the Aztecs of San Diego State College, then the number one small college team in the nation.

In 1967, Madden accepted a job as the linebacker coach for the Oakland Raiders of the American Football League (AFL). Two years later, at the age of 33, he became the Raiders' head coach, the youngest in AFL history. He took his team to the AFL championship game in his first season, but lost to the Kansas City Chiefs. In 1970, the AFL merged into the National Football League (NFL), with Oakland playing in the Western Division in the new American Football Conference (AFC). During the next nine seasons, Madden's Raiders won the AFC West seven times. In January 1977 (1976 season), Madden lead his team to a 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings in Super Bowl XI, becoming the youngest coach to win a Super Bowl. For his efforts, he was named Coach of the Year by the Washington (D.C.) Touchdown Club. Following the 1978 season, Madden retired from coaching

John Madden's ten-year professional coaching career was one of the more notable in football history. He compiled an impressive record of 112-39-7 (.731). At the time no other NFL coach had won 100 games as quickly. His offensive line was replete with Hall of Famers: Jim Otto, Gene Upshaw, and Art Shell are all enshrined at Canton. On the sidelines, Madden was easily identifiable. Vocal and emotional, the 6-foot-4 inch, 270-pound redheaded Madden could often be seen ranting, raving, and flailing his arms, often at the referees; he was indeed the direct opposite of the conservative, composed Cowboys coach Tom Landry. Moreover, Madden coached at a time when the AFL/AFC was trying to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the older, more-storied NFL/NFC. Madden's success contributed to a newfound respect for the junior conference.

In 1980, Madden took his enthusiasm for football into the broadcasting booth with CBS Sports. He quickly became one of football's more popular commentator-analysts, and certainly its most animated. In 1981, Pat Summerall joined the broadcast team; he and Madden have worked together for a record eighteen seasons. Madden also instituted his now famous on-screen chalkboard, on which he explained previous plays to the viewers. In 1994, he switched networks, inking a four-year, $32 million contract with Fox, a lucrative deal which, at the time, surpassed any NFL player's contract. Since 1982, Madden has won eleven Outstanding Sports Personality/Analyst Emmy Awards. He has also received the Touch-down Club of America's Golden Mike Award, as well as twice being named the Sports Personality of the Year by the American Sportscasters Association (1985, 1992).

Yet Madden is not another coach-turned-broadcaster. His unique popularity lies in his ability to translate his infinite football wisdom into language intelligible to the average home viewer. While many commentators and pre-game shows analyze the details of the game, Madden unabashedly praises the grimy and gritty hustle of players; he names an annual All-Madden team to honor the roughest, meanest, fiercest, and most competitive players. He also hands out a "game turkey" to the most deserving player at the annual Thanksgiving Day game. Madden's "just one of the boys" image has contributed in part to his status as a football icon.

Madden is also known for his well-publicized fear of flying. During his coaching career, he flew because practice schedules and time constraints demanded it. His broadcasting career, though, afforded him more time to travel from game to game. Initially he traveled via train before Greyhound provided him with a custom-built bus known as the Madden Cruiser. From the Madden Cruiser, the burly broadcaster often holds pre-game tailgating parties, yet another reason he is a fan favorite.

In addition to broadcasting, Madden endorses several products, including Ace Hardware, Outback Steak House, and Dr. Pepper. He also lends his name to EA Sportsline John Madden Football games, the best-selling sports video/computer game of all-time. He is also the author of several books.

As a coach, commentator, and even video game endorser, John Madden has brought football to generations of fans in an entertaining, yet highly intelligent manner. He is a proven teacher of athletes and spectators alike. In essence, John Madden has been the football coach for the common person.

—Matt Kerr

Further Reading:

Madden, John, with Dave Anderson. All Madden: Hey, I'm Talking Pro Football. New York, Harper Collins, 1996

——. Hey, Wait a Minute, I Wrote a Book. New York, Villard, 1984.

——. One Knee Equals Two Feet. New York, Villard, 1984.

——. One Size Doesn't Fit All. New York, Villard, 1988.