Thursday, April 16, 2009

Madden Memories

I was mildly surprised when I heard the news of John Madden's retirement from broadcasting, but I wasn't entirely shocked. Last year he missed a game for the first time in his TV career, sitting out a late season game that would have entailed traveling from one coast to the other for a third consecutive week. Travel is not a big deal in your 40's or 50's, or even in your '60's...but he was going on 73, and he just might have been feeling a little more stress than in previous years.

There was a time when I wasn't a Madden fan- that was when he was coaching the Oakland Raiders in the 1970's. When I got out of the service I moved to Colorado, and I got sucked into "Bronco Mania" in 1977, the year Denver put it all together behind Craig Morton, Otis Armstrong, and "The Orange Crush" defense. Madden was the guy coaching the the hated "Ray-dahs". He was big, overweight, bombastic, with flailing hands and a manic style that made me think of a guy in a B-horror flick of that era going completely nutzoid. The Raiders- and Madden- were the mortal enemy of anybody within a 200 mile radius of Denver.

Madden could be a wildman on the sidelines, but it was because of the passion he brought to his job. And he took that same passion with him to the broadcast booth when he moved from coaching to his new role as NFL game analyst in 1979. John Madden became the standard by which others were judged- he redefined the role with his knack of looking at the game from a coaches angle. And he became a first class entertainer as well- he gave us the six legged turkey on Thanksgiving Day...not to mention the "turducken".

One of my favorite Maddenisms was a late season game in Chicago between the Bears and the Eagles. It was a cold December day, about zero degrees. A player on the Chicago bench removed his helmet to expose his shaved head....and steam from his perspiration pillared skyward. Madden got his telestrater, drew a circle around the guys head and asked, "How cold does it have to get before you can't sweat anymore?" His partner, the great Pat Summerall, played straight man for went on for a few minutes, never to be resolved...but it was just fun watching the two of them having fun with themselves, and with the audience. And there was the time he used his telestrater in Green Bay to prove his theory that you had to have alot of smoke in order to have a successful tailgate party.

Of course, there was his catch phrase....BOOM! Boom could be on offense, like a pancake block from an "O'" lineman, but more often than not the best "BOOMS" came on defense, from Singletary and Lewis and the "Original LT"...

John Madden wasn't the reason you tuned into a game, but he was instrumental in making the three hours in front of the tube time well spent. First with Summerall, then with Al Michaels, Madden was able to successfully able to blend the roles of football analyst and entertainer, and made us more knowledgeable about the game while making us laugh at its lighter moments.

I wonder if the death of Harry Kalas, the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies and of NFL Films, at age 73- the same as Madden- played a role in his decision? At any rate, Madden's last game as an analyst was this past Super Bowl, a classic game won in the last seconds. Maybe that was the best way for a legend to bow out.

There is a generation out there who have never known the NFL without John Madden. The games will still be there, but they just might not be as much fun.

More on John Madden from ESPN.

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