The Voice of Football Falls Silent
December 29, 2021 2:16 AM   Subscribe

Professional football coach and commentator John Madden has passed away at the age of 85.

Most well known today for the NFL simulation game series bearing his name (and which he was involved with the development early on to make sure the game best represented the sport), Madden was noted as a coach, seeing incredible success with the Raiders before moving to the broadcast booth, and there along with longtime colleague Pat Summerall became the defining voice of football for a generation. Few people have had the level of influence on the sport as Madden.

And of course, he introduced the world to turducken,as well as the tradition of giving Thanksgiving MVPs a turkey leg to bite into.
posted by NoxAeternum (33 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
 
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posted by KillaSeal at 2:25 AM on December 29


John Madden was the first person who I saw that actually explained what was going on on the field. Most announcers were just like 'look at that catch!', 'look at that run!', 'you have to catch that pass!'.
John would point out the important stuff, like the key block made by the guard. My favorite memory of him was after a John Riggens counter-trey run against a 3-4 defense. I had thought the counter-trey was just about fake-right and go-left. In the replay, John talked about keys: the inside linebackers were each keying on the pulling guards, and they ran into each other, taking themselves out of the play.
He made the game much more interesting to me.

That and the 3-legged turkeys.
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posted by MtDewd at 3:56 AM on December 29 [9 favorites]


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I did not grow up watching football, but Madden was the voice of football to me.

At one point in law school, (the university where I went to law school had a very strong football culture) a few of my classmates invited me to dinner and a movie, the movie being Boom, Bang, Whap, Doink! John Madden on Football which explains football strategy in a very accessible way.
posted by gauche at 5:44 AM on December 29 [5 favorites]


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posted by JoeXIII007 at 5:44 AM on December 29


A beautiful obit from the Defectors.
posted by hwyengr at 6:00 AM on December 29 [3 favorites]


aeiou in peace, John Madden.
posted by Merus at 6:07 AM on December 29 [2 favorites]


The NFL Films "A Football Life: Vince Lombardi" is a great watch on its own, but I will always remembers Madden's humility when discussing a seminar presented by Lombardi on the power sweep play.
posted by hypnogogue at 7:32 AM on December 29 [4 favorites]


I learned how football worked from listening to Madden call the games and from the video game. For me, he is the reason I am a football fan.

I watched the NFL Network profile on him last night, I'll tell ya, the fact that he got to hear all the good things people say about him before he passed, that's a blessing I hope all of us can have. Watching his face when players said he made them want to be better for him, not as just a coach, but when he was an announcer too, that made me sob.

I'm glad he got to do what he loved for so long and I'm glad he shared that love with us all.
posted by teleri025 at 7:48 AM on December 29 [5 favorites]


I've been thinking about John Madden this week - I was watching some football this weekend and heard a quote from his eulogy for Pat Summerall:
The criterion for greatness[...] being the best in what you do[...] is: can the history of what you did be written without mentioning your name?
It's a good take on greatness. I'm pretty sure you'd have trouble writing the history of football without mentioning John Madden.
posted by Hatashran at 7:49 AM on December 29 [7 favorites]


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A life seemingly filled with joy and passion. We all should be so lucky.
posted by Don.Kinsayder at 7:54 AM on December 29 [1 favorite]


Most well known today for the NFL simulation game series bearing his name (and which he was involved with the development early on to make sure the game best represented the sport)

Legend has it that this simulation code still lives on inside the current releases of Madden, a tiny little beating heart of football simulation wrapped in two decades of scar tissue and 3D rendering engines.

So, in a way, John will always be with us.
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:03 AM on December 29 [3 favorites]


This one really stings. He was such an amazing coach and commentator, and by all accounts a fantastic human being. Someone upthread mentioned the word "humility," and I think that's what did it for me. Despite his incredible knowledge and insight into football, John Madden never thought he was in any way above the game. He'd happily dive into explanations of X's and O's to anyone who wanted to understand what they just saw, and he radiated respect for everyone around him. In a league that has become known for its oversized personalities and selfish attitudes, he was a guy who quietly knew as much as anyone alive, but you'd never know it unless you listened very closely. He took visible joy in sharing that understanding with everybody else. The fact that he was able to do it for so long, and with such great style and aplomb, was a blessing to everyone who ever heard him speak on a broadcast.

. to the GOAT
posted by Mayor West at 8:25 AM on December 29 [6 favorites]


One thing I always remember about him was that he didn't like to fly and just went everywhere in a custom RV bus. Agreed with everyone else, though - pretty much the Voice of the NFL for a long long time.
posted by jquinby at 8:32 AM on December 29 [3 favorites]


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posted by Faintdreams at 8:33 AM on December 29


Summerall and Madden were one of the greatest comedy duos I've ever seen, even if it was unintentional.

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Madden: Is there anything plainer than a referee's hat?
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Summerall: Nope.
posted by Ickster at 8:35 AM on December 29 [4 favorites]


Somehow, I’d had thought he had already died. For as long as I’d been a fan of football, somehow I missed the golden years where his announcer was a boon, and really only endured his later cartoonishness.

All the same, his love for the game was apparent in every broadcast he was a part of. I wish I could have heard his thoughts on recent developments, CTE and the like, though a part of me is glad a microphone was never pointed in his directed for those questions. Like meeting your idols, I fear that might have ended badly.

RIP John Madden, with a tour bus chariot and turkey legs enough to celebrate those deserving of it.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:37 AM on December 29 [1 favorite]


One thing I never realized about Madden was that he was one of the first (if not the actual first) pro coach who didn't come into the team with a "system" that had to be rigorously followed. He didn't care about your attitude, your personality, or what you did off-field. So long as you showed up to practice on time and gave it your all on Sunday, you fit in on the team.
posted by hwyengr at 8:50 AM on December 29 [3 favorites]


This story about John Madden's actions in the wake of Darryl Stingley's injury won't make you like American football, but it demonstrates Madden's character.
posted by Kibbutz at 8:52 AM on December 29 [6 favorites]


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posted by May Kasahara at 9:01 AM on December 29


It probably wasn't John Madden's idea to include an ambulance that ran into the players in Madden '92, and by modern standards it's maybe not quite as ugly as all those NFL hardest-tackle VHS cassettes, but I did enjoy it at the time.

Here's an excerpt from Badasses, about Madden's '70s Oakland Raiders (in the interest of fairness I should say that a lot of NFL teams behaved this way in the '70s).

And, speaking of John Madden and humility, I think he's best known for his cameo appearance in Paul Simon's 'Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard' video.
posted by box at 9:20 AM on December 29 [1 favorite]


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posted by oozy rat in a sanitary zoo at 9:23 AM on December 29


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posted by Lyme Drop at 9:31 AM on December 29


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John Madden is probably one of the most famous people from my alma mater, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, besides Weird Al. His fear of flying was mentioned in a lot of his obits but none of them that I've read have mentioned the cause: The Cal Poly Football Team Plane Crash.
posted by sleeping bear at 9:46 AM on December 29 [1 favorite]


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posted by Silverstone at 10:50 AM on December 29


I know it was physical reasons (and I can't help but wonder how the Stingley injury played into his decision) but I can't help but admire a man who walks away at the top of his game.

I stopped following football after the 1989 Super Bowl. Having major head trauma 3 months before the event has gradually led me to feel that the game is barbaric along with the culture and the cult of personality that surrounds it.

That said, there is joy in good strategy and good strategy run well. A good teacher is rare. One who openly shows the joy and love of what he does even more so. Sam Cooke said you write lyrics so that a 6 year old can understand them (he meant this in the best sense of the word) Madden could explain football in a way that children could understand.

Which is probably why his Raider teams were so good. He was a sensitive and caring man in a arguably insensitive and uncaring game.

One of the good ones is gone...
posted by goalyeehah at 10:54 AM on December 29 [1 favorite]


John Madden's fear of flying is so acute that it's memorialized in several places, including the John Madden Haul of Fame in Van Horn, TX.

https://thetexasbucketlist.com/2017/09/the-texas-bucket-list-chuys-madden-haul-of-fame-in-van-horn/
posted by FritoKAL at 10:56 AM on December 29


While his unwillingness to fly may have been one part of the genesis of the Madden Cruiser, he also talked about being inspired by Steinbeck's cross-country travelogue, as well as being tired of traveling everywhere to games but never really experiencing the world. It became a way for Madden to actually explore and take in the places around the US.
posted by NoxAeternum at 11:06 AM on December 29 [5 favorites]


can't say I've followed football much since Madden became a commentator, though I do remember his time as a coach.

One thing I do recall from the later years is something he said in an interview about parents who take their kids' sports too seriously. He didn't so much call them out as just discuss how he was dealing with his kids. "I just want them to have a childhood. I want them to play, have fun. Who cares whether they eventually go into pro sports as a career? That will be their decision, not mine." Or words to that effect. He also said something about child labour laws.
posted by philip-random at 11:13 AM on December 29 [2 favorites]


My Dad was at Cal Poly at the same time as him, so I've always associated him with that picture in the yearbook when he was probably 22 or so.

I grew up in the same neighborhood he lived in and went to high school with his (older) kids, who played on the football team but to my knowledge weren't at all standouts. He lived next door to a classmate with whom I was in a father-son group and I met him and shook his hand once on their adjoining front lawns, I believe just before hitting my friend in the temple with the backswing of a golf club while our Dads talked for 5 minutes. I knew who he was, but I was probably 11, not a sporty kid (see: golfing technique), and he simply didn't have the air or lifestyle of a celebrity. Probably most importantly: he didn't act like a jock. So it wasn't a star-struck moment. Hell, he may have been one of the only unassuming regular-guy adults I ever experienced in the neighborhood. Reggie Jackson was a much bigger star to me at the time because he had a car dealership and I'd see his name on license plate frames all the time.

To me he was essentially the last famous football guy to emerge out of the leather-helmet era, and his achievements in the broadcast booth can't be denied, not to mention his voice was always comforting like an old teddy bear. This made it easier for an indoor kid to sit with the rest of a sports-liking family on a rainy Sunday. However, his role in the glorification of concussion-ball is much more consequential in my old age. I'm sentimental and hindsight is 20/20, but history will be the judge.
posted by rhizome at 12:35 PM on December 29


> However, his role in the glorification of concussion-ball is much more consequential in my old age.

@WillBrinson: For all the clout-chasing Twitter Docs trying to leverage someone’s death into misguided narratives, here’s John Madden on concussions in 1993
“I think if a guy has a concussion or thinks he has a concussion he shouldn’t play anymore. I don’t agree with that,” Madden said during a Vikings game in 1993. “You know how in boxing people say it’s ‘archaic,’ but if a fighter gets knocked out he can’t fight for another month. And sometimes in football we say ‘Oh he has a slight concussion he’ll be right back in.’ I don’t know that I ever agreed with that.”
John Madden puts his money where his mouth is
“We have to have a different outlook and a different education on concussions because we’ve been sweeping them under the rug forever,” Madden told co-hosts Rich Gannon and Adam Schein.

“And it’s the old thing. I remember (the days when) as soon as the guy shook his head from smelling salts, he was OK.

“I remember when you’d put two fingers up and if the guy could say, ‘Two,’ it was OK. They always put two and they always said two. … But that’s where we were. It was the Dark Ages, and we’re coming out of it.”

The Browns have since explained that team trainers and doctors were attending to other players and did not see Harrison’s helmet blasting into McCoy’s chin. But Madden said someone else — a coach, a teammate, even a referee — should have had the courage to look out for McCoy.

“This is a culture that has been there forever, and it’s a culture that has to be changed,” Madden said on the air. “We’re talking about mostly NFL. But I want to know that these things go down to college, high school, youth football — everywhere.”
I've basically given up on watching football due in large part to how it's covered up player safety issues, and these quotes from Madden don't change what he did to build the game's following for decades, but it does at least point to a change of heart later in life that should be acknowledged.
posted by tonycpsu at 12:46 PM on December 29 [3 favorites]


I wish I could have heard his thoughts on recent developments, CTE and the like, though a part of me is glad a microphone was never pointed in his directed for those questions. Like meeting your idols, I fear that might have ended badly.

I think you'd be happily surprised in that regard.

(And the fact that Madden points out that boxing is better than football on concussions is an indictment.)
posted by NoxAeternum at 12:47 PM on December 29 [2 favorites]


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posted by mcbeth at 12:53 PM on December 29


I learned so much about football from John Madden that I enjoy watching it to this day. He had a radio show in the San Francisco Bay Area and I listened to it as well, which made me feel as if football was as much fun to play as it was to watch. I am still a Raiders fan to this day, even though the Las Vegas Raiders have far to go to achieve the heights of the Oakland Raiders of the 1970's and early 80's. And finally, he was a fellow Aries and I deeply respected his driving around the US in a motor home instead of flying everywhere. Rest in power, Coach. ♥
posted by Lynsey at 2:20 PM on December 29


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