January 17, 2022

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John Madden, NFL coach, commentator and prolific ad pitchman, dies at 85

John Madden, a Super Bowl-winning coach who became the pre-eminent sports commentator and was the brand name for the leading football video game, has died. He was 85.

He died unexpectedly this morning, the National Football League said in a statement on Tuesday. No cause was given. 

“There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said.

Madden, outsized and gregarious, first earned fame during his 10 years as the no-nonsense head coach of the National Football League’s Oakland Raiders, starting in 1969. His regular season record was 103 wins, 32 losses and 7 ties, the best winning percentage among the league’s coaches with at least 100 career victories. “Few individuals meant as much to the growth and popularity of professional football as Coach Madden, whose impact on the game both on and off the field was immeasurable,” the Raiders, now based in Las Vegas, said in a statement.

Madden’s Raiders captured their first championship with a 32–14 win over the Minnesota Vikings in 1977. He was named to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

“Football is what I am,” his Hall of Fame listing quotes him as saying. “I am totally consumed by football, totally involved. I’m not into gardening…or any other hobbies. I don’t fish or hunt. I’m in football.”

Color commentator

By the time of his Hall of Fame induction, he had become the sport’s best known color commentator. He started with CBS, in 1979, delighting fans with his trademark interjections to punctuate good or awful plays: “Boom!” “Whap!” “Bang!” and “Doink.”

Later he worked for Fox, ABC, and NBC as the various networks won the rights to broadcast NFL games and persuaded Madden to join them. He retired in 2009 from TV broadcasting, having partnered with Pat Summerall and Al Michaels, among other well-known play-by-play announcers. He won 16 Emmy awards during his three decades as a broadcaster.

He pioneered use of the telestrator, a device that allowed him to superimpose light-pen diagrams over video footage to illustrate plays. He also created a personal Hall of Fame — the “All Madden” team — to honor athletes he thought played football the right way, that is, his way.

“What does it mean to be ‘All-Madden’?” he once explained. “It’s a whole range of things. For defensive linemen and linebackers, it’s about Jack Youngblood playing with a busted leg, Lawrence Taylor wreaking havoc on the offense and Reggie White making the other guy wish he put a little more in the collection plate at church.”

Prolific pitchman

Madden was so likable, he became a pitchman for a variety of products, including Miller Lite, Ace Hardware,Outback Steakhouse and Tinactin, the athlete’s foot treatment he said was “tough actin’.”

True to down-to-earth on-air personality, he wrote a book in 1984 and titled it “Hey, Wait a Minute (I Wrote a Book!),” one of several he penned on football.

Among younger fans he was best known for the EA Sports/Electronic Arts video game that bore his name and input and was a regular best-seller each time it came out in a new edition. The games, introduced in 1988, were so popular that they spawned TV shows featuring competitions of players.

“The younger generation of football fans was introduced to the NFL because of the computer game,” ESPN columnist Len Pasquarelli said his review of the 2006 version of the game. “For that generation, Madden is, essentially, the face of the NFL.”

John Earl Madden was born on April 10, 1936, in Austin, Minnesota, to Earl and Mary Flaherty Madden. His father, an auto mechanic, moved the family to Daly City, California, where Madden attended high school.

He played college football at several schools before transferring to California Polytechnic State University, known as Cal Poly, where he played both offense and defense. While there he earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s in education.

He was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles but suffered a knee injury in training camp that ended his playing career.

After some stints coaching college football, the Raiders hired Madden as the linebackers coach in 1967. He was named head coach in two years later, making him the youngest in the league at the time.

In his first year at the Raiders’ helm, Madden was named the American Football League Coach of the Year as he led the team to a 12-1-1 record and a Western Division title.

—Bloomberg News