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Happy 85th Birthday John Madden

Posted on April 09, 2021 by Dean Hybl
John Madden led the Oakland Raiders to victory in Super Bowl XI.

Whether from his days as a coach, broadcaster or simply as the name on a video game, John Madden is a football legend known by fans of all generations.

It seems hard to believe that Madden will celebrate his 85th birthday on April 10th. Almost as surprising is that it has been more than a dozen years since Madden retired from broadcasting after three decades as the preeminent color commentator on television. But, of course, his influence lives on in the leading football video game known as Madden NFL.

The journey for Madden from a 21st round NFL Draft pick to the most recognized person in the NFL is truly a remarkable one.

A talented multi-sport athlete, Madden was a boyhood friend of John Robinson, who would go on to a successful career as head coach at the University of Southern California and with the Los Angeles Rams.

Madden played college football at the College of San Mateo for a year, earning a scholarship to the University of Oregon. However, an injury forced him to redshirt and he ultimately finished his college career playing two seasons as a two-way player at Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo. He was also a catcher on the Cal-Poly baseball team.

The Philadelphia Eagles selected Madden in the 21st round (244th overall pick) of the 1958 NFL Draft. However, a knee injury suffered in training camp ended his dream of playing in the NFL.

After completing his degree, Madden became an assistant coach at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California. He was promoted to head coach in 1962.

Following the 1963 season he was hired as a defensive assistant coach at San Diego State by head coach Don Coryell. Before becoming a successful NFL head coach with the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Chargers, Coryell turned San Diego State into one of the top small college football programs in the country.

After the 1966 season, Madden was hired by Al Davis as linebackers coach for the Oakland Raiders. During his first season in the AFL, the Raiders won the AFL Championship and played the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl II.

Following the 1968 season, head coach John Rauch left the Raiders to become head coach of the Buffalo Bills. Davis tapped the then 32-year-old Madden to be head coach of the Raiders. Considering his age and that his only head coaching experience had been at the community college level, it was quite a bold move.

Fortunately for Davis and the Raiders, Madden proved to be up for the task. The Raiders posted a 12-1-1 record during his first season as head coach and reached the AFC Championship Game.

Over the next seven seasons the Raiders won at least eight games each year and reached the playoffs seven times. They advanced to the AFC Championship Game in each of the 1973, 1974 and 1975 seasons, but each year fell just short of reaching the Super Bowl.

After losing to the Miami Dolphins in the 1973 AFC Championship Game, the Raiders thought it was their turn after defeating the Dolphins in dramatic fashion in a game known as the “Sea of Hands” game for the final touchdown pass from Ken Stabler to Clarence Davis in the final seconds.

Unfortunately, the Raiders proved to again be the bridesmaids as they lost the conference title game to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The same occurred a year later when the game was played in Pittsburgh and Madden and the Raiders felt that the Steelers intentionally chose not to cover the field, thus creating a slick surface that neutralized the speed of the Raiders.

Finally, in 1976 the Raiders posted a 13-1 regular season record and then avenged their only loss of the regular season by defeating the New England Patriots 24-21 in the opening round of the playoffs.

Participating in their fourth straight conference championship game and third against the Steelers, Madden and the Raiders finally came out on top in a 24-7 decision to reach Super Bowl XI.

After years as a bridesmaid, Madden and the Raiders made the most of it as they dominated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14.

The next season, the Raiders reached the playoffs for the sixth straight year and eighth time in Madden’s nine years as head coach.

Facing the AFC East Champion Baltimore Colts at Memorial Stadium in Baltimore, Madden’s squad found themselves in another epic contest.

Baltimore led 31-28 before Stabler hit Dave Casper with a 42-yard pass that would become known as “Ghost to the Post”. The pass led to an Errol Mann field goal to send the game into overtime. The game reached a sixth quarter before Stabler hit Dave Casper with a 10-yard touchdown pass to claim victory and put the Raiders in the AFC title game for the fifth straight year.

 As could be expected, the contest between the Raiders and Denver Broncos was filled with drama and controversy. The Broncos won 20-17, in part as a result of a controversial call in which it appeared that Rob Lytle of the Broncos fumbled at the goal line. Instead, he was ruled down and the Broncos eventually scored to go ahead 14-3 in a game they won by a field goal.

That game proved to be the final playoff game of the Madden era with the Raiders. They lost three of their final games of the 1978 season to finish 9-7 and out of the playoffs for the first time since 1971.

After a decade leading the Raiders, Madden resigned following the season and would never coach again. He finished his 10-year head coaching career with a regular season record of 103-32-7 (.763) and a 9-7 mark in the playoffs.

However, that proved to be the beginning, rather than the end of Madden’s NFL journey.

Known for his explosive personality on the sidelines, Madden quickly transitioned to the TV booth and TV commercials.

He was the star of a number of Lite Beer from Miller commercials that traded on his boisterous outbursts.

Though he had been part of the AFC, he was hired by CBS, which had broadcast rights for NFC games, as a color commentator.

John Madden and Pat Summerall became the top broadcast duo in the NFL.

He started broadcasting in 1979 and was paired with several different play-by-play announcers. Finally in 1981 he became regular partners with former NFL player and longtime broadcaster Pat Summerall.

Their pairing would become legendary over the next two decades. Summerall kept the audience updated on the game, but also masterfully set Madden up to share his unique insight and energy.

It is hard to exactly describe Madden’s style other than to say he always had a unique and descriptive way of looking at things. He was the first broadcaster to regularly use the telestrator to diagram plays and when he would add a “boom” or “bang” for emphasis, it just made it more interesting.

Reportedly one of the reasons he quit coaching was that he no longer wanted to fly on airplanes and for three decades he used the “Madden Bus” to travel the country from game to game.

Madden’s persona was increased in 1984 by the All-Madden team in which he annually selected the players who he felt best exemplified the characteristics needed for on-field success.

In 1988 Madden began providing his voice, personality and name to the Madden NFL video game through EA Sports. For more than 30 years, “Playing Madden” has been a common refrain amongst youngsters as well as NFL players.

It is for that reason, likely more than his time as a coach or broadcaster that young people continue to associate John Madden with the NFL.

He was finally selected for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006.

Happy 85th Birthday!


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