All Madden: from coaching, to the broadcast booth, to your video game console, John Madden transcended sports like no other

“Football is my life… but its complicated”

The year that keeps taking, and taking, and taking, has taken again. A legend has crossed over. The coaching fraternity lost a revolutionary. Football lost a great one. And, yes, an institution in the video game industry lost its pioneer.

John Madden is dead at the age of 85.

Few figures in sports are so large their impact spans multiple generations. Even fewer transcend their first role, let alone a second and third. And only a hand full transcend sports entirely.

Population of people single handily responsible for the growth of the NFL to the most dominant league ever

1: John Madden.

No that isn’t hyperbolic. Not a single human who ever was associated with a sport has been responsible for the growth of said sport than Madden was and is to the NFL.  Let me explain.

The rise of the NFL began in the late 70’s. What was Madden doing in the 70’s? He was coaching greatness.

Madden was known for having three rules for his football players. No. 1: “Be on time.” No. 2: “Pay attention.” And No. 3: “Play like hell when I tell you to.”

And that, more than any “boom!” or “whap!” or “doink!” uttered over the airwaves, is what earned him enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

He was the people’s coach, improbably leading a collection of steeled misfits to a championship, launching the aura that grew into a brand that is synonymous with the Silver & Black.

His combination of size and charisma made him a fascinating figure on the sideline. With his frantic gesticulations and a tie that never quite fit, Madden’s sideline demeanor offered comic relief in the era of stoic taskmasters like Tom Landry and Bud Grant. The humor of a class clown. The fire of a football coach. Leading some of the baddest men the sport knew. He made legends from an era of toughness run through a wall for him. Guys like Ken Stabler, Cliff Branch, Jack Tatum, George Atkinson and Fred Biletnikoff. It took a certain aura and perspective to unify such a bunch for rampant success.

But the counterculture coach and his free-spirited teams demolished opponents with ruthless efficiency, as Madden amassed a 103-32-7 regular-season mark before abruptly retiring in 1978. When Madden walked away from coaching at age 42 — just shy of half his lifetime — his .739 winning percentage ranked as the highest in NFL history for a coach with at least 100 wins. Madden never had a losing season and captured seven division titles in his 10 years as coach.

In head-to-head, regular-season matchups against 10 future Hall of Fame coaches from his era, Madden went 36-16-2 (.685).

And that, more than any “boom!” or “whap!” or “doink!” uttered over the airwaves, is what earned him enshrinement in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Yet, he had the joy of a big kid who was engulfed in a game he loved. He was as known for his smile as he was known for leading a group of football marauders. And that smile and passion would be the leading drive in his second act.

Madden’s greatness — as a coach who people could relate to and as a broadcaster who was so beloved — had a lot to do with his ability to communicate such a complex sport in everyman terms.

At his core, he was always the teacher, and for decades players, other broadcasters and viewers were his students. If you loved watching football, John Madden was your teacher. He had a booming voice and an infectious laugh. Those were the tools he used in his classroom every Sunday afternoon or Monday night.

He taught an entire generation about the game, attracting pupils with his passion and digestible vernacular. He shined a light on linemen and fullbacks and safeties, glorifying the trenches alongside the skill positions. He made it fashionable to understand blocking and revere unheralded toughness. The way he married the fury and fun of football made him unique enough to attract younger audiences.

He loved the game, and he wanted you to love it too.

If you weren’t football fans, all it took was one drive with Madden on the broadcast and you were hooked. By the end of the game you understood a MIKE Blitz and a Power O run. He taught the most difficult sport to understand, at a grade school level.

Madden earned a whopping 16 EMMY awards across 4 different networks for his broadcasting abilities.

John was ahead of his time, and these times will remain timeless because there will never be anyone equal nor better to Madden in the booth.

It was that personality, that inside football perspective, that would extend Madden’s legacy even further. Generation X kids gravitated toward Madden because of “Madden.” He nursed a new era of fans who cared about the whole game and not just the touchdowns.

The video game grew beyond anyone’s imaginations, turning Madden from personality to icon.

But EA Sports didn’t make Madden. It turned him into a household name. It elevated him to pop culture status. It connected him to Millennials, and Gen Z-ers, and will resonate with millions of young people in the future.

It takes a special individual to resonate in the 1970s and the 2020s. It takes an anomaly of a figure to have his distinct flair translate across cultures and ages. It takes a special breed to go from linebackers coach to NFL Hall of Fame coach to iconic broadcaster to titan of the video game industry.

But Madden was so much more than what you and I saw through the broadcast, or on the sidelines. He was an intellectual, a reader of everything, lacking in no aspect of life. Due to his fear of flying Madden would tour across the United States to travel to each weeks game. He mad pit stops in every small town the states had to offer, never passing up on a fan or local man, woman or child.

He was a legendary coach, one of one broadcaster and video game pioneer, but he never knew his true value into days before his death when he got to watch the Fox Sports documentary on his life.

When he saw the outpouring of love from players, both his own and ones he broadcasted, it made the larger than life man breakdown in tears. As he watched Lawrence Taylor say Madden was the one who made him the best player he could ever be by his game breakdowns, Madden fully understood what he meant to so many.

It is never easy losing a legend. But in some ways Madden’s death is a bit easier to swallow as he got to smell his flowers, and hear his praises while still with us. Very few get that privilege.

John passed away after seeing people whose lives he affected talk into a camera and tell the world (and John) how special he was. He died knowing exactly how those he loved, loved him. He always had great timing.

When you watch Sundays games and a big hit gets laid, let out a “BOOM!” for Madden. And when you run your next Madden game, use the coach suggestions to honor the legend.

Time never really stops for the great ones. We wrap them in a cloak of immortality and remember what great people they were. That is how Madden will be remembered.

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