The Late John Madden’s Legacy

Remembering John Madden: football coach, broadcaster, teacher, and fan.

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By Emily Lu

Hall of Fame coach and beloved NFL broadcaster John Madden passed away at the age of 85 on December 28, 2021. In the week following his passing, players, fellow coaches, students, and fans all gathered to pay tribute to the football legend. His legacy as a successful coach, memorable broadcaster, and stalwart figure in the sports entertainment industry made Madden the legend he is today. His startling and humorous newscast interjections, as well as his unconventional turkey traditions, made him all the more unforgettable.

Madden’s first encounter with football involved former Los Angeles Rams head coach John Robinson, with whom he sneaked into stadiums to watch football and baseball games when he was younger. After playing football at the University of Oregon, he caught the eye of the Philadelphia Eagles and enjoyed a short NFL playing stint as an offensive tackle, but a knee injury in his first training camp brought his professional playing career to an untimely end. Madden quickly turned his focus to coaching, first making headlines as the head coach of the Oakland Raiders. His first year as head coach of the team kicked off a succession of victories. He won the American Football League Coach of the Year award and gave the team its 12-1-1 record and AFL West Division title. He would also go on to successfully bring the Raiders their first Super Bowl victory against the Minnesota Vikings in 1977.

During that season, the Raiders achieved an impressive 17-game victory streak as well. Over his 10-year span with the Raiders, Madden became both the winningest coach in the NFL and in Raiders history, with a regular season winning percentage of 75.9 percent. He was also the youngest coach to reach 100 regular season career wins. He was later inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. However, what made Madden truly special was not his personal accomplishments nor the success of his team, but rather his sincere love for football. He stepped on the field with an unparalleled passion for the sport and always made sure to relay that enthusiasm to his players. “Football is what I am. I didn’t go into it to make a living or because I enjoyed it. There is much more to it than just enjoying it,” Madden said in his Hall of Fame biography.

Off the field, Madden worked as an analyst for several television platforms on CBS, ABC, and NBC, where he quickly became a fan favorite for his eccentric and lively personality. Madden consistently ignored the standard dress code and showcased his Thanksgiving tradition of eating a turducken (turkey, duck, and chicken) on air. His explanations and analysis of replays were accompanied by incoherent diagrams of X’s and O’s, as well as the occasional “boom!” and “doink!” giving the otherwise monotone analysis a pop of color. Madden’s sportscasting partner, Al Michaels, described working with Madden as “singing a song.”

Madden’s unique personality allowed viewers to stay engaged with the game and clearly understand what was happening, even if they weren’t too familiar with the sport. “My knowledge of football has come from coaching, and on TV, all I’m trying to do is pass on some of that knowledge to viewers,” Madden said in his book, “Hey, Wait a Minute! (I Wrote a Book!).” Madden received a mountain of accolades as a broadcaster, garnering 16 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Analyst/Personality, the Lifetime Achievement Emmy Award, and the Golden Mike Award.

Madden is also known for having lent his name to the wildly popular football video game franchise Madden NFL. He assisted with the development of the game in its early stages, hoping that it would help fans, especially the younger generation of gamers, understand the sport better. He emphasized the realistic qualities of the game and added his unique football lingo. His advice was valuable, as he was able to point out small problems of certain aspects of the original game that game designers and editors didn’t catch. As a result of his hard work, the franchise is now highly successful, and all video gamers, football fans or not, know of his famous game.

“His knowledge of the game was second only to his love for it, and his appreciation for everyone that ever stepped on the gridiron. A humble champion, a willing teacher, and forever a coach,” EA Sports said in a statement commemorating Madden’s legacy. Having changed the face of football commentary and made his mark as one of the most successful NFL coaches, Madden will go down in the history books as an iconic star in the game of football.