John Madden is not dead. Hell, he hasn’t even retired yet.
NFL fans fell in love with Madden’s eccentric color commentary, as he partnered with Pat Summerall and later Al Michaels to give audiences some of the only broadcasting teams ever to rival the gold standard of Cosell, Gifford and Dandy Don Meredith. You wanted Madden as your head coach and uncle simultaneously. You wanted him around your house so badly that you bought video games with his name and likeness. Annually.
Before he first entered the booth, and lent his name to one of the most successful video game franchises in history, John Madden was already a very visible figure for the NFL. As a Hall-of-Fame head coach for the Oakland Raiders, Madden won the franchise its first Super Bowl title in 1976, the highlight of a seven-season span that saw the Raiders play in five AFC Championship Games. Those great Raiders teams of the 1970s squared off with their bitter rival, the Pittsburgh Steelers, to give the league some of its greatest games and moments – the Immaculate Reception, the 1975 ice rink Championship Game at the old Three Rivers Stadium, George Atkinson knocking Lynn Swann out with a forearm club to the back of the head (twice). These days, it’s hard to see Oakland rivaling anything other than Jacksonville for worst team in pro football.
But that was then. This is now. Where is John Madden?
Since stepping away from the broadcast booth after the 2008 season, the only traces of Madden on television seem to be when ESPN lets Frank Caliendo out of his cage on slow news days. Even worse, poor Al Michaels has been left to work NBC’s Sunday night telecasts with Cris Collinsworth, who sounds like a waverunner with a Mid-western accent.
John, seriously, where are you? This isn’t funny.
Well, he actually still works for the league. “He just retired from broadcasting – [that’s] the only thing he’s stepped away from,” said Madden’s son Mike in an interview last year with USA Today. At 79, Madden serves on the coach’s subcommittee of the NFL’s competition committee, as well as the league’s safety panel. He reviews tape of the previous week’s injuries and officiating every Monday. “I never watched TV because I was always doing a game,” said Madden in the USA Today interview, noting how much he loves his new job. “Brent Musburger and those guys could sit and watch every game and know the scores and I was amazed and said, ‘I’d like to have something like that someday.’”
Madden has also become much more of the family man he always wanted to be. “[My wife] Virginia and I would take our sons and we’d be gone for six months at a time. The grandkids were so young, they didn’t know who the heck I was,” he recalled. Now, Madden is always home and always surrounded by family. He owns business with his sons, Mike and Joe, including the upscale, 38-room Rose Hotel in Pleasanton, California, where Madden now resides. As for his grandkids, they now get football coaching from the grandfather they once barely knew.
“It’s like I won the lottery ten times,” said Jack Madden, John’s 13-year-old grandson who was also featured in the USA Today article. “He gives me tips all the time like, ‘Nose guards never jump offsides.”
The true greatness of Madden’s coaching is lost on today’s NFL fan, partly because he only coached for ten full seasons, and partly because he is remembered for so many other ventures. Madden is the youngest coach ever to reach 100 career victories, and his winning percentage, factoring in both the regular and postseason, ranks second in league history. The knock on Madden and his Raiders teams was that they were never able to perform in the playoffs, though he retired with a 9-7 career playoff mark. Madden’s Raiders has the misfortune of playing contemporaneously with some of the greatest teams in NFL history. His first five playoff losses were at the hands of teams that would go on to win the Super Bowl that year. Chuck Noll’s Steelers (Four Super Bowls, four appearances) and Don Shula’s Dolphins (Two Super Bowls, three appearances) did not leave much room for other AFC teams in the Super Bowl. However, amazingly, Madden had a winning record against both coaches, and a career winning percentage of .685 against Noll, Shula and the eight other Hall-of-Fame head coaches whom Madden faced off with throughout his career.