John Madden, the Hall of Fame coach and commentator whose exuberant style and straightforward explanations have been the soundtrack to NFL broadcasts for three decades, died Tuesday, the league said. He was 85 years old.
The NFL said Madden died suddenly, though it did not reveal the cause.
Madden gained notoriety during his decade leading the renegade Oakland Raiders, leading the franchise to seven AFC finals and winning the Super Bowl at the end of the 1976 season. He went 103-32-7 on the season. regular and his winning percentage of .759 is the best among managers with at least 100 games.
But it was the job he landed after his early retirement as a coach at the age of 42 that catapulted Madden to fame. He educated an entire nation on the subject of American football with his use of the “telestrator” on broadcasts. This technology allowed lines, arrows, and circles to be drawn on the screen, and Madden used it to explain formations, trajectories, and plays.
Madden entertained millions of viewers with expressions like “Boom!” and “Doink!”; he was a ubiquitous figure in ad campaigns for restaurants, hardware stores, and beers; he became the face of “Madden NFL Football,” one of the most successful sports video games in history, and was a best-selling author.
More importantly, he was the most recognized sports analyst on television for much of his three decades in the broadcast booth. He won an unprecedented 16 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Personality or Analyst and covered 11 Super Bowls for four different networks between 1979 and 2009.
“People always ask me, ‘Are you a coach, an analyst or the video game guy?’” he said during his Hall of Fame induction speech. “I’m a coach, I’ve always been a coach.”
He began his career as an analyst at CBS after leaving the grid, largely due to his fear of traveling by plane. He and Pat Summerall became the network’s premier commentary duo.
Madden later helped Fox gain credibility as a big-name network when he came to the company in 1994. He called games for ABC and NBC before retiring following Pittsburgh’s thrilling 27-23 win over Arizona in the 2009 Super Bowl.
“I am not aware of anyone who has had a more significant impact on the NFL than John Madden, and I know that no one loved the game more,” Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones said in a statement.
Burly, and a bit scruffy, Madden earned a place in America’s hearts with an affable, unassuming style that was a breath of fresh air in a sports world of skyrocketing salaries and diva-minded stars. He traveled to games in his own bus because he suffered from claustrophobia and stopped flying. For a time, he gave away a turkey stuffed with duck, which in turn was stuffed with chicken, to the most notable player at the Thanksgiving game he was called to commentate on.
“No one loved football more than the coach. He was pure football,” Commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. “It was an incredible voice for me and for many others. There will never be another John Madden, and we are forever indebted to him for everything he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.”
When he finally retired from the broadcast booth, leaving the Sunday night broadcasts, his peers praised his passion, his preparation, and his ability to explain a complicated game in the simplest terms.
“No one has made sports more interesting, more relevant and more enjoyable to watch and listen to than John,” narrator Al Michaels said at the time.
He added that working for seven years with Madden on ABC and NBC was like “winning the lottery.”
Madden grew up in Daly City, California. He played on Cal Poly’s offensive and defensive line in 1957 and ’58, earning master’s and pro degrees from Cal Poly.
He was chosen as a member of his conference’s Dream Team. The Philadelphia Eagles drafted him, but a knee injury prevented him from playing professionally.
Instead, he embraced a coaching career, first with Hancock Junior College and later as defensive coordinator at San Diego State.
Al Davis brought him to the Raiders as linebackers coach in 1987. Oakland reached the Super Bowl after his first year on the job. Following the 1968 season, when he was 32, he replaced John Rauch as head coach, beginning a remarkable decade-long career.
Oakland clinched the crown in 1977, with a 32-14 blowout of Minnesota in the Super Bowl.
Madden is survived by his wife Virginia and two sons: Joseph and Michael. John and Virginia Madden had been married for 62 years two days before the death of the legendary commentator.