Legendary coach and broadcaster John Madden died Tuesday morning, the NFL announced. For fans, no one is more synonymous with football than Madden, and perhaps no one person has done more to bring new people into the game.
“On behalf of the entire NFL family, we extend our condolences to Virginia, Mike, Joe and their families,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said in an official statement. “We all know him as the Hall of Fame coach of the Oakland Raiders and broadcaster who worked for every major network, but more than anything, he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather.
“Nobody loved football more than Coach. He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others. There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.”
A late draft pick, Madden’s NFL stint was set to start in 1958 with the Philadelphia Eagles, but a career-ending knee injury sidelined him before his professional gridiron days started. Madden moved into coaching, beginning at a community college. He ended up in Oakland, bringing home a Lombardi Trophy and becoming the winningest coach in Raiders history. Madden had secured his spot as one of the greatest coaches of his era before stepping down to become a broadcaster. On TV, Madden excelled as well, becoming one of the most memorable and enjoyable color commenters. He won 16 Emmy Awards before retiring in 2008.
As a kid, of course I remember him from Monday Night Football, but Madden was this larger than life figure. He’d pop up in hardware store ads and beer commercials. You’d spot him in random music videos or on The Simpsons. He was this jovial character of Americana who was afraid of flying but loved football dearly. For me and many others, his greatest cultural achievement was Madden NFL.
I didn’t play 1988’s John Madden Football, but remember seeing the box art in shops, featuring Madden bursting through a chalkboard, football in hand, with a big grin on his face. I did buy John Madden Football two years later on the Genesis. Compared to every other football game—heck, compared to every other sports game I had played at the time, it was a revelation. The Madden games not only featured his voice and likeness, but they oozed his personality. Yet, the appeal was more than that: It’s important that the debut game’s box art showed Madden breaking through a chalkboard covered with plays. As amusing as I found the ambulance driving on the field, these games were about learning to execute strategy and tactics. They struck at the very core of football.
A Super Bowl win can help build a franchise or establish a dynasty. Lively color commentary provides insight in the game and becomes soundbites for highlight reels. It’s hard to measure the impact of Madden NFL. The games became a way for people not only to play a virtual version of football, but develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the game. I’m from the generation that grew up on Madden—but now, it seems like every generation does. Even if you never saw him coach or broadcast, if you’ve ever played a football video game, you’ve been impacted by John Madden. And for that, we thank him.