NFL legend John Madden dies at 85

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  • John Madden
    John Madden
    American football player and coach

NFL legend John Madden died Tuesday at the age of 85, according to the league.

How you remember John Madden is likely a direct reflection of your age. He was one of football’s biggest titans, leaving his impact on the game in a myriad of ways.

He became a Hall of Fame coach with the Oakland Raiders in the 1970s, worked as one of history’s best broadcasters for the three decades after that and today exists as the namesake of a video game franchise played by millions who never knew him as a coach or broadcaster.

Put it this way: Not everyone knows John Madden for the same reason. But everyone knows John Madden.

John Madden’s football odyssey has humble beginnings

One of the most unique football journeys in history began on April 10, 1936, when Madden was born in Austin, Minnesota. He played college football at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 21st round of the 1958 NFL draft.

A knee injury in his first training camp ended his career before he ever appeared in a game and he quickly got into coaching at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria, California, and San Diego State (where he coached under future Chargers coach Don Coryell).

Madden joined the Oakland Raiders in 1967 as a linebackers coach and took the top job two seasons later. He was 32 at the time, making him one of the youngest head coaches in NFL history. He led the Raiders to a 12-1-1 season in his first year and never looked back.

John Madden celebrates after leading the Oakland Raiders past the Minnesota Vikings to win Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977 in Pasadena. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)
John Madden celebrates after leading the Oakland Raiders past the Minnesota Vikings to win Super Bowl XI on January 9, 1977 in Pasadena. (Photo by Focus on Sport/Getty Images)

Madden has historic success with Raiders

In 1976, Madden reached the pinnacle of his profession. His Raiders were 13-1 in the regular season, winning the AFC with a championship game victory over the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers. They then beat the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Super Bowl XI and footage of Madden being carried off the field became one of the league’s most enduring images.

Madden retired in 1978 after coaching the Raiders for 10 seasons. He finished with a 103-32-7 record and his .759 winning percentage is by far the best among coaches with at least 100 games. The second-best? A guy by the name of Vince Lombardi at .738.

It says something about Madden that for many people, his life as a former NFL coach is an afterthought. And that’s because his second act in football became just as legendary as his time as a coach.

Madden one of biggest broadcasting stars ever

Through the 1980s and 1990s, Madden and Pat Summerall formed one of the most famous broadcasting teams in sports history. For two decades, nothing signified a big NFL game more than Madden and Summerall on the call. Madden’s excitable personality was perfect alongside the calm demeanor of Summerall. How many Thanksgivings in this country were soundtracked by the annual games that both men called?

The two worked at CBS before moving over to Fox when that network won the rights to NFC games. Their last game together was in 2002, when the New England Patriots upset the St. Louis Rams in Super Bowl XXXVI.

After Summerall’s retirement, Madden joined “Monday Night Football” on ABC and was paired with Al Michaels. Madden and Michaels switched to “Sunday Night Football” on NBC in 2006. When Madden retired from broadcasting in 2009 he had a record 16 Emmy Awards for Outstanding Sports Analyst/Personality. Madden and Howard Cosell stand above everyone else as the most famous broadcasters in NFL history.

Teamed with Pat Summerall (left), John Madden became the voice of a generation of NFL coverage. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect)
Teamed with Pat Summerall (left), John Madden became the voice of a generation of NFL coverage. (Photo by Frank Micelotta/ImageDirect)

Madden becomes a successful pitchman

If a great coaching career and a star turn in the broadcasting booth wasn’t enough, Madden’s outsized presence made him one of the most ubiquitous pitchmen in NFL history. From Ace Hardware to “tough-actin’ Tinactin,” Madden endorsed a wide variety of products as the NFL turned into the billion-dollar behemoth that it is today.

No endorsements were bigger for Madden, though, than his eponymous football video game, which was first released in 1988 for the Apple II. The first version was fairly primitive but focused more on X's and O's than any football game before it. Through the years, “Madden” became the gold standard of football games on a variety of platforms with actual NFL players getting so into the game play that they’d complain about their ratings.

Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as a coach in 2006, but his impact on the game went far beyond the playing field. For a period of almost 50 years, you could argue there wasn’t a bigger name in the game.

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