The rumors that circulate about John Madden are similar to the side dishes served at a Thanksgiving meal.
Although they are not meals in themselves, they are memorable, warm, and give you a taste of this larger-than-life figure who rose from an NFL coach to a pop-culture hero.
The NFL will pay tribute to Madden, who passed away three days after Christmas last year, with special broadcast tributes throughout the games on CBS, Fox, and NBC, all of which he worked for.
Madden consistently made an impression, whether it was converting the broadcast booth into the Temple of Boom! or utilizing the telestrator to draw a picture of how the New York Giants would drop a Gatorade bucket onto the head of the winning coach Bill Parcells.
Drew Esocoff, who oversaw the production of the “Sunday Night Football” contests presided over by Al Michaels and John Madden, remarked that “John would say something on the radio that would take 12 seconds, and people would still be talking about it 40 years later.”
Accordingly, The Times contacted a variety of individuals who had the most firsthand knowledge of Madden to gather their accounts of him. These individuals included NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, former Raiders offensive lineman Henry Lawrence, Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning, Michaels, and Madden’s son, Mike.
Several of their preferred tales:
Restarting the Design Process
When Manning first joined the Indianapolis Colts in 1998, his grandfather was eager to hear when Madden and Pat Summerall, the top Fox broadcast combination, would be calling one of his games.
After the season, the quarterback defended their approach: “They just don’t do 3-13 teams, Pa-Pa.”
The Colts were on their way to a 13-3 finish the next season, and things were different then. Week 8 saw the arrival of the Cowboys, Madden, and Summerall.
Manning usually met with the broadcast team on Friday before a game, but Madden was delayed and had to reschedule for Saturday morning.
Manning remembered, “Madden and I were set to meet that morning at 7:45 to do our production meeting. We had a team meeting at 8:30. When I go in, he has me charting routes on the board and asking me what I’m looking for when we make audibles. I have the impression that I am at the combine to demonstrate to a coach what I know about offensive. But Madden, the broadcaster, has me all over the place right now. The next thing you know, it’s 8:29, and our PR specialist enters to tell Peyton that she needs to leave. [Sarcastically] I appreciate you finding me a minute early.
Manning hurried to the team meeting down the hall, but it was already too late. The entrance was locked.
He remarked, “Madden had me drawing up plays, so I assumed that was OK. I wasn’t going to walk in there late.” But it turned out that I didn’t have a good reason for it.
Fortunately for Manning, the Colts were successful.
Vivacious Party Animal
When Cris Collinsworth made his debut as an NBC studio anchor, Madden was in the booth for a preseason game in Cincinnati. Collinsworth, a former Bengals player who still resides nearby, hosted a small gathering at their house the evening before the game. After hearing that Madden would be dropping by, their friends and neighbors also happened to wander over to say hi.
My boys were between the ages of 10 and 12 at the time, Collinsworth recounted. They both participated in the local league for football. What kind of defense are you playing, John asked them as soon as he sat down with them. They informed him that the score was 4-4. ‘A 4-4? I’m certain I can defeat that. Then he begins doing everything, including putting out the knives and spoons and salt shakers.
“I can assure you that John had not approached anyone else an hour later. I’m not even sure whether he had ever eaten, but he’s still sitting there with these tools on the table, planning plays and discussing the game of ball with the two youngsters.
After finishing, he leapt up, ran up to Holly, hugged her, shook my hand, and said, “This was a terrific party. awesome party one of my all-time favorites. It was a terrific party, but I have to leave now. That was all he did, too. It was wonderful.
Madden is renowned for forgoing air travel and instead using his fully equipped bus, the Madden Cruiser, to get from game to game. Over the years, there were five of those, and the family still owns Cruisers Nos. 4 and 5.
Many of the memories were created on the open road. John Robinson, a former USC and Rams coach who has been best friends with Madden since they were young children growing up in San Francisco, on many of those road trips and remembers that his friend wasn’t always the best judge of eateries.
We stopped five or six times on the way down, according to Robinson, who once traveled with him from New York to New Orleans. Each restaurant he chose was worse than the one before it. We were all grumbling, saying, “John, let someone else choose the locations.” No, I’m the picker, he’d reply. He would choose a location if it seemed horrible.
Madden was a person of the people, despite the fact that he amassed hundreds of millions of dollars from all of his activities. He, too, was a creature of routine. He would frequently bring his 2 sons to Saturday walk-through sessions while he was the Oakland Raiders’ head coach. Every time, he would stop at Denny’s for two poached eggs and corned beef hash, and on the way home, they would always make a stop at Foster’s Freeze for burgers & banana shakes.
Not everything revolved on fast food. Madden was also a skilled chef. That made for some amusing comedy when combined with Michaels’ odd eating habits, who won’t let a vegetable even come close to touching his plate.
We were in Green Bay, and Michaels remarked, “I love cheese & broth & croutons, but I despise onions.” I asked the server if there was any chance I could order the French onion soup with out onions because it was the restaurant’s specialty. John found it absurd when she stated they could do it. He considered it to be the most incredible order ever filled. That was something John and I would discuss at least once a year. Have you recently had French onion soup with out onions, he would inquire.
Another order was even more nauseating.
We went to a fancy seafood restaurant while we were in New York, Michaels remarked. “When I ordered swordfish, John told me I couldn’t have it. My very close friends who work as commercial fishermen tell me that swordfish is rife with tumors and boils. So that was the end of the order.
The Madden Cruiser served as the main eating area.
Former “Sunday Night Football” producer Fred Gaudelli recalled, “The fridge on the bus was usually loaded with food and drinks.” When the weather got warmer, John would bring a barbecue to Lambeau Field and have his boys cook brats for the entire team whenever we had a game.
Every year, I lost between 15 and 20 pounds throughout a Madden season. It was funny.
Take a Seat
Over the course of his seven-year tenure with Madden, Gaudelli worked on numerous New England Patriots contests. The producer’s home is in Madison, Connecticut, which is about a 112-hour trip from Gillette Stadium, so Madden would stop by and pick him up in the bus.
John would wind all around neighborhood and drive up in front of my house because I live on a cul-de-sac, he explained. “Everyone in the neighborhood would show up. It was astounding to the high school football players who lived on my street because Madden was already on their street. He would give the youngsters his video games, which he always kept on the bus.
Neighbors would line up to board the bus, greet the famed coach, and possibly get their picture taken with him. Madden was pleased to comply.
Long before they started working on football broadcasts together, Madden and Dick Ebersol, the former chairman of NBC Sports, were close friends. “Saturday Night Live,” which Ebersol & Lorne Michaels co-created, welcomed Madden as a guest host in 1982.
Just a few hours before the show’s live broadcast, Madden was so at ease that he pulled a practical joke at the dress rehearsal. During the rehearsal, Madden was about to start his monologue when he called for Ebersol and threatened to leave the performance.
He informed the crowd, “I’m going to finish the dress rehearsal & then I’ll be going to depart. I’m not happy with the way things have been going, but I’m a trooper enough to finish it for this audience before leaving.
Ebersol was terrified.
“John yelled my name repeatedly: “Ebersol! Ebersol! Escape from here! I think it was seven or eight steps for me to reach the studio floor. He was grinning widely, which I couldn’t see but the crowd could. He abruptly said, “Gotcha! “
Madden has innate talent. An orange, leather-bound copy of a script with their name and the date embossed on the cover is given to each host of the program. When Madden passed away, the family gave Ebersol that book.
Ebersol claimed, “John always got me.” “He got me right in the heart,” I said.
Man for Every Occasion
Other than football, Madden and I had some of the most entertaining chats.
People often associate him with the boom, the sound effects, and the writing on the telestrator, according to Michaels. “It gave the impression that John was oafish. He was the opposite. He was a very intelligent, well-read man who could talk about anything. Working with John for 7 years was my favorite part of my job.
He simply had a fantastic ability to perceive the environment, read a room, and distill any topic—whether it was politics, the economy, or the wider globe.
Jones recalled receiving a conference call from Madden and Al Davis, the owner of the Raiders, commending him on his tenacious resolve to see the Cowboys through a challenging first season.
Jones remarked that, “other than a very small number of owners, John had the best instincts and business knowledge of anyone I’ve encountered in the game.” He ranks among the most intelligent financial professionals I have ever encountered in the NFL, in my opinion. That covers all of the leaders of companies, commissioners, coaches, and TV executives. John would rank quite highly.
John Robinson, a former USC football coach, and John Madden, an NBC Sports football analyst, are shown together on the left.
Following Roger’s Lead
Goodell, who refers to Madden as “Coach,” drove the Madden Cruiser on some training camp excursions around the Atlantic Coast. At one point, late at night, they stopped and entered a chain restaurant.
The commissioner remembered, “We stopped at a Chili’s along the New Jersey Turnpike. “Coach requested a bowl of chili as it was evident that it was about to close. We’re out of chili, the woman told him. With that one, he was in his element. Chilies has run out of chili! You could have turned it into an entire spectacle. It appeared as though he was mapping out everything. He wasn’t being unkind to the server or anyone else; he was just enjoying himself. It appeared as though he was speaking about turducken on television once more.
Goodell frequently went to Madden for input or to bounce ideas off of.
Goodell remarked, “He knew the game on the field and the business of the game. He was well-versed in the game’s past, was concerned about it greatly in the future, and was a student of it. He had the widest vision of anyone I’ve ever known in this industry.
Back On The Road
Madden was unable to spend Thanksgiving with his family for a large portion of his career. They kept a plate heated for him to eat when he arrived home at night while he was coaching. He was calling the game when he was a broadcaster in another city.
His son Mike recalled, “He made up for it at Christmas and Easter.” “We had beautifully planned Easter egg hunts and we methodically opened presents on Christmas Eve.”
The Joneses made an effort to make Madden feel at home while he spent Thanksgiving in Dallas, which was a lot of time.
The Cowboys owner recalled, “He’d have supper over here the night before, as well as Gene would prepare him fried quail, which he liked. We would travel about Dallas after supper to check at some of the construction sites.
Ross Perot Jr., a real estate developer, once offered to give Madden a Thanksgiving helicopter tour over Dallas. The arthritic football legend decided on an automobile.
Virginia and John Madden regarded Lawrence, a lineman with the Raiders, as a third son. Long after his playing days were over, he continued to make Thanksgiving dinner on a regular basis.
Lawrence affirmed, “I absolutely felt like a member of the family.” “I continue to.”
Madden said that he frequently was unable to attend the holiday. He had work to complete.
We would spend Thanksgiving away from our family, and John would say, “Look, let me being honest with you, OK? Do you believe they miss you? They are not missing you. They are concerned for a brief moment about your absence before losing interest.
That’s where Madden was wrong, as this Thanksgiving has shown.