As legendary big-and-tall Raiders coach-turned-football announcer John Madden rides off into the sunset aboard his tricked-out Madden Cruiser, we’re all left to ponder the ways in which our lives will be irrevocably altered. Mostly for the worse. I’m not just talking about pigskin fans, but also anyone who’s ever spent a week straight playing Madden’s videogame on Xbox, or who’s bellied up to a sumptuously decadent Thanksgiving Turducken, or who’s extinguished the fiery torment of Athlete’s Foot with “tough actin’ ” Tinactin.
When the big fella announced his retirement earlier today, I have to admit it hit me unexpectedly and hard. Like a forearm shiver from Julius Peppers. Sure, Madden had become a bit of a Falstaffian caricature over the last few years. But his perennial presence in the booth next to Al Michaels was something that I took for granted – something I just always assumed would be there. Football season didn’t officially begin in my mind until Madden’s first call. Now the dreaded day has come. And I’m left wondering what will we all do now? Heck, what will Frank Caliendo do now? (See clip at the end of this post.)
Knowing that I needed to share my grief with someone, I e-mailed myolder brother Keith. You won’t find a bigger, more rabid football fanthan Keith, whose Nostradamus-like “over-under” prognostications havepadded my off-the-books income for years. And even though I know Keithwasn’t always Madden’s biggest booster, he – like anyone who loved thegame – respected Madden’s constant championing of the little guy –which is to say, the big guy. You see, in the NFL, it’s the handsome,high-priced, endorsement-junkie quarterbacks, receivers, and runningbacks that get all of the loot and attention. Guys like Tom Brady,Terrell Owens, and LaDainian Tomlinson. But Madden loved the big guys– the lumbering, 350-pound right tackles, and centers, and defensiveends. The blue-collar, lunch-pail guys. The guys who threw the key blockthat quietly helped the flashy superstar score the game-winningtouchdown. In short, the guys like Madden. Without Madden callingattention to these unheralded he-men, I suspect the game itself willchange.
After the jump, some other things Keith will remember.
* The Madden Cruiser, of course. At the end of his weekly gamecast,Madden would plaster a headshot of that night’s MVP on the side of hispimped-out tour bus (occasionally it was a star player, but just asoften it was some grunting, snorting behemoth who casual fans couldn’tidentify in a police lineup). Madden was notoriously afraid to fly, sohe saddled up and took that bus across the country to wherever his nextgame-calling gig was. This not only made Madden as cool as some BrettMichaels touring rock star, his fear also made him human andidentifiable.
* Madden’s early adoption of the chicken stuffed in a duck stuffed ina turkey delicacy, the Turducken. It’s the kind of culinary innovation Top Chef Tom Colicchio would, or could, dream up.
* The “one knee equals two feet” rule. One of the gentle giant’s manyseemingly arcane, hare-brained sayings that upon further review werebrilliantly right on the money. Let’s face it, the guy knew his stuff,earned from years on the sideline as the Super Bowl-winning coach of the Oakland Raiders.
* His illegible lunatic scribblings on the Telestrator. Ever seeHomer Simpson do a find-your-way-through-the-maze game on a paperplacemat at Krusty Burger? How it would be all squiggly and scrawledwith switchbacks and detours until it was just one big chaotic doodle?Madden’s messy work with the Telestrator made those look sane andpristine.
* His long-simmering bitterness about Franco Harris’ ImmaculateReception catch. The fluky play which put the nail in the coffin forMadden’s Oakland Raiders in 1972. At the time, Madden chased a ref inhysterics about the call. He never let it go. Again, this made him justlike us – the fan at home.
* The youngest head coach to win 100 games (and the worst dressed).Have you ever seen some of the garish outfits and snug slacks the dudewore in the ’70s? It’s enough to give Tim Gunn a cardiac infarction.
* And finally, as the single worst guest host in Saturday Night Livehistory. That would be from 1982. He made Michael Phelps’ recenthosting stint look like the reincarnation of Buster Keaton. Which,again, made him more human.
I think I can speak for both of us, when I say, Happy Hunting, Big Red. We’ll miss you.
Will you miss Madden in the booth? What are your favorite (and least favorite) Madden moments?
And here’s the promised Caliendo-as-Madden clip from Letterman.