squirrelheader.jpg
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

John Madden, NFL Hall of Fame coach and broadcaster, has died at age 85

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The NFL is mourning the loss of one of its most successful head coaches and biggest personalities. The league announced that John Madden died unexpectedly this morning. He was 85. Madden was a Hall of Fame coach and a Super Bowl winner with the Oakland Raiders in 1977, and he was a man who stayed relevant long after his coaching career as a hugely popular broadcaster and someone who lent his name to a popular video game. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is here to remember him with us.

Hi, Tom.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Hi, Ari.

SHAPIRO: First, what do we know about John Madden's death?

GOLDMAN: Well, as you said, the NFL said it was unexpected. At this point, we don't know the cause. His death, ironically, came three days after a TV documentary on his life aired on Christmas Day. In the NFL's statement, commissioner Roger Goodell said - and I'm quoting here - "we all know him as the Hall of Fame coach of the Raiders and broadcaster who worked for every major network. But more than anything, he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather." Goodell went on to say, he was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others. We will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today.

SHAPIRO: Before we get to his legacy as a coach, a generation of football fans will remember his broadcasting. What was he like on the air?

GOLDMAN: Smart and hilarious - he knew football well, but he made it fun. And he didn't just use his words. He'd swing his arms wildly. He'd punctuate phrases or descriptions of plays by shouting, boom, and he'd go on these little jaunts, like this one with fellow broadcaster Pat Summerall talking about then-Dallas Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman. Here he is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOHN MADDEN: You noticed, Pat, Troy Aikman is trying to grow a beard. And he just can't do it. I mean, you know, the blond-haired guys, a lot of them have trouble. But I can't even - I'm looking as close as I can, and I can't see any beard. But he's been - that's a four-day beard.

PAT SUMMERALL: It's a passive attempt.

MADDEN: It's very, very passive.

SHAPIRO: Incisive football commentary there.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) Right, not a lot - and, Ari, his larger-than-life personality extended beyond the broadcast booth. I spoke today with Amy Trask. She was a longtime executive with the Oakland Raiders who knew Madden, and she described him this way.

AMY TRASK: He was a presence. He was a force. He filled a room.

SHAPIRO: All right, Tom, you've mentioned his Super Bowl win with the Raiders in '77. What can you tell us about his coaching beyond that high point?

GOLDMAN: Well, that was the highest point, but there was a lot of other success in the years he coached Oakland from 1969 to 1978. He was just 32 when he was hired as the youngest head coach in the then-American Football League. His overall regular season record was 103 wins, 32 losses and seven ties. That's a 76% winning percentage, which is really good. He loved football. He knew the game well. Amy Trask talked about another aspect of coaching that played into his success. Here she is again.

TRASK: What was shared with me was he was collaborative and accepted input from others and wanted to put people in the best position to be their best.

SHAPIRO: And finally, for those who may not know Madden the coach or the broadcaster, they might know him through his popular video game.

GOLDMAN: Absolutely. It's the reason he did remain relevant all these years. The Madden video game - very popular for fans and for players. It was always an honor for a player to be on that year's cover of the Madden game. Strangely, though, there's also been the Madden curse. The player on the cover often has had a following season filled with injury or poor play. But still, the game kept Madden a very significant part of pro football into his later years. So between that video game, broadcasting and coaching, he was a huge presence. And he will be missed.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Tom Goldman on the life of NFL coach and Super Bowl winner John Madden, who died today at age 85.

Thanks, Tom.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome, Ari. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tags

Tom Goldman is NPR's sports correspondent. His reports can be heard throughout NPR's news programming, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered, and on NPR.org.