John Madden, America’s Favorite Broadcasting Chef, Ate Football Up. During the trip to Canton, Ohio, for the Hall of Fame game in 2005, John Madden talked about his favourite season. It wasn’t spring or summer. It was football season.
He told me how he comes out of hibernation like a bear when the N.F.L. season is near. He had recently been to a practise for the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field. This was his appetiser for the whole season.
“I know this sounds fake, but there’s no better smell than that grass and the smell of a baby’s head.” It’s great that football is back. You’ll be away for six months. Then, my body tells me something.
Not sure when I first heard Madden, who died on Tuesday at 85. He talked about a football game. But I’m sure he was on CBS in the early 1980s, sharing his excitement and hunger for the sport like a bear that had just woken up from a nap. His comic-book sound effects (Bam! Boom! Doink!) and electronic Telestrator squiggles taught a whole new generation how plays came together.
For the first time, people in the United States could see a coach’s chalkboard in their living rooms.
John Madden was a much better commentator and entertainer than the many analysts who came before him. It seemed like he was calling a different sport all together, and he was very good at it. They were slower to figure out a pass or run, and they didn’t first-guess the plays as quickly as Madden did in the booth. Cris Collinsworth, Tony Romo, and Troy Aikman are some of the best analysts today, but they aren’t nearly as interesting or funny as they used to be.
One advantage of Madden’s well-informed, unpolished, real-life appeal was that he could keep people watching, or awake, during a big game. He would have been the best play-by-play announcer if he hadn’t been. Pat Summerall, an ex-player who was a broadcast partner, was a big part of the magic. Summerall made Madden look like an expert straight man, like Bud Abbott to Lou Costello, by setting him up.
Summerall could end a conversation by saying “yes” on both ends of a Madden monologue. This would be a simple way for Summerall to end the conversation. Fans who said that announcers talked too much didn’t say anything about Summerall.
When Al Michaels and Madden worked together on ABC’s and NBC’s “Monday Night Football,” they had a different kind of relationship with each other than when they worked together on Summerall’s show.
Afterwards, Michaels said: “He spoiled you.” “I didn’t have to wonder if John knew or was ready.” John can run with you and talk to you about anything.
There are a lot of sportscasters who seem to live only when they are on the air. John Madden, on the other hand, built up a huge football brand for himself as a commercial pitchman for a wide range of products. “You’ve got a hard case of athlete’s foot?” Boom! It is the name of a popular video game and the most famous bus dweller since Ralph Kramden because he didn’t fly. His wife, Virginia, did and had a pilot’s licence.
The fans knew that when Charles Kuralt and his crew stopped at a roadside restaurant to eat, they might be able to talk to him and ask him about football. He was, after all, Charles Kuralt.
Food was a big theme in Madden’s world. When I went on a trip with him in 1997, the food on the bus was a dish of cabbage and noodles, sausage, and chilli. It was very spicy. “Mmm,” he said as he took in the aromas of his heart-healthy feast. People say that fat and sugar smell good. It doesn’t smell good when tofu is being boiled.
He said, “Anything that smells good is good for you.”
Turducken: This is a deboned chicken inside of a deboned duck, inside of a deboned turkey. It’s for Thanksgiving. Before Madden made it famous, this festival of poultry was already going on. It seemed to have been made just for Madden’s hunger and his desire to talk about food during games.
He was a physical presence from when he was the coach of the Oakland Raiders. He was overweight, his red hair was uncombed, his shirt was partly untucked, a sideline pass was hanging from a belt loop, and he was shouting and flailing his arms. That persona was perfect for the Miller Lite commercials that featured former athletes, coaches, and celebrities. In one, he crashed through the wall of a bar.
During his time as a sportscaster, he broke through our TV screens like no one else had before. He changed the way he did his job so much that there have been no true imitators.
When Harry Kalas, the voice of the Philadelphia Phillies, fell to the ground in the booth at Nationals Park before a game between the Phillies and the Nationals, he died at a nearby hospital. A few days before Madden retired, Kalas died. I asked John Madden if he thought retiring when he was healthy was the best way to avoid dying at a game. He said no.
“That wasn’t one of my ideas,” he said. “Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.”