NFL: How could Madden leave us like this?
By Scott Ostler
John Madden is giving up broadcasting to spend more time with his family?
I thought we were his family.
He’s been sneaking around behind our back with a real family? Boom! What a blow! Who knew? Is that even legal?
Madden’s premature retirement ó most famous broadcasters wait until they’re dead to announce their retirement ó raises several questions:
ó How the hell do you retire from doing what Madden did? Will he kick back into the easy life of a road-repair crewman?
– Who’s going to take fill Madden’s shoes? Actually, that won’t be a problem. Madden is taking his shoes with him. Cris Collingsworth will jump into Madden’s spot in the booth, and Collinsworth is good, but he’s no Madden. I saw comedian Frank Caliendo at Union Square Thursday, asking tourists for spare change.
– Most importantly, what’s Madden going to do with the bus? Would he be willing to trade it straight up for a rusted and battered ’94 pickup truck?
That bus, by the way, was a strong element of the Madden mystique. He was living a fantasy life and the rest of us were along for the ride. What guy out there hasn’t said to himself, “Dude, you gotta get yourself a big old customized superbus, and a sidekick who likes to drive, and just road-trip around the country looking for great spareribs and good football games.”
Very few of us actually pull that off.
Madden did it because he has actual talent, for enjoying those spareribs and football games, and for telling us about both. In the bus and up in the booth, he was everyschlub.
So many TV fellows analyze the game as if they are generals in the War Room, moving soldiers and tanks around with croupier sticks. Madden let us in on a secret: underneath all the playbooks and strategies and analysis is a football game played by guys with actual personalities, hearts and spleens.
“He made players real people and allowed fans to see them in a personal way,” 49ers coach Mike Singletary said of Madden.
Incidentally, here’s a public-service reminder: John Madden is not dead! All these tributes are starting to sound like eulogies, but big ol’ John is just doing a Tom Sawyer- eavesdropping on his own funeral.
He will even continue to do color commentary, but to smaller audiences, like when he’s regaling his family as he carves the traditional Thanksgiving turducken.
While we’re praising Madden’s folksiness, let’s not forget that he was (and is) a football man, nobody’s cupcake. He survived 10 (!) seasons working for Al Davis, without either party engaging in strangling, suing or firing. On Madden’s part, that shows either wonderful people skills or a major character flaw ó you make the call.
Even back then, Madden had a distinctive style. A former player told me of the time one of Madden’s Raiders, we’ll call him Smith, tried to make a tackle at the sideline, bounced off the ball carrier and skidded to a stop at Madden’s feet.
Madden looked down and screamed, “Smith, you tackle like old people (make love)!”
Madden had no time for people who fell back on cliches, either in life, on the field or in the booth. More than once he said of a badly beaten team, “People give them credit for not folding up their tents and going home, but you can’t do that! It’s against the rules! You can’t leave until the game’s over!”
And yet here’s Madden, folding up his tent and going home early. Here in the Bay Area, this cuts deeply into our dwindling supply of certified football genius characters. Bill Walsh is gone, Madden is retired, and Al Davis is either fading badly or undergoing a decade-long battery-recharge.
There are rumors that Madden will rejoin his old boss Davis in some capacity. Maybe John could come in once a week and narrate the team’s film-study session. “Boom! Wham! Boy, you know, when stuff like that happens, it’s really somethin’!”
Madden almost surely will not be the Raiders’ new coach. Today’s players don’t like to be told they tackle like old people make love. But who knows, he could assume a significant role with the team. Madden could become the organization’s only “no” man, the guy who says, “That’s not a good idea, Al.”
Or maybe Madden will just kick back in front of his TV, with his family, watch football, realize what kind of commentating he left us with, feel intense guilt, and decide to un-retire.
If that happens, I’ll take one for the team, I’ll loan him back the bus.
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