John Madden died Tuesday at the age of 85 and football fans lost a kindred spirit with his passing.
Madden coached a team that was either loved or reviled in the late 1960s and 1970s. The Oakland, then Los Angeles, then Oakland and now Las Vegas Raiders were the “Black Barts” of football, being viewed by many NFL fans as the outlaws and thieves their moniker implied. Most of the hatred for Madden’s teams stemmed from how good, competitive, resourceful and yes, dirty they were.
Plus, he coached for an owner Al Davis that was loathed by the hierarchy of the league, the establishment, especially its commissioner Pete Rozelle.
Yet, Madden always never seemed to be the center of the storm but, never above the fray of the nastiness that the Raiders players exhibited on the field. His bellowing, complaining ways and his unique mannerism like constantly parting his hair during his sideline marches made him a football caricature of a coach-Ralph Kramden with a whistle and clipboard.
It was always a pleasure watching his club defeated in the playoffs every year except for the 1976-1977 season when the Raiders, Al Davis and John Madden finally reached the promised land and won its first Super Bowl with a convincing triumph over the Minnesota Vikings , the four time Super Bowl loser from the NFL/NFC, in the Rose Bowl.
That year anti-Raiders fans cringed as the “Silver and Black” Al Davis and EVEN Madden could finally spit in the proverbially face of Rozelle, rub it in the noses of the NFL establishment and snipe Oakland’s old AFL rivals like Kansas City, Denver and the New York Jets as the finally won the ultimate game after suffering so many heartbreaking defeats in Madden’s reign. They lost five times in the Conference or League Championship Game.
Like most NFL fans, Davis was perceived as “ The Rebel Without a Cause” owner constantly disrupting and suing the NFL for mistreatment and unfair practices towards his players, team and franchise.
Madden was seen as a cohort of this Criminal Syndicate called the Oakland Raiders football team.
However, unlike Davis, Madden was able to “reform his persona”. His life had an epiphany when he retired from the Raiders and segued to broadcasting the game he used to coach but still loved.
In both careers, he was a superstar.
Most might know the name Madden from his computer “Madden” football games, but he was a terrific coach and marvelous voice in the booth.
He was charismatic, exuded enthusiasm and made the complexity of the game simple to grasp all the while mixing football terminology with funny anecdotes, drawings and colorful vocabulary. Most fans marveled at his Einstein knowledge of the “game within a game”, but appreciated his “blue collar, bar-speak” language like “snot knockers, lunch pail player and “BOOM!” that many prim and proper broadcasters would never articulate .
Most appealing was that he often would predict what would happen instead of critique what just occurred which changed the entire dynamics of a broadcast.
Which is why he was so beloved, respected and admired even by the “Raider haters” who couldn’t stand his previous life,watching him pace the sidelines in his flailing tie and white short sleeved shirt encouraging his players , berating the officials and managing the game . Many always hoped he would slip on the broadcast wires or collide into one of his players as he stomped , argued, and boo-hooed on his way to another win by double digits. (56 regular season wins by 10 or more points)
Madden had a magnanimous, larger than life personality which mantled an accomplished coaching career.
He has the highest winning percentage (.759) in NFL history among those that have coached more than 100 games - higher than Bill Belichick (.674), Don Shula (,677), George Halas (.682), Chuck Noll (.566), Tom Landry (.607) and even Vince Lombardi (738)
And it is a winning percentage built on a decade of winning with a 103-32-7 mark guiding Oakland , to seven division titles, eight post seasons appearances and their first Super Bowl title.
Like Lombardi, he never had a losing season.
Unlike Lombardi, he only had one season in which he lost more than four games.
Like Lombardi, he had multiple ten win seasons, actually besting him 6-5.
Like Lombardi, Madden won his first Super Bowl in his first appearance.
Unlike Lombardi, no trophy is named for his coaching success.
But, he does have the Thanksgiving Day “Turkey Leg Award”.
Somehow this resonates more for Madden’s fans.