February 21, 2018

Book Review: Madden: A Biography

Don’t put John Madden in a video game box, in a coach’s box or a broadcast booth. When you think you have him figured out, a surprise awaits you.

“John Madden is totally different in person from what you see on the air,” a close friend said. “A very private person, in many ways a lonely person with no habits other than football” (xvi, Madden).

Read “Madden: A Biography” by Bryan Burwell because:

1. Madden will always be a coach.

In 10 seasons, Coach Madden’s Raiders captured seven Western Division titles, five straight from 1972 to 1976. At a time when an NFL schedule spanned 14 games, Madden’s teams won 10 or more games six times. His .759 regular-season winning percentage is the best-ever among coaches with 100 wins. Only George Halas and Curly Lambeau secured 100 wins more quickly.

After a knee injury ended his pro football career, Madden found himself coaching junior highers. By the time he was 32, he was coaching pros. Of course that came with Al Davis attached. When Davis questioned Madden’s age, Madden responded, “What’s age got to do with it?  If I can be the head coach, I can be the head coach now. I either have it in me or I don’t. And I said I have it in me, so it doesn’t make any difference if we do it now or three or four years from now or five years from now.” Davis asked what qualified Madden. “Well, what were your credentials to get to be [the Raiders boss] at such a young age?” Madden said (71.)

As head coach, Madden had three rules: Be on time, pay attention and play like hell when I tell you to. That was it. Madden never liked rules anyway. Why should he enforce a long list on his players?

No wonder he was beloved by players. He loved his family and his family loved him, but after 10 seasons leading the Raiders, Madden had to play catch up with his family. “It’s sad but true. I didn’t have any idea how old my kids were,” he said (179.) That’s when he knew it was time to retire from coaching.

2. Broadcasting is another aspect of Madden.

The coach had not given much thought to broadcasting. Matter of fact, he says he was so focused on coaching, he didn’t have time to watch broadcasts. He appeared in a few beer commercials. (Who wouldn’t want to have a brew with the big guy?) Could everybody’s favorite pitch man transition from 30 seconds to three hours? No one was sure.

TV crews soon found out Madden was not merely a funny man. As a player he learned to study film. Wasn’t that what you did in broadcasting? When he started in TV, the answer was no, but Madden changed that.

Madden’s first broadcast rehearsal was with Bob Costas. Costas had been in the business a few years, but he was starting out as well. Years later, the two broadcasting icons recalled one another’s commitment to the craft. Pat Summerall and John Madden first worked together in 1979 and would go to share a partnership in the booth for more than 20 years, forming what many fans call the best football duo ever.

3. Yes, there is a little truth to those preconceived ideas you have, but Madden knows that. What you don’t know is there is so much more to him.

You know you love turducken. You love the Madden cruiser. Can you imagine his bus pulling up to your favorite burger joint? He just might, because the guy loves to eat just like you thought. He loves chatting with perfect strangers too.

Those plays he gets all excited about on your TV? He became enamored of game film study with Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin. These days Madden has a hard time resisting the urge to get keyed up at his grandson’s football game.

It’s tough to know in which category to put John Madden. In 2006, folks put him in the right place, if ever there was one – the Pro Football Hall of Fame – fans can say what they want, but Madden’s record speaks for itself.

Pick up “Madden: A Biography” by Bryan Burwell.

Sam Miller is the founder of Sam’s Dream Blog.  A graduate of the University of Illinois, he worked with various teams in sports information and received the Freedom Forum – NCAA Sports Journalism Scholarship for his achievements. At the University of Illinois, Miller regularly wrote feature stories about the football team. He has also served as communications intern for the Angels’ Triple-A affiliate. Prior to that, he worked as a communications intern for USA Basketball and as an associate reporter for MLB.com.