January 19, 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.

Book Review: Sayers: My Life and Times

Gale Sayers tied an NFL record with six touchdowns against San Francisco. But that’s not where his autobiography begins. “Sayers: My Life and Times” by Gale Sayers with Fred Mitchell starts with the most devastating play of the Hall of Fame halfback’s career. While Sayers is most-remembered for his six-touchdown game or as Brian Piccolo roommate, it’s also true that he played a mere 68 games.

Read “Sayers: My Life and Times” because:

1. “The Kansas Comet” learned how to savor the good times.

Sayers frowns on the scripted end zone celebrations we see today, but even he had to do a little dance after his sixth touchdown in the Bears’ 61-20 romp over the 49ers on Dec. 12, 1965. Don’t worry, coach George Halas kept him humble. ‘“You had a great game,”’ Halas said and left it at that. (31, Sayers) Halas had more to say when he presented Sayers at his Hall of Fame induction in 1977. Sayers was 34, the youngest player ever inducted at the time. Personally, Sayers is more proud of the computer supplies company he co-founded in 1982. Since its inception, Sayers Computer Source boasts revenues surpassing $150 million.

2. Sayers chose to move forward.

To become a successful businessman and family man, Sayers realized he couldn’t dwell on his football career that was cut short. At 25 years old, Sayers was at the peak of his game. In 1968, a direct blow to his knee put him on a path to early retirement three years later. Following a second knee injury, Sayers admits that he looked forward to pain killers. But he also had a healthy fear of them. He couldn’t remain on them, he decided, nor would he feel sorry for himself. Instead, following football, he returned to the stockbroker job he occupied part-time during his playing days. He also took Dale Carnegie classes to overcome a stammer.

3. Honesty reigns in this autobiography. Sayers shares freely about his coach, to his teammates, to his struggles after football.

Sayers acknowledges that Halas had a reputation for racial discrimination and being cheap. However, the 1965 Rookie of the Year refuses to say anything but positive remarks about the father figure in his life. Those who criticize Halas’ spending might not realize “Papa Bear” paid for all of Brian Piccolo’s hospital bills (more than five hundred thousand dollars) in addition to college educations for Piccolo’s three daughters.

Speaking of his former roommate, Sayers recalls how reporters would ask the pair about the black and white dynamic. “If you’re asking me what white Italian fullback from Wake Forest [I’d want as a roommate] I’d say Pick.” (42)

Similar to how Sayers used to move effortlessly, this book flows smoothly. Grab your chance to read about a Chicago Bears legend.

Sam Miller is a graduate of the University of Illinois where 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.

Great Forgotten Ends of the 1930’s

This article was written by Stan Grosshandler and was originally published in The Coffin Corner in 1993. The Coffin Corner is the official magazine of the Professional Football Researchers Association. Visit PFRA’s website to learn how to become a member today!

There was once a position called END!

The end played on both sides of the line of scrimmage; therefore, there was a left end and a right end. There were no split ends, tight ends, wide receivers, flankers, wide outs, or anything else.

There were just plain ENDS!

Now end was a very difficult position to play. You had to catch passes all over the field, block a tackle who vastly outweighed you, and stop end sweeps by throwing yourself into an interference that consisted of two running guards built like tanks and a pretty hefty blocking back built like a bull.

You were expected to play sixty minutes, which often meant you had to chase a pass the length of the field, then block that monster in front of you, and next go on defense and break up the interference. Some days it was just plain hell!

Four ends from the 1930’s, Don Hutson, Red Badgro, Bill Hewitt, and Wayne Millner are honored in the Hall of Fame. A fifth, Ray Flaherty, is in the Pro Football Hall for his coaching success, but was a very good end as a player.

During the early years of the NFL, George Halas, an old right end himself, did a pretty good job of collecting most of the talent. Besides Hewitt, he had Luke Johnsos, Bill Karr, Eggs Manske, Dick Plasman, and George Wilson.

Johnsos and Karr played the right side opposite Hewitt. With the Bears from 1929 through 1936, Luke had a career total of 87 receptions and 19 TDs. He served as co-head coach during Halas’ tour in the Navy during World War II. Bill Karr played from 1933 through 1938, scoring 18 TDs on a career total of only 48 receptions.

Eggs Manske studied law before joining the Eagles in 1935. He became a Bear in 1937, went to Pittsburgh the next season, and returned to Bears in 1939. Dick Plasman also joined the Bears in 1937. Known as the last player to play without a head gear, Dick took off two years for military service, returned in 1944 and then played for the Cards in 1946 and 1947. He played both defensive end and tackle with the Cards.

A long time Bear (1937-1946), George Wilson is best remembered as the man who with one block took out Jimmy Johnston and Ed Justice enabling Bill Osmanski to score the first six points of the great 73-0 rout of the Redskins in the 1940 championship game. Considered one of the great tacticians of the game, George coached the Lions from 1957 through 1964 and the Dolphins from 1966 to 1969. He also put in one season in the National Basketball League (1939-40).

The Packers, one of the early teams to have a potent passing attack, had Lavie Dilweg from 1927 through 1934 and Milt Gantenbein who arrived for a ten-year stay in 1931. A fine blocker, Gantenbein was “the other end” to Don Hutson at Green Bay, just as Bear Bryant had been at Alabama.

Joe Carter was one of the better, and lesser known ends of the early days. He played for the Eagles from 1933 through 1940, the Packers in 1942, spent 1943 in service and then two more seasons as a Brooklyn Dodger and Chicago Cardinal. In 1934, Joe tied with Red Badgro for most receptions in the league with 16.

Gaynell Tinsley, a highly touted All-American from LSU, hit the NFL in 1937 as a Cardinal. With his LSU passer, Pat Coffee, Tinsley gained a record 675 yards on receptions as he caught 36 passes and scored five touchdowns. On December 5th, he caught a 97 yard pass from Coffee that is still among the longest in history. The following season against the Rams, he took a 98 yarder from Doug Russell. This was the only TD he scored all season. Tinsley did not play the 1939 season. After a dispute over his salary, he decided to become a high-school coach; however, he returned for the 1940 campaign, his last. In only three seasons, he caught 93 passes for 1,356 yards.

Jim Benton was another high profile collegian when he joined the Cleveland Rams in 1938. At Arkansas, he had teamed with Jack Robbins and Dwight Sloan to make the Razorbacks the best passing team in the nation. Benton sat out the 1941 season, returned in 1942, was loaned to the Bears for 1943, returned to the Rams in 1944 and then moved to Los Angeles with the team, retiring after the 1947 season. Jim led the league in touchdowns by receivers in 1939, was the total yard leader in both 1945 and 1946; also leading in receptions the latter year. His 303 yards in a single game against Detroit in 1945 remains the third best single day achievement on record.

Both the Giants and Redskins were dominant in the 1930’s and each had notable ends. Jim Poole stood out at left end from 1937 until he went into the service in 1942. He played briefly for the Cards in 1945 but returned to the Giants for the 1945 and 1946 seasons. His teammate Jim Lee Howell started in 1937, went to the service for three seasons, and upon returning in 1946 played through 1948. He later coached the Giants for seven seasons.

Charlie Malone joined the 1934 Boston Braves and went with the team to Washington. He did not play in 1941, returned the next year and then entered the service. Bob McChesney also joined the club in Boston and played until 1943 when he went into the service. He never returned to the NFL.

The classic example of a great forgotten end who played with a forgotten team is Perry Schwartz of the late and lamented Brooklyn Dodgers. Starring on both offense and defense from 1938 through 1942, he then lost three seasons to military service before returning to play for the 1946 New York Yankees of the AAFC.

While the stats in the following table may not look impressive, it should be noted the most pass attempts in 1937 were made by the “pass happy” Redskins, a total of 222. The best completion percentage that year was 44.6%. The fewest attempts in 1991 were 414 and no team had a completion percentage below 50.5%.

Jim Benton
Cleveland 1938-40, 1942, 1944-45; Chicago Bears 1943; Los Angeles 1946-47
(288 rec., 4801 yards, 45 TDs)

Joe Carter
Philadelphia 1933-40 Green Bay 1942; Military 1943; Brooklyn 1944; Chicago Cards 1945
(132 rec., 1989 yards, 22 TDs)

Lavie Dilweg
Milwaukee 1926; Green Bay 1927-34
(Unofficial: 126 rec., 2,053 yards, 12 TDs)

Milt Gantenbein
Green Bay 1931-40
(1932-40: 77 rec., 1299 yards, 8 TDs)

Jim Lee Howell
New York Giants 1937-42, Military 1943-44; New York Giants 1946-48
(61 rec., 921 yards, 7 TDs)

Luke Johnsos
Chicago Bears 1929-36
(1932-36: 58 rec., 985 yards, 20 TDs)

Bill Karr
Chicago Bears 1933-38
(48 rec., 1032 yards, 18 TDs)

Charles Malone
Boston 1934-36; Washington 1942; Military 1943
(137 rec., 1932 yards, 13 TDs)

Eggs Manske
Philadelphia 1935-36; Chicago Bears 1938-40; Pittsburgh 1938
(70 rec., 1467 yards, 11 TDs)

Bob McChesney
Boston 1936; Washington 1937-42; Military 1943-45
(59 rec., 679 yards, 7 TDs)

Dick Plasman
Chicago Bears 1937-41, 1944; Military 1942-44; Chicago Cards 1946-47
(56 rec., 1083 yards, 7 TDs)

Jim Poole
New York Giants 1937-41; 1945-46; Military 1942-44; Chicago Cards 1945
(65 rec., 895 yards, 13 TDs)

Perry Schwartz
Brooklyn 1938-42; Military 1943-45; NY Yankees AAFC 1946
(105 rec., 1696 yards, 10 TDs)

Gaynell Tinsley
Chicago Cards 1937-38, 1940
(93 rec., 1356 yards, 7 TDs)

George Wilson
Chicago Bears 1937-46
(111 rec., 1342 yards, 15 TDs)