John Madden Always Loved the Packers and Green Bay

The NFL lost a legend on Tuesday when John Madden passed away at the age of 85. Madden had been a part of the NFL for more than six decades. Few people had as more influence on the game in so many ways. Depending on your age, Madden was a great coach, broadcaster or the face of the most popular football video game around. But one thing was certain: John Madden loved the game of football and that love was contagious.

Madden was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 21st round of the 1958 NFL Draft but suffered a knee injury that ended his playing career in training camp. He started his coaching career at colleges and was an assistant under future Cardinals and Chargers coach Don Coryell at San Diego State.

He made the switch to the pros in 1967 as a linebackers coach with the Oakland Raiders and he was an assistant with Oakland in Super Bowl II when Green Bay defeated the Raiders 33-14 in Vince Lombardi’s final game as Packers head coach.

Madden always had great respect for Lombardi. He often told the story of attending a coaching seminar where Lombardi spoke about his most famous play, the power sweep.

“I went in there cocky thinking I knew everything there was to know about football, and he spent eight hours talking about this one play,” Madden said. “He talked for four hours, took a break, and came back and talked four more. I realized then that I actually knew nothing about football.”

By 1969, Madden was head coach of the Raiders at the age of 32 which made him the youngest head coach in the league up till that point. His teams recorded outstanding records and he went 103-32-7 in 10 years with Oakland. His teams lost five AFC Championship Games before finally defeating the Steelers in 1976 to get to the Super Bowl. In Super Bowl XI, his Raiders whipped the Vikings 32-14 to give Madden and the Raiders their first Super Bowl title.

Madden had a reputation as a players’ coach. He allowed his guys plenty of leeway so long as they showed up ready to play on game day. He had a team full of characters and somehow got them to mesh as a team and be successful. Just the nicknames from those teams tell you about their personalities: “The Snake”, “The Mad Stork,” “Dr. Death” and “The Assassin” were just a few of the nicknames on those great Madden-coached Raiders teams.

The Packers faced Madden’s teams three times when he coached the Raiders. In 1972, Oakland beat the Packers 20-14 on a controversial play where Packers running back MacArthur Lane muffed the ball deep in Raiders territory and Raiders safety Jack Tatum picked it up and ran it back 104 yards for a touchdown. The league later admitted the Raiders should have gotten the ball on their own 20 as a muff cannot be returned.

In 1976, the year Madden’s Raiders won the Super Bowl, Bart Starr’s Packers gave them one of their toughest battles. The Raiders won 18-14 which saw the Pack outgain the home team 372-276. Both teams had 13 penalties in a tough, physical contest.

In 1978, the Raiders handily the Packers 28-3 as they gained 348 yards rushing on 58 carries.

Madden retired from coaching after the 1978 season and quickly went on to the next stage of his life. After doing some popular Lite Beer commercials that showed off his larger than life personality and writing some entertaining books about football and he went into broadcasting.

Here, Madden took the art of color commentary to another level and changed the way the game was broadcast. His ability to diagram plays for fans and his desire to give credit to offensive and defensive linemen helped fans appreciate players many had never noticed before.

More than anything, Madden had a deep knowledge of the game and he loved the game and he was able to get both of those facts across without sounding pretentious or talking down to his audience. Madden became the uncle or best friend everybody wished they could sit down and watch an NFL game with and from 1979 when he started his broadcast career until 2009 when he retired from broadcasting, he was a mainstay in homes across the country for the biggest games each week. If fans heard Madden’s voice, they knew it was an important game.

The larger-than-life ex-coach was fearful of flying and used to take a bus dubbed “The Madden Cruiser” to games across the country. He also loved calling Thanksgiving games and introduced much of America to “turducken” which was a deep fried and deboned turkey stuffed with a duck stuffed with a chicken.

Madden famously teamed with some of the best play-by-play voices in the business. At CBS, by 1981, he was paired with Pat Summerall. They duo worked so well together as Summerall spoke in few words and gave Madden all the time and space he needed to provide analysis and be funny, often at the same time.

When Fox took over the NFC package in 1994, Madden and Summerall moved there and stayed together as a duo until 2002.

He later worked with Al Michaels on Monday Night Football for ABC and then Sunday Night Football for NBC. He called eight Super Bowls including his final broadcast which was Super Bowl XLIII between the Steelers and Cardinals in 2009.

Madden had a great love for the Green Bay Packers and the history of the franchise and what it meant to the league.

“To me, Green Bay is solid. There's something solid,” Madden said in 1995. “There's tradition, there's something to hold onto, something to grab onto and there's something that is fundamental and is what we're all about. I love coming here. I wish there were more Green Bays.”

He also loved Packers quarterback Brett Favre who exuded a similar love and enthusiasm for the game and always seemed to be having fun on the field. It was fitting that Madden and Summerall called the Packers win in Super Bowl XXXI, the first championship for the franchise in 29 years.

Favre had this to say after Madden passed away. “We lost a larger than life legend in John Madden,” Favre tweeted. “My career was narrated by ‘Coach’, one of the best in the game. I’ll always remember our pre-game mtgs, when we laughed & talked about anything but football. I’ll miss my dear friend. Love & prayers to Virginia & the family.”

Younger fans may know Madden best as the namesake of the popular EA Sports video games which debuted in 1988 and continues to this day. He lent his voice and commentary to the game for many years.

Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2006. It was something he took seriously and much like Packers legend Ray Nitschke before him, Madden shared the importance and honor of being in the Hall of Fame with new inductees each year.

Famously, Madden said that at night, when the Hall closes for business, the busts of all the players inducted in Canton spend the night talking to each other. What a great conversation that must be.

It is said the criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame is can you write the history of the game without mentioning this person’s contributions. Based on that standard, John Madden is a very deserving Hall of Famer as a coach, as a broadcaster and as an ambassador for the game.

You can follow Gil Martin on Twitter @GilPackers

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10 points

Comments (19)

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Ferrari-Driver's picture

December 30, 2021 at 12:56 pm

So John Madden loved the Packers. It's nice to know that I and everyone else here have that in common with that broadcasting icon.

I read some of the articles about John Madden the last few days and was surprised to see that he was a football coach at a tiny community college, Handcock College, in a city on the Central Coast of California called Santa Maria. It's a city of about 100,000+ people but when John coached there in 1960 as an assistant coach the city had 20,000. He became the head coach there two years later which of course eventually led to him becoming a head coach in the NFL with the Oakland Raiders.

Based upon everything I read recently and the many broadcasts I listen to over the years, Madden was a remarkable man and a nice man. He will be missed by many. RIP.

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Since'61's picture

December 30, 2021 at 01:00 pm

Madden was a great coach and a great football commentator. I really haven’t listened to a complete TV broadcast since Madden retired. Madden made the other commentators and certainly the current ones sound like morons, especially when it comes to speaking about football. I turn down the sound and just watch the game sometimes imagining what Madden would have said. I’ll turn up the sound if there is a controversial call but that’s about it.

He was very respectful and appreciative of Packers history and tradition. Since his retirement he has been sorely missed. RIP John Madden and Thanks, Since ‘61

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 30, 2021 at 06:28 pm

Two ex-Packers gave him the backbone of his Championship defenses: Ben Davidson and Ted Hendricks.

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Since'61's picture

December 30, 2021 at 07:09 pm

Short term Packers but a good point.
Thanks, Since ‘61

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 30, 2021 at 07:39 pm

Being raised in the area, I met Ray Nitschke a few times and watched Pack practices with Lombardi Educating his Team, as a kid. It was not a Tom Landry speech; no doubt, but Meeting Ben Davidson @ the Plaza Bar in Madison when he was promoting /PR tour for Miller Lite brand, his Mitts were massive and bigger than Ray's. The Pack had so much Talent on that team, Ben Davidson came on a trade and Won a Championship with the Pack as a rookie. Lost SB II to the Pack as a Raider.

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JQ's picture

December 30, 2021 at 02:10 pm

Thanks Gil; this is an informative and thoughtful reflection on Coach Madden. I especially appreciate your focus on the love Madden had for Lambeau Field and Wisconsin culture.

During Packer games, he almost always mentioned "these big ol' sausages called brats," and there were regular film clips of tailgating and brats sizzling on the grill. Madden was always quick to talk about Wisconsin hospitality, and how he'd join fans in devouring brats before the game, and possibly afterward.

I recall once during a game there was a clip of a "sauerkrat factory" with guys wading through mounds of kraut. Madden circled one of the worker utensils with his magic pen and quipped, "These are pitch forks they're stirring this with!"

Madden also LOVED Gilbert Brown, and the large 'box' he could defend as a D-lineman. But that's another story...

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13TimeChamps's picture

December 30, 2021 at 01:51 pm

Loved Madden as a coach and even more as a broadcaster. A true original. Madden and Summerall were, and probably always will be, my favorite broadcasting DUO. But, with all due respect to Madden, Ray Scott will always be my favorite.

Losing 5 AFC championship games before finally breaking through to win it all should give our young coach hope and inspiration to do it as well. Just hope it doesn't take 6 shots like it did Big John!

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Qoojo's picture

December 30, 2021 at 02:35 pm

I remember the commentary about butt sweat, and he diagrammed it even lol

Couple notes to author:

"In 1978, the Raiders handily the Packers 28-3 ", missing a "beat" in there?

also,

"It is said the criteria for induction into the Hall of Fame is can you write the history of the game without mentioning this person’s contributions.", I think you mean "cannot", otherwise, i am a hall of famer!

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splitpea1's picture

December 30, 2021 at 03:15 pm

Unfortunately my hometown Colts lost to the Raiders during the 1977 divisional playoffs in double overtime. I remember it well because I was hauled off to church almost kicking and screaming by the elders during the fourth quarter to attend a stupid Christmas Eve service. What a cruel thing to do--typical of the misplaced priorities of the elders, because you can go to church anytime, but seeing one of the greatest playoff games in NFL history...enough said.

Other than that, I enjoyed watching the Raiders play back in the 1970's and was sorry to see them get screwed in 1977 AFC Championship with the inexplicably bad non-fumble call. My favorite Raider was probably Otis Sistrunk, just for the menacing looks he provided on a couple of his football cards.

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jannes bjornson's picture

December 30, 2021 at 06:26 pm

The University of MARS, his alma mater. Badasses always beat choirboys....

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HawkPacker's picture

December 31, 2021 at 07:28 am

I was going to make that comment jbj but you beat me to it. Excellent.

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RedRight49's picture

December 30, 2021 at 06:56 pm

RIP to a true football legend!

A John Madden story about Vince Lombardi I'll always remember . . .

John Madden was in Green Bay to broadcast a game and he and Pat Summerall got into a car and drove out to see the house Vince Lombardi had lived in when he coached the Packers.

He said he and Summerall parked in front of the former Lombardi home and literally sat in their car staring at the house for about a half hour just talking about all the football greats that had likely visited Vince Lombardi at that house over the years. Believe they also were given a quick tour of the home by the current owner.

My favorite Madden - Lombardi story is the one mentioned in the article about spending 8 hours at a Lombardi coaching seminar with Lombardi discussing and dissecting just one play, the famed power sweep and all of it's intricacies.

Madden was a great fan of Lombardi, the Green Bay Packers and many of the team's players over the years.

John Madden was truly a one-of-a-kind giant in all of his football endeavors.

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TheKanataThrilla's picture

December 30, 2021 at 08:53 pm

The word icon has been thrown around way too much, but John was that. Super Bowl winning coach, the voice of a generation with Summerall, and the video game business where even my 13 year old son knows the name. Thanks for all the memories coach.

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HawkPacker's picture

December 31, 2021 at 07:30 am

Think about this for a minute. Is anyone aware of anyone who does not/did not like John Madden? I can't say that I ever heard a bad thing said about the man. He was just a great person that was so much fun to listen to each week.

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WisconsinStrong's picture

December 31, 2021 at 01:32 am

Gil, thank you for a heartfelt and painstakingly researched narrative that will enrich old memories while spurring on new appreciation for the game. Love your work, and this ranks among your best pieces.

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GilMartin's picture

December 31, 2021 at 12:11 pm

Thanks for the kind words, WisconsinStrong. Glad you enjoyed the article. Madden will be missed. Have a happy and healthy new year and GPG.

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Packerlifer's picture

December 31, 2021 at 05:43 am

I don't know how serious it was but in 1981, with the Packers struggling under coach Bart Starr, there was some mention about Madden coming out of coaching retirement to take over the Packers. At that time Madden was just 3 years into coaching retirement and into his broadcasting career.

Given his admiration for Lombardi and appreciation of the Packers I've always wondered if he would have returned to coaching in Green Bay if the Packers had seriously pursued him at that time. What a different story the 1980's would have been in Packer football if he had.

It ranks with other "what if's" in the Packers story of the period. Like if the Packers had switched out Phil Bengtson for Don Shula in 1970 or hired Joe Paterno instead of Dan Devine in 1971.

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HawkPacker's picture

December 31, 2021 at 07:30 am

Great story Packerlifer. I never heard that one.

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HawkPacker's picture

December 31, 2021 at 07:37 am

A couple of stories. First off, I think most of us remember Frank Winters when he played center for the Pack. I remember Madden referring to him as ol bag of donuts or Frankie bag of donuts. Now fast forward to a few weeks ago. I met a gentleman in our community in Florida and his name is Frank and he is kind of a mafia type. Anyway, someone at the table referred to him as Frankie bag of donuts. I immediately thought of John Madden and asked this guy where he got that name, thinking again from Madden's take on Winters. Well he told me some mafioso's called him that when he was a kid which I believe was in the early 60's well before I heard Madden coin the phrase for Winters. Pretty funny.

The other story that I have not read about since John's passing is when he would broadcast the Thanksgiving Day football game, usually in Detroit. Do you remember the celebratory Turkey they had that day? It had six legs which he said is really a Thanksgiving Day bird.

I appreciate all the stories the commenters here have put out there as John Madden was pretty special. RIP John Madden.

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