He never played a down in the NFL, as his dreams of playing professionally were cut short by a knee injury in his first training camp with the Eagles in 1958.
There were other coaches who worked longer, won more games and earned more Super Bowl rings.
He didn't wield the power of commissioner Pete Rozelle, who presided over the explosion of pro football into the nation’s No. 1 sport.
But I would argue that no one had a greater influence on pro football than John Madden did.
He regaled us the 1970s while flailing his arms on the Raiders’ sideline, yelling at referees and imploring his players to achieve greatness. And then, for nearly three decades, he came into our living rooms as the greatest color commentator in the history of television, turning a complicated sport into a more easily understandable game and entertaining us with a personality so genuine and so embraceable that he made you feel as if you were his best friend — even though he didn’t know you.
Madden was that impactful to so many millions of pro football fans, and after building a video game empire to entertain younger generations of gamers and thus creating more fans, he literally has been the face of football for more than a half-century.
Madden was magical in his delivery, a pitchman who could sell you beer or tools or cars or foot powder or make you want to go out and eat a steak. In one way or another, he touched us all, but at his core, his love of football transcended everything.
Bill Belichick has won more Super Bowls, Tom Brady will never be matched, and every other Hall of Famer has had a tremendous impact on the game. But no one — not Rozelle nor Tagliabue nor Goodell, not Lombardi nor Walsh nor Gibbs, not any announcer in any sport — resonated more than Madden, who died on Tuesday at age 85.
The NFL will honor his memory with a moment of silence at every game this weekend, and fans will pay tribute to a giant of the game.
The biggest giant of them all. John Madden — the greatest football man ever.
Reeves belongs in Hall of Fame
The NFL world mourned yet another loss on Saturday, as former Broncos, Giants and Falcons coach Dan Reeves died at 77 of complications from dementia.
Reeves had a wonderful career as a player with the Cowboys under Tom Landry, who saw so much coaching potential in him that he had him as a player-coach in Dallas. A versatile fullback who played in the famed "Ice Bowl" and was part of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl VI championship team as a player and Super Bowl XII team as an assistant coach, Reeves went on to coach the Broncos in three Super Bowls and the Falcons in another.
He’s one of only 10 head coaches to win at least 200 games, and he had 11 playoff victories. He was a head coach in four Super Bowls, tied with Marv Levy and Bud Grant, both of whom are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame despite never having won a championship.
Reeves didn’t win one, either, but that shouldn’t preclude him from a spot in football immortality. He deserves to be in Canton.
End of an era in Pittsburgh
Barring an unexpected change of heart, Ben Roethlisberger will be playing his final regular-season home game on Monday night, putting the finishing touches on a Hall of Fame career with the Steelers.
"Looking at the bigger picture, I would say all signs are pointing to this could be it — regular season, that is," Roethlisberger told reporters on Thursday. "I know we still have a chance to potentially get a playoff game there if things fall our way and we take care of business, and things have to happen. But in the grand scheme of things, in terms of regular seasons, signs are pointing that way that this could be it."
This really is it. And chances are very good that Roethlisberger will bid adieu to Steelers fans at Heinz Field when Pittsburgh hosts the Browns.
At 7-8-1, the Steelers' playoff hopes are slim, and they would need help even if they beat Cleveland. With Pittsburgh finishing out the season next week in Baltimore, Monday night’s game almost surely will represent an emotional send-off for the greatest quarterback in franchise history.
"If this is indeed my last regular-season game [at Heinz Field], it's going to be one of the most important games of my career," the 39-year-old quarterback said. "I've been so blessed to play in front of the best fans in all of sports at the best venue. What better way to have a last regular-season potential game than Monday Night Football against a division opponent?"
There is no better way.
And so the curtain comes down on the Class of 2004 quarterbacks, with Roethlisberger about to join Eli Manning and Philip Rivers in retirement. Had the Giants not finagled the Manning-for-Rivers trade with the Chargers on draft day, Roethlisberger would have been their choice. But it worked out well for all parties concerned, as all three quarterbacks produced careers worthy of enshrinement in Canton.
End of an era in Seattle, too?
Quarterback Russell Wilson and linebacker Bobby Wagner joined the Seahawks in 2012 and have produced terrific careers in helping the team to a Super Bowl championship and another Super Bowl appearance. But there’s a chance one — or both — could be gone next season.
Wagner acknowledged on Thursday that he’s uncertain about whether he’ll be back in 2021, in part because he counts $20 million on the salary cap. A day later, Wilson offered an unsolicited hint that Sunday’s game against the Lions might be his last appearance in front of Seattle fans (in a Seahawks uniform, that is).
"I know you [reporters] asked Bobby about could this be your last game [in Seattle as a Seahawk]," Wilson continued. "I know for me personally, I hope it's not my last game, but at the same time, I know it won't be my last game in the NFL."
Wilson has been the subject of trade speculation before, and it won’t be a surprise to see him on the move. Among the teams that will consider quarterback changes: Carolina, Pittsburgh (assuming Roethlisberger retires), Denver and New Orleans. The Giants also have been mentioned in connection with Wilson, but the team appears intent on giving Daniel Jones at least the 2022 season to prove he can be their long-term quarterback.
Mahomes bounces back
Kansas City quarterback Patrick Mahomes was named the NFL’s Offensive Player of the Month, his fourth such award, which is the most by a KC player. Mahomes completed 68.5% of his passes for 1,110 yards, eight touchdowns and two interceptions for a 108.8 rating. More importantly, he led his team to a 4-0 record, and the two-time defending AFC champs have won eight straight heading into Sunday’s game against the Bengals in Cincinnati.
Mahomes thus recovered nicely from a midseason wobble that had some wondering if he and his team would be good enough to get back to the playoffs, let alone the Super Bowl. During a five-game stretch in Kansas City’s 3-4 start, Mahomes had eight interceptions, more than he’d thrown in either of his previous two seasons (six in 2020 and five in 2019).
Mahomes is the only quarterback to be named Player of the Month in each of the last four seasons, and he’s one of only three active quarterbacks with four Player of the Month awards (Tom Brady has 11 and Aaron Rodgers has 10).
A record that still stands
Cincinnati’s Joe Burrow passed for a whopping 525 yards in last week’s win over the Ravens, two yards short of the totals compiled by Matt Schaub of the Texans in 2012 and Warren Moon of the Oilers in 1990. Incredibly, the all-time record for most passing yards in a game still belongs to Norm Van Brocklin of the Rams. "The Dutchman" passed for 554 yards (five touchdowns and two interceptions) against the New York Yanks on Sept. 28, 1951.
What a fitting way for Burrow to come into a huge game against Kansas City that features his first-ever matchup against Mahomes.
"This is a big opportunity, whether it’s [Kansas City] or whoever they throw out there against us," Burrow said. "We’ve got an opportunity to go out there and win our division and make the playoffs. We’re playing a really good team that’s been in the Super Bowl the last two years, so it’s a big opportunity in that sense."
If the Bengals (9-6) go on to win the AFC North title, it would be the 17th time in the last 19 seasons that at least one team finished first in any division a year after finishing in last place.
'Inspire Change' featured in Weeks 17-18
As part of the NFL’s social justice initiative that began in 2017, the league will highlight social justice work done by the NFL, teams and players who have done impactful social justice initiatives. Additionally, the NFL awarded funding to four national grant partners "to break down barriers to opportunity and end systemic racism," according to an announcement this past week.
The partners are Year UP, Wall Street Bound, Free Minds Book Club and Get Schooled. The groups were approved by the NFL’s Social Justice Working Group, which includes five players, including Saints and former Jets linebacker Demario Davis, and five owners, including Gayle Benson of the Saints and Michael Bidwill of the Cardinals.
"We are proud of the work the NFL family collectively has put behind the Inspire Change initiative, particularly the immense value our clubs and players have placed on utilizing resources and their platform to help create a more equitable society," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement.
Odell Beckham Jr. has done a nice job with the Rams since being traded from the Browns. He has a touchdown catch in four of his last five games, and is looking for his fourth game on the road with a TD catch when the Rams face the Ravens in Baltimore . . . Rams receiver Cooper Kupp leads all receivers with 132 catches, the fifth-most in a single season. He has 1,734 receiving yards and can become the fifth player with more than 1,800 receiving yards in a season . . . With two weeks left in the season, there are eight playoff spots remaining and 24 teams still alive for a postseason berth. That’s the most teams in playoff contention since 2006. A footnote to that stat: Two additional playoff spots were added last season. All the better to have that many teams with a chance this late in the season . . . People love to watch football: The NFL’s 2021 Thursday Night Football package averaged 16.4 million viewers across all platforms (including Fox and NFL Network), the highest average since 2015 (17.7 million) . . . Colts running back Jonathan Taylor, a legitimate contender for MVP honors, is looking for his seventh straight game at home with more than 95 scrimmage yards and a rushing touchdown. He leads the NFL with 19 touchdowns and 1,962 scrimmage yards. He can become the first player in team history with more than 20 touchdowns and 2,000 scrimmage yards in a single season . . . Amazing stat: There has been a different divisional champion in the NFC East for 17 straight years, the longest streak without a repeat winner in NFL history . . . Cowboys linebacker Micah Parsons leads all rookies with 13 sacks and is a lock to win Defensive Rookie of the Year honors . . . With 11 interceptions, Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs is two picks away from tying former Raiders cornerback Lester Hayes’ NFL single-season record of 13 set in 1980 . . . In beating the Patriots last week, Bills quarterback Josh Allen had 314 passing yards and 64 rushing yards — his fifth career game with at least 300 passing yards and 50 rushing yards. He surpassed Wilson and Michael Vick (four games each) for second place behind Steve Young (eight with the 49ers).