John Madden, a Hall of Fame football coach, influential television analyst and spectacularly successful pitchman, died Tuesday at age 85, the NFL announced.
His passing echoed across a wide generational arc of sports and pop culture, touching fans old enough to recall the NFL of the 1970s and those young enough to have experienced Madden and the sport largely through his branded video game.
Heck, some of those early-adopting video game players themselves are now deep into middle age.
"On behalf of the entire NFL family, we extend our condolences to Virginia, Mike, Joe and their families," NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said in a statement. "We all know him as the Hall of Fame coach of the Oakland Raiders and broadcaster who worked for every major network, but more than anything, he was a devoted husband, father and grandfather.
"Nobody loved football more than Coach. He was football. He was an incredible sounding board to me and so many others. There will never be another John Madden, and we will forever be indebted to him for all he did to make football and the NFL what it is today."
Madden grew up in the San Francisco area, where he rose to fame as coach of the Oakland Raiders from 1969-78, a 10-year span that included a 32-14 victory over the Vikings in Super Bowl XI and a .759 regular-season winning percentage.
He left coaching when he was only 42, and soon embarked on an announcing career that took him to all four major television networks — CBS from 1979-93, Fox from 1994-2001, ABC from 2002-2005 and NBC from 2006 to 2008.
He retired from full-time broadcasting before the 2009 season.
"John will always have a unique place in the history of pro football," Al Michaels, his play-by-play partner at the time, said when Madden left NBC in 2009. "No one has made the sport more interesting, more relevant and more enjoyable to watch and listen to than John. There’s never been anyone like him, and he’s been the gold standard for analysts for almost three decades.
"As a broadcast partner, I could always count on him; no one ever came to work more prepared. As a friend and confidant, loyalty has always been paramount to John. And all in all, he was simply just great company."
Former Giants quarterback Phil Simms wrote on his verified Twitter account, "When Madden and Summerall did our games, every player & every coach was excited. It felt big. I told John Madden everything. I trusted him & he never betrayed it. I admired John’s passion for the game most and his truth. He was and will he remembered as a GIANT for football."
Madden was drafted in the 21st round in 1958 by the Eagles as an offensive tackle out of Cal Poly-San Luis Obispo but never played in the NFL because of an injury.
Instead, he began coaching at the college level and eventually was hired by the Raiders as their linebackers coach in 1967, a year in which they won the AFL championship before losing Super Bowl II to the Packers.
Madden took over as head coach for the 1969 season at age 32.
For all his success as a coach, though, more fans associate him with his work in television, where he transformed what had been a relatively staid role for former players and coaches who provided sober analysis of the action.
Madden provided colorful observations using simple, expressive language, including "Boom!" "Whap!" and "Doink," to represent a kicked ball that bounds off the upright.He also pioneered the use of a "telestrator" to illustrate replays.
CBS started him on its NFL undercard for two seasons before teaming him with Pat Summerall, with whom he would go on to call eight Super Bowls at CBS and Fox.
That partnership would be Madden’s longest, running 21 seasons, but he later formed another over seven seasons and two networks with Michaels.
In addition to his game analysis, Madden instituted the popular "All-Madden" team, which honored those whom he believed fit his old-school image of what a player should be, usually focused on toughness and grit.
One of Madden’s relatable quirks was his extreme fear of flying, which led in the late 1980s to him beginning to travel the country in a customized bus he — and his sponsors — called the "Madden Cruiser."
Another one of his everyman traditions was his annual turducken feast for Thanksgiving Day games. Madden did not invent the dish, which features a chicken inside a duck inside a turkey, but he helped popularize it.
Madden parlayed his broad appeal into commercial endorsements, most prominently in the form of the "Madden NFL" video games, which began in 1988, evolved with changing technology and became one of the longest-running and most lucrative series in the history of the genre.
His long list of advertising campaigns included spots for Miller Lite beer, Ace Hardware stores and Outback Steakhouse restaurants.
After leaving NBC to spend more time with his wife, Virginia, two sons and five grandchildren, he was active as a businessman in and around his Pleasanton, California, home, and he remained a keen observer of NFL games that played on the many screens in the large studio he built on his property.
For all of his telestrator acumen, video game endorsing and famous histrionics, Madden remained at heart a football traditionalist.
Former Giants coach Tom Coughlin spoke often of the voicemail that Madden left him late in 2007, after the Giants had used their regulars in a narrow loss to the then-undefeated Patriots in a meaningless, regular-season finale.
"Just called to congratulate you and your team for a great effort last night," Madden said. "Not good, but great. I think it’s one of the best things to happen in the NFL in the last 10 years, and I don’t know if they all know it, but they should be very grateful to you and your team for what you did. I believe so firmly in this: that there is only one way to play the game, and it is a regular-season game and you go out and win the darn game. I was just so proud being a part of the NFL and of what your guys did and the way you did it. You proved that it’s a game and there’s only one way to play the game and you did it. The NFL needed it. We’ve gotten too much of, ‘Well, they’re going to rest their players and don’t need to win, therefore they won’t win.’ Well, that’s not sports and that’s not competition. I’m a little emotional about it. I’m just so proud. It’s something we all need to thank you for, and I believe the NFL needed that."
Five weeks later, the Giants defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.
Fox aired a documentary on Madden on Christmas Day that featured many of the biggest figures in football and sports broadcasting from the past half century speaking to the camera — and indirectly to Madden, who was shown watching the tributes — about what he meant to them and to the sport.
The last speaker was Giants Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor, who said: "John Madden made me a better player. Simple as that, case closed. That’s it."