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Boom! It's John Madden.


"It's first down and ten. Dan Marino gets the snap from center. He looks to pass--no one open--he looks to run--Boom! He's hit by the linebacker. Wham! He's hit again. Pow! The ball squirts loose--and--Hey! Wait a minute! The ball rolls out of bounds.'

Translation: "No gain. Second down and ten.'

With his spontaneous flair for the dramatic, John Madden has just converted a lackluster play into a memorable event.

But faithful viewers of CBS television have grown accustomed to the histrionics of this 250-pounds (plus) former player and coach turned broadcaster who adds zest to the game without getting himself in the way of the action down on the field.

Unlike other announcers who pepper their commentaries with personal tirades and draw the ire of the fan, John Madden remains a cuddly "teddy bear' who can do no wrong. "Madden isn't just well-liked, he's positively beloved,' a reporter wrote. Perhaps that sort of accolade is due to the fact that this gentle giant loses himself in arm-waving and superlatives about anything important--including football, family, and flying.

Until Superbowl XI, Madden was just another professional football coach, nervously pacing the sidelines of the Oakland Raiders. With that win over Minnesota following the '76 season, however, he became a "household name.' Both the seasoned fan and the "Super Bowl only' viewer identified with this outspoken, opinionated diamond in the rough who described his players and associates in colorful terms.

He remarked about one ballplayer who committed an obvious mental mistake, "His light is on, but there's nobody home.' Of another he said irreverently, "His elevator doesn't go all the way to the top.'

Those expressions come rather easy, he claims, because he's surrounded by a wealth of vulnerable material. "I've never met a great player who wasn't a little goofy,' he disclosed in his autobiography, entitled Hey, Wait a Minute. "I mean "goofy' to be a positive quality. It's like saying that a genius is a little wacky--that's what makes a genius.'

At the same time, professional football was and is serious business to him. After the 1974 season opener--a seesaw contest that ended in a 21-20 loss to the Buffalo Bills--Madden had left the locker room for the team bus when Horward Cosell approached him.

"You gave us a great show, John,' Cosell said.

"A great show? To you it's a show, but to me it's a lousy game we lost. And there's nothing great about it!' Madden kept walking toward the bus without looking back.

When he left coaching in 1979, he had collected 103 wins, a Super Bowl ring, and one irritating ulcer. He also maintained his now-legendary flamboyant style and some strong convictions.

It's common knowledge, for example, that when he travels, he refuses to fly; instead, he rides trains or travels America's roads in his specially equipped bus baptized "The Madden Cruiser.'

He used to fly with the team on chartered aircraft and for speaking engagements on a few commercial flights. But he suffered increasing anxiety attacks with each trip. Immediately following takeoff, he would feel woozy and break into a cold sweat and his legs would become weak. Retirement from coaching eliminated the demand to fly, so he made his own arrangements to travel for CBS or TV-commercial productions.

One of the reasons for his fear of flying, he concludes, is his vivid memory of a 1960 twin-engine plane crash in which 16 football players from Cal Poly (where he earned a master's in education) were killed.

This probia of being airborne still plagues him, even in unexpected places. The first time he had to cover an NFL playoff game during Christmas week was in 1980 in Dallas. He was joined in an empty hotel in the middle of an emptier downtown by his wife, Virginia, and his two sons. The hotel suite was furnished with a roomservice Christmas tree, but that did little to create the Christmas spirit shared by others who were at home-- where they should be.

The worst time was Christmas Eve, when he made reservations for dinner at the Reunion Tower restaurant with a revolving floor atop the 50-story office building. As he stepped off the elevator onto the moving platform high above Dallas, he became jittery. He sat there for only a few moments before bolting out of the chair.

"I can't eat here,' he told his wife.

Virginia and the boys understood. He told them to stay; there was no use in spoiling their dinner. He went downstairs and ate Christmas Eve dinner alone in a coffee shop. He spent the next hour spinning stories, to the delight of the waiters who had to work that evening.

John Madden hasn't been alone much since he appeared in some popular TV commercials. In one of them, Madden, at the end of a softball game, comes crashing through a paper billboard on the outfield fence, waving his arms in windmill-like fashion while yelling, "Wait a minute. This game isn't over yet. I caught that ball.' The day after that commercial ran for the first time, strangers approached him on the street, waved their arms, and repeated the lines word for word.

On the outside, John Madden appears to be a hard-nosed tough guy. Those close to him know him as he really is--a compassionate man with a heart bigger than his waistline. This was never more apparent than following an exhibition game in 1978.

During the third quarter, Darryl Stingley, a wide receiver for the New England Patriots, collided with Jack Tatum, Oakland's free safety. It was a crushing blow. Anyone who saw the smashing hit, Stingley's neck snapping back, and the limp body being wheeled off the playing field on a stretcher knew this was serious.

Immediately after the game, Madden rushed to the hospital and saw Stingley before he was taken into surgery.

"Everything's going to be all right,' Madden whispered in his ear.

But everything wasn't all right. Stingley would never walk again. He was a quadriplegic, confined to a wheelchair.

Madden and his wife invited Tina --Darryl's longtime girl friend--to stay with them throughout the next trying weeks. And Madden visited Darryl in the hospital each day, while some of Stingley's fellow players never saw him once.

John Madden retired from coaching after the 1978 season. It was a classic case of burnout. Does he regret leaving coaching? Not on your life. Outside of spending Christmas away from his home, Madden has no second thoughts. First of all, that ulcer no longer bothers him. Even more important, he's having a good time as a roll-up-your-sleeves kind of TV commentator, and his listeners can sense this. To the fan, he's a breath of fresh air in the broadcast booth. He offers a sense of honesty coupled with the credibility of one who has "been there.'

That didn't come without learning through the school of "trial and terror.' For instance, his first assignment on national television as a football analyst in 1979 was to interview Dan Abramowicz, a former pro, during a half-time show. When the camera light came on and the director gave the signal, Madden began by saying, "It's been a strange first half--the 49ers have passed more than I thought they would, and the Saints have run more than I thought they would.'

He thrust the microphone in front of Abramowicz, who only stared back with a blank look. The problem was that Madden hadn't asked a question. Fortunately, his guest picked up on the conversation by echoing John's opinion.

Madden admits he still learns from seasoned veterans. He considers sidekick Pat Summerall as among the best at summing up a situation in a few words. One time Madden raved about a great catch by a receiver, describing how he juggled the ball like an acrobat before hanging on to it. Summerall put the icing on the cake when he added, "That guy should've been a waiter.'

Where will he pop up next? The outrageous talent of this coach, who was once carried off the field on the shoulders of his world-champion Oakland Raiders, could surface anywhere. It matters not if you're an armchair quarterback sitting in your living room watching a football game or an unsuspecting waiter in a coffee shop on Christmas Eve, Boom!-- just like that--John Madden is sure to get your attention.

Photo: To catch the former coach and current commentator John Madden with his hands in his pockets is rare indeed; the 250-pound "cuddly bear' more often is seen waving his arms around about some important matter--usually football.

Photo: Madden is haunted by the memory of a fatal plane crash; being carried off the field on the shoulders of his players is as close to flying as he has ever wanted to come.

Photo: Pat Summerall and John Madden have shared the CBS sportscasters' booth since 1979 with Madden adding the credibility of one who has "been there' to the scene on the monitor.
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Copyright 1988 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
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Author:McCollister, John
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:Biography
Date:Jan 1, 1988
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