John Madden started his broadcasting career in 1979, the same year I was born. His voice — most importantly, his laugh — became a huge part of my love for professional football.
Madden’s work with Pat Summerall is the soundtrack for so many happy memories of watching football with family. Not until I was a teenager did I learn he had been a highly successful football coach after watching a biography of him.
My dad first encountered Madden as the coach of the then-Oakland Raiders. Madden’s Raiders were one of the few teams that could challenge the Pittsburgh Steelers’ dominance in the 1970s, and he led the franchise to its first Super Bowl win in 1977 when the Raiders defeated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in Super Bowl XI. My dad then enjoyed Madden’s seamless transition from the sidelines to the announcing booth as an NFL analyst for CBS.
My 20-year-old nephew was introduced to Madden in still another way. He knew the NFL legend as the voice and face of EA Sports’ NFL video game — known to the world as just “Madden” — and even though Madden retired from broadcasting games in 2009 when my nephew was still young, Madden means football to him.
Madden’s appeal had nothing to do with his age or what generation he was born in. He loved football, and he loved helping other people learn to love the sport. Whether it was his players, the viewers of his broadcasts or the people who played his video game, he made you feel like you were watching football with a friend.
Madden died last December at the age of 85, and while the NFL memorialized him in games after his passing, they’re commemorating him again in this week’s Thanksgiving Day games because his presence helped make them so special. His ridiculous, not-made-in-nature turkey that went to the winning teams was one of my favorite memories. Who would get the honorary drumstick? Who would get to be that special? I didn’t care about eating turkey myself as much as I cared about which players had earned it.
Madden’s joy for the sport was so infectious that you had to care about the game he was calling. You had to laugh when he would go overboard with the Telestrator, and you had to get just as excited about a touchdown as he did. There was no passively watching a game when Madden was calling it.
So when you’re watching football on Thursday, get into it — enjoy the three games as much as Madden would. Maybe even yell at the TV in between bites of a drumstick.
It’s the best way to honor John Madden.