John Madden Retires From NFL Broadcasting

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NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden has announced he is retiring as a football broadcaster. The announcement came as a surprise, because Madden is still regarded as one of the top sports analysts.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

NFL Hall of Fame coach John Madden has announced that he is retiring as a football broadcaster. Just like that - bam - he's gone. You probably know him even if you never watch football.

His retirement came as a surprise because John Madden is still regarded as one of the best. NPR's Mike Pesca looks back at his broadcasting career.

MIKE PESCA: Football once came outlined against the blue-gray October sky. John Madden took the blue-gray and turned it into a bam, pow. Alongside CBS broadcast partner Pat Summerall, Madden both dissected expertly and digressed frequently.

Mr. JOHN MADDEN (NFL Sportscaster): Defensive backs usually don't have nice personalities. And linebackers don't, either. I mean linebacker, you know, they're all half goofy. You know, they've got their eyes, you know, staring and looking and crossed. Now the nice guys are like this guy here, Jason Garrett.

Mr. PAT SUMMERALL (NFL sportscaster): He can be a nice guy?

Mr. MADDEN: Yeah, I mean, you know, third quarterback, wears a cap, went to Princeton.

PESCA: Madden went to Cal Poly Tech, where he was a standout offensive lineman. An injury prevented him from playing in the pros, but he coached the Oakland Raiders to their first Super Bowl victory. Next came broadcasting.

Mr. NEAL PILSON (President, Pilson Communications): I negotiated his first deal at CBS for the huge amount of four games at $3,000 each.

PESCA: Neal Pilson is the former president of CBS Sports. He explains why Madden eventually earned contracts of close to $10 million a season.

Mr. PILSON: John was really our quarterback, as well as our coach. John ran the production meetings. And he would tell the producer and director what to look for in certain game situations. You know, at third and five, stay with the tight end; or look for the halfback to go wide on third and two.

PESCA: That attention to detail also characterized Madden's involvement with the video games that bear his name. Not content to simply endorse the product, Madden would meet with computer programmers from EA Sports each off-season and work to make the games as realistic as possible.

As a result, the soundtrack from the video game was almost indistinguishable from that of an actual broadcast.

Mr. MADDEN: Now we get to see how this defense reacts after scoring a touchdown.

PESCA: To compare across media, the Madden series of video games has outsold the James Bond series of movies, and done about the same business as all the "Star Wars" films combined. This made the 73-year-old as popular with teens as with crusty old coaches, who appreciated the attention he paid to offensive lineman.

But most central to his appeal was that his antics never got pedantic. This man, who frequently predicted plays before they happened, did first gain widespread fame crashing through the TV set as a beer pitchman.

(Soundbite of advertisement)

Mr. MADDEN: Light beer from Miller. Everything you always wanted in a beer and less. Hey, wait a minute. This game isn't over yet. I caught that ball.

PESCA: That everyman persona, which didn't seem to be a persona, included a taste for turducken and a down-to-earth quality - literally. Deathly afraid of flying, Madden rode in a custom-made bus that somehow seemed to capture the imaginations of couch-bound sports fans. But it was travel and time spent away from family that Madden cited as his reasons for leaving, on San Francisco radio station KCBS.

Mr. MADDEN: You know, everyone's going to say Madden retires. What's wrong? There's nothing - there's nothing wrong with me. You know, it's tough, because - not because I'm not sure it's the right time. I mean, I really feel strongly that this is the right time. But I'm just going to miss everything about it.

PESCA: Madden's current boss, Dick Ebersol of NBC Sports, compared the Hall of Famer to Johnny Carson in terms of mass appeal and time spent in the spotlight. His old boss, Neal Pilson, said Madden was one of two or three broadcasters who by themselves, could actually improve the ratings of a football game.

NBC has announced that Chris Collingsworth will be the new commentator on Sunday Night Football. They were careful not to suggest that he will replace Madden.

Mike Pesca, NPR News, New York.

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