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John Madden: Reflecting on an NFL Hall of Famer, national celebrity and hometown hero

Madden was a national celebrity who lived quietly in his hometown for decades when he wasn't traveling the country in his luxury bus, The Madden Cruiser.
NFL Hall of Fame coach, broadcaster and Pleasanton resident John Madden was featured on the March 3, 2006, cover of the Pleasanton Weekly when he was inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Legendary football coach and broadcaster John Madden died unexpectedly Tuesday, Dec. 28, at his Foothill Road home in Pleasanton. He was 85 and probably the best-known resident of the city.

Madden was a national celebrity who lived quietly in his hometown for decades when he wasn't traveling the country in his luxury bus, The Madden Cruiser. He invested in real estate in the downtowns of Pleasanton and Livermore, including building the luxury Rose Hotel on Main Street in Pleasanton. The family moved to Pleasanton in 1967 when Madden joined the Oakland Raiders coaching staff and maintained a home here ever since.

"On behalf of the entire NFL family, we extend our condolences to Virginia, Mike, Joe and their families," said NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell in a statement from the National Football League. "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."

The statement continued: "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 became head coach of the Oakland Raiders at the age of 32 and led the team to the playoffs eight of his 10 years.

The Raiders lost American Football Conference championship games five times in seven years and fell in a divisional game to the Pittsburgh Steelers on the "Immaculate Reception." The highlights of his coaching career include indelible moments such as Dave Casper's "Ghost to the Post" in Baltimore, Clarence Davis' "Sea of Hands" catch to beat Miami and Casper's "Holy Roller" to defeat San Diego.

After years of frustration, the Raiders topped Pittsburgh to advance to the Super Bowl XI where they dominated the Minnesota Vikings 32-14 in the Rose Bowl in Pasadena. He retired after 10 years with the best winning percentage in National Football League history. His 103 victories are the most of any Raider coach.

In the presentation at Madden's Hall of Fame induction in 2006, Raiders' owner Al Davis said Madden "coached the Raiders in a 'golden era' of NFL coaches, including Don Shula of the Miami Dolphins, Hank Stram of the Kansas City Chiefs, Tom Landry of the Dallas Cowboys, Chuck Noll of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Weeb Ewbank of the New York Jets, Bud Grant of the Minnesota Vikings and Sid Gillman of the San Diego Chargers. Each is a member of the Hall of Fame. Madden's combined career record against them: 36-16-2."

ESPN reporter Adam Schefter wrote on Twitter , "Cowboys' owner Jerry Jones: 'I am not aware of anyone who has made a more meaningful impact on the National Football League than John Madden, and I know of no one who loved the game more.'"

As significant as he was to the NFL as a coach, it was his broadcast career and his role as a pitchman that made him a household name in America. As related in the "All Madden" documentary that ran on Fox Christmas Day, Madden was reluctant to step into the broadcast booth, but it grew quickly on him.

Starting with CBS in 1979, he worked secondary games until he was promoted to the lead team with Pat Summerall in 1981. Together, they became the voice of the big NFL games. They called eight Super Bowls together (five for CBS and three for Fox). When CBS lost rights to the NFL to Fox, executives there targeted Madden to join the network because he would bring instant credibility. So he and Summerall moved to Fox as its lead announcer team.

Madden worked for Fox for seven years before moving to ABC sports to call Monday Night Football with Al Michaels. Then NBC sports came calling and the duo started calling Sunday Night Football in 2006. When he moved, he became the first broadcaster to work for all four networks.

He was inducted into the Hall of Fame for his coaching career in 2006. He said in his acceptance speech that, "I never worked a day in my life ... I am the luckiest guy in the world."

Four years earlier he had received the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television award for his broadcasting excellence.

Madden, who Summerall noted was afraid of heights and very claustrophobic, initially traveled by train to his broadcasting assignments. In 1987, he moved to a luxury bus, the Madden Cruiser, converted for 24-hour travel and crisscrossed the United States in it.

An article on the Hall of Fame website noted: "Madden's broadcasting 'statistics': 22 Thanksgiving Day games, 11 Super Bowls, 16 Emmy Awards, the 1994 NSAA National Sportscaster of the Year award and the Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award in 2002...

"He was a Hall of Fame football coach. He was a gigantic television star. Why? Because the bit of advice that everybody gets that's easy to say but hard to follow: Be yourself," Bob Costas told NFL Films. "He was able to be himself ... and people loved him."

In 1988, EA Sports approached Madden about doing an electronic football game. That became a partnership that continues to this day with the annual release of Madden Football. In 1985, he started naming his All Madden Team, selecting pros who played the game the way he thought it should be played. His life-long friend, coach John Robinson (USC, Los Angeles Rams head coach) suggested the All Madden team.

Madden did commercials for Ace Hardware, Outback Steakhouse, Verizon Wireless, Rent-A-Center, Miller Lite, Toyota, Sirius Satellite Radio and "Tough Actin" Tinactin. The Miller Lite pitches blended in comedy and took full advantage of Madden's big personality.

For Bay Area people, they have had the opportunity to hear Madden on the radio since his coaching days. He called in to KYA in the 1970s and then KSFO, KNBR and KCBS.

Madden grew up in the Bay Area, graduating from Jefferson High School in Daly City. He attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo and played offensive tackle. His Cal Poly degree was in education and he put that to use as a coach, moving quickly from Alan Hancock Community College to San Diego State College under Don Coryell and then to the Raiders in 1967 as linebacker coach.

"I got hurt in my rookie year with the Philadelphia Eagles -- a knee injury -- and I couldn't play. While I was rehabbing, Norm Van Brocklin would be watching films and would explain what was happening. I ended up with a degree in teaching and my love for football meshed with teaching," he told a gaming industry magazine.

While at Cal Poly, he met Virginia Fields and they married in 1959. They celebrated their 63rd anniversary Dec. 26. They have two sons, Mike and Joe.
Madden loved football at any level. In the early 1970s, Madden pointed out that Amador Valley tailback Rick Kane was a dominating high school football player. Kane later played for the Detroit Lions and Washington Redskins.

John Madden owns a building in Hacienda Business Park that houses Goal Line Studios, run by his son Joe. He built it so he didn't have to travel to film commercials or other spots.

If you happened to eat at Vic's All Star Kitchen you could run into the family grabbing a meal after watching the grandkids in a sporting event and see Madden drive up in his F-150 Ford pickup truck.

Memorial service arrangements are pending.