Skip to main content

10 Greatest Moments of John Madden's Football Life

Pat Summerall and John Madden, 2002

The legend (right, with longtime broadcast partner Pat Summerall) excelled in every facet of the game

Football lost one of its greats with the passing of John Madden on Tuesday. The Hall of Fame coach, broadcaster, and video game icon was 85 years old.

"Nobody loved football more than Coach," NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell said. "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 devoted his professional life to football and may have the most diverse and impressive résumé of anyone in the history of the game. Here are the 10 greatest moments of his football life.

1. All-conference (1958)

Madden was given a football scholarship to the University of Oregon but was redshirted as a freshman because of a knee injury. He ultimately transferred to California Polytechnic State University, where he played on both the offensive and defensive lines in 1957 and '58, earning all-conference honors. In his two seasons, the Mustangs went 17-2.

2. Watching film with Norm Van Brocklin (1959)

The Philadelphia Eagles nabbed Madden in the 21st round of the 1958 NFL Draft, but he injured his other knee in his first training camp in 1959. While rehabbing, he watched game film with Eagles' future Hall of Fame quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, who would break down what was happening. Madden realized he had a love for coaching and became an assistant coach at Allan Hancock College in Santa Maria in 1960.

3. Small college national champion (1966)

In 1964, Madden became the defensive coordinator for San Diego State, coaching under the legendary Don Coryell. The Aztecs gave up less than nine points per game in his three seasons with the program, and in 1966, San Diego State went 11-0 and won the small college national championship.

4. Youngest head coach in professional football history (1969)

Madden took the linebacker coaches position with the Oakland Raiders in 1967. When head coach John Rauch left for the Buffalo Bills in January 1969, Madden sat down with owner Al Davis and explained to him why — even though he was only 32 — he had what it took to be the head coach of the Raiders. The unorthodox Davis was impressed and made him the youngest head coach in pro football at that time. The move paid off as Madden took the Raiders and to seven conference championship games in 10 seasons and won a Super Bowl. His .759 career winning percentage remains the best of any NFL coach in the modern era.

Recommended Articles

Related: 25 Greatest Head Coaches in NFL History

5. Super Bowl champion (1977)

After losing three straight AFC championships, the Raiders took care of business in 1976, going 13-1. In the conference title game, Oakland never trailed the two-time defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers in a 24-7 win. Then on Jan. 9, 1977, the Raiders won Super Bowl XI with a dominant 32-14 victory over the Minnesota Vikings.

6. Legendary broadcaster (1979-2009)

Madden retired from coaching in January 1979 and took a job as a color commentator with CBS. In 1981, the network promoted him to its top broadcasting duo, placing him alongside Pat Summerall, and he went on to become the most popular color commentator in NFL history. In addition to being the only person to ever be the top color analyst for all four networks, Madden's influence can be seen in broadcast tools such as virtual chalk over instant replay and the mannerisms of other analysts.

Related: 10 Best Broadcasters Who Were Former Football Players

7. All-Madden Team (1984-2001)

Childhood friend and then-Los Angeles Rams head coach John Robinson suggested that Madden create his own All-Madden team made up of players he thought represented the way football should be played. He took the advice and shared his first All-Madden team in 1984. As Madden put it, “For defensive linemen and linebackers, it's about Jack Youngblood playing with a busted leg, Lawrence Taylor wreaking havoc on the offense, and Reggie White making the other guy wish he put a little more in the collection plate at church. It's about a guy who's got a dirty uniform, mud on his face, and grass in the ear hole of his helmet.” The All-Madden team did not just recognize consistent Pro Bowlers either. Players like Chicago Bears workhorse receiver Tom Waddle and versatile Philadelphia Eagles running back Keith Byars also made the team. While the All-Madden team hasn't been compiled since 2001, NFL fans still know what the term means.

8. Madden NFL (1988-present)

In 1988, Madden became the featured voice and personality in an annual football game. Originally launched as John Madden Football, this game got licensing agreements with both the NFL and NFLPA in 1993 and changed its name to Madden NFL. The rest is history. It went on to be the most influential video game of all time, setting the model for all league sports games. While fans may quibble over each edition every year, no one will deny the franchise's greatness. Madden envisioned the game as a way to better understand football and test plays. Today, football players at all levels play Madden to improve their on-field acumen.

9. Pro Football Hall of Fame (2006)

For his coaching success with the Raiders, Madden was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame with the 2006 class. In his enshrinement speech, he closed by saying: "Today feels like the second time in my life that I'm being carried off the shoulders of others. Yet instead of off the field, it's into the Hall of Fame. Instead of five or six guys today, I ride on the shoulders of hundreds of friends, coaches, players, colleagues, family. I just say this, I thank you all very much. This has been the sweetest ride of 'em all. Thank you."

10. Only broadcaster to call Super Bowls on the "Big Four" (2009)

Madden called 11 Super Bowls during his career starting with Super Bowl XVI in 1982. Five were with CBS, three were with FOX, and two were with ABC. On Feb. 1, 2009, he did commentary for Super Bowl XLIII on NBC, making him the only broadcaster to call Super Bowls on all of the "Big Four." Two months later, he announced his retirement from broadcasting. 

— Written by Aaron Tallent, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Tallent is a writer whose articles have appeared in The Sweet Science, FOX Sports' Outkick the Coverage, Liberty Island and The Washington Post. Follow him on Twitter at @AaronTallent.